I write today for Novometro about the Oakland Partnership.
I hope to find the time to write more about last Friday’s Economic Summit soon, although I am, as usual, behind on my blogging schedule. Anyway, I wanted to comment on something Dan Lindheim talked about in one of the panels, and was also quoted in the newspaper about:
Dan Lindheim, the director of the Community and Economic Development Agency, said finding spots for business to locate is not as easy as finding spots for housing opportunities, in part because many businesses are content to stay where they are even if they are only making a low-level profit.
He did say the city continued its work on a data base on what parcels are available for different types of commercial opportunities.
“We’ll certainly be able to (operate the data base) with staff,” he said. “What we want to ultimately be able to do is to get it so that it’s available online so people can really have individual access. We’re not quite there yet.”
I just don’t understand why Oakland’s city government feels the need to constantly reinvent the wheel. In case you don’t know much about commercial real estate, let me give you the rundown. There are these things called commercial real estate brokerages. When you see those big signs on the buildings or vacant lots saying things like “For lease. Call so and so,” that’s the number for the broker representing that property. Of course, most properties don’t get leased simply by having someone drive by and seeing a sign and thinking a building looks pretty. Most properties get leased when someone calls up a broker and says something like “Hi Jake, I want to move my business to Oakland and I need at least 10,000 square feet near a freeway with at least 2 grade level loading doors.” Then the broker sends an e-mail to one of their market researchers and says “all the spaces in Oakland, Emeryville, Alameda, and Berkeley half mile from freeway, 10k-12k sf 2 grade doors, asap.” It’s the same with office space, although needs there tends to be more generic.
Then the researcher will look that up in their database of available properties. Large brokerage houses usually maintain their own databases, based on the monthly listings released by all the other brokerages and marketing flyers sent out and a variety of other sources. Smaller companies usually can’t afford their own researcher on staff, so they just buy a subscription to two existing databases, CoStar and LoopNet. Both are up to date and comprehensive. A LoopNet searching subscription costs less than $40/month if you pay for a year upfront.
Anyway, I realize that what Lindheim is describing isn’t the exact same thing, but it’s close enough to be totally pointless and wasteful. I mean, do the taxpayers of Oakland really need to be paying someone to make and maintain a list of available properties when we could instead just be like “You want to space for your biotech company, here’s a broker’s number?” (Although in that case, the answer would be more like “We don’t have any. Go to Emeryville.”) Opportunity maps made sense for housing development, but with business attraction, especially industrial business attraction where the needs are complicated and unique to each company, there’s just no point in replicating work that other people are already doing, and are doing a better job of it that the government ever will.