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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023


By JEANETTE DeSANTIS Contributing Reporter Long known as a bedroom community full of new tract homes and growing families, Simi Valley is aiming to attract more businesses to the mix. Simi Valley city officials admit it is a delicate balancing act to bring major league businesses into a family-oriented community, but one that is necessary to keep residents from driving and shopping elsewhere. “We want businesses to come here and we think when they do, their employees will want to stay here,” said Don Penman, Simi Valley’s assistant city manager. “We think it is a real asset if our residents don’t have to commute over to the (San Fernando) Valley or any place else.” Simi Valley currently has about 20,000 professional/managerial jobs, according to Mayor Gregory Stratton, out of a total workforce of more than 100,000. Stratton said the city is looking to double the number of professional/managerial jobs by the year 2020. One company expected to provide Simi Valley residents with more job opportunities closer to home is Countrywide Home Loans, the city’s largest employer. It currently employs 200 people in Simi Valley, and is looking to double the size of its workforce by late next year. “The city has always supported us and even helped us look for a new site when we decided to expand,” said Patrick Benton, senior vice president of administration at Countrywide. “But they still keep the community’s needs in mind. They don’t want any building too obtrusive.” While the city has not indicated it would alter current guidelines to facilitate Countrywide’s expansion, city officials have “communicated with us proactively, telling us about the community’s concerns and what has met resistence in the past,” Benton said. Other businesses growing in Simi include Micom Communications Corp., a telecommunications firm which plans to build a 135,000-square-foot research and development facility, and Dreamquest Images, a special effects company owned by the Walt Disney Co. that is searching for leased space to double its workforce. “Job creation is key to continuing expansion and the city knows this,” said Dennis L. Barbee, president of the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Mayor Stratton said the city’s key to business attraction and retention is its incentive program, which ranges from providing assistance with permit costs or business licenses to helping expedite the planning process. “That is what initially gets them here,” Stratton said. Not all employers in Simi Valley are large-scale, high-paying operations. Low-cost housing and a business-friendly city government were the main factors that originally enticed Jack Spotts to open his startup business, Jack’s Shoes, in Simi Valley back in 1974. That makes Jack’s Shoes one of Simi Valley’s oldest businesses. Spotts said Simi Valley was ideal for those looking for a balance between family and business. “There were seven of us and a dog,” Spotts said of his young family. “We needed a five-bedroom house with a big yard. I was looking in Los Angeles and couldn’t find anything, and someone told me about Simi just over the hills.” Upon leaving Kinney Shoe Corp. and opening up his own shoe store in Simi Valley, Spotts initially sold only men’s and boys’ shoes to a city of 50,000. Now Spotts sells all types of shoes for families, and Simi’s population has more than doubled to over 100,000. “We grew with the community, starting small and adding to the store and adding more merchandise several times over,” said Spotts, who originally worked alone but now employs 40 people. The 39-square-mile city itself is fairly young. It was incorporated in October 1969 and like much of Southern California, saw a boom in population in the 1980s. But that growth has leveled off in the 1990s. From its base of 56,000 in 1970, Simi Valley’s population had mushroomed to 100,000 by 1990. But by 1996, it had only crept up to 105,000. Yet commercial growth is evident. Two new speculative office projects have recently been approved, one a 184,000-square-foot structure at the Tapo Canyon Business Park and the other a 132,000-square-foot building off Royal Avenue. On the west end of the city, a 305,000-square-foot shopping center is currently under construction and will be anchored by a Walmart and a Home Depot. The center, located near Madera Street and the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway, is scheduled to open in late 1998. There are also new housing developments going up in Simi Valley. The first model homes of the Long Canyon housing tract near Wood Ranch are expected to be complete by next month. The rest of the 670 houses should be completed next year. “Our goal is to have balance,” said Assistant City Manager Penman. “We want to provide employment for our residents but not at the cost of the environment.” The need for retailers to appeal to families is key to success in Simi Valley, said Todd Archambault, assistant manager of the Trader Joe’s specialty grocery store that recently opened in Simi Valley. Although the store has been open for less than two months, Archambault said he has already noticed the heavy family influence in Simi Valley. “In Santa Barbara, we would see a lot of elderly people and college kids, but in Simi we see lots of families,” he said. But even with the city’s growth, Simi Valley still has a relatively high office vacancy rate. About 20 percent of the total inventory of 423,627 square feet of office space in Simi Valley is vacant, according to CB Commercial Real Estate Group Inc. The city’s industrial market is considerably tighter. Of the 7 million square feet of industrial space, there is an 8.4 percent vacancy rate, said Bob Kahn, a CB Commercial vice president. Of the 10 industrial buildings still available, more than half are being actively courted by prospective tenants, he added. City officials point out that Simi Valley’s government is on solid financial ground with a general fund budget of $36 million. (The city sets its budget to match its revenues, and it maintains a general fund reserve of several million dollars, Penman said.) One revenue source the city is looking to bolster is the sales tax, which is projected to bring $8.8 million to city coffers during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1998. “Obviously we would like to have greater sales tax revenue ours is not as high as Thousand Oaks but we are fiscally sound and are working hard to build it up,” Penman said. One unique attribute setting Simi Valley apart from other Southern California cities is its designation as one of the safest cities in America with a population over 100,000, according to FBI crime statistics. “What we have here is a quality of life,” Stratton said. “That is one of the things businesses are looking for. We get a lot of businesses moving out of Los Angeles because of the unsafe atmosphere there.” And that is what Simi Valley touts as its best overall benefit that it isn’t Los Angeles. “Simi is one of those places that has its own identity,” Spotts said. “We have that small-town flavor where you know everyone in town. If I was in the Los Angeles market, I don’t think that would be the case.”

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