The following story originally appeared on the Pasadena Magazine website on November 5, 2013.
The Weekly Q & A: Mayor Bill Bogaard
By Matthew Fleischer
Is Pasadena the next Silicon Whatever? Quite possibly, judging by the hundreds of successful tech companies and incubators like Idealab that have launched from the city limits in recent years. But Pasadena has had difficulty retaining firms once they take off. Since first being elected Mayor in 1999, Bill Bogaard has pushed hard to convince high-tech startups and incubators to settle in Pasadena. We spoke with Mayor Bogaard about his ongoing plans to transform the city into a tech and capital-investment corridor.
You recently attended an event for Metacloud that touted Pasadena as an emerging rival to Silicon Valley. Is that an attainable goal for Pasadena?
We want to establish the Pasadena area as a center for innovation—for venture capital investment and for incubators and startup companies. But it’s not a matter of being a new Silicon Valley. It’s a matter of being the Pasadena we know we can be. We’re aware of the economic activity in Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach. We’re looking to create a space for high-tech companies to bring challenging jobs that require thoughtful and committed people.
Between Caltech, Art Center and JPL, Pasadena has no shortage of intellectual capital. What challenges do we face in making sure the brainpower in Pasadena can stay and be successful in their own private endeavors?
The traditional challenges the Pasadena area has faced in regard to entrepreneurship has been limited venture capital investment, a limited number of executives who can head a company like that, and a limited amount of space to accommodate rapidly expanding companies. We hope to overcome all of those challenges. We don’t yet have as much of those resources as would be helpful to attain our goal of being a center of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Of those challenges, the issue of high-tech office space seems the most daunting, given the constraints on available land. Increased density would appear to be the only solution. Can we build the infrastructure we need without altering Pasadena’s DNA?
Pasadena, I think, is a community that welcomes high-tech companies and wants to do everything it can do to achieve that goal. I’m confident that land is not a fatal constraint on our strategy. To the extent that greater density is the result of this effort, I think it’s important to note that the real significance of density is how it’s designed—whether it accommodates public transit instead of automobiles. That kind of sustainable planning would certainly make increased development more palatable to the community.
So it sounds like the Gold Line will play an important role in Pasadena’s transition to tech center?
Absolutely. We’ve seen how the Gold Line encourages investment. And we’re on the threshold of completing another 12 miles to the city of Azusa.
There was a very successful book written a few years ago called “The Rise of the Creative Class.” The author’s theory is that cities that succeed in the 21st Century are those that have created a quality of life that smart young people enjoy. Their style of work is to work night and day, but when they are not working they like to have fun. That means you need arts, culture, maybe sports, good restaurants, nightclubs, symphonies, and, I would argue, good public transit. That’s the model that Pasadena is equipped to pursue. We have great amenities and a quality of life that will reinforce companies’ desire to come here.
How do we keep the boutique incubator-born shops in Pasadena once they grow? Are we destined to be the birthing chamber for companies who eventually move on? Or can we reasonably hope to host the Yahoos of the world one day?
I’m confident Pasadena can get sufficient space to pursue its innovation strategy with success. The space we’re talking about is not acres and acres of raw land being committed to a heavy manufacturing operation. We need labs and other facilities that accommodate high tech companies. Last year Avon products announced it was leaving Pasadena. We at City Hall immediately viewed that as an opportunity. Its facility is a huge property with existing buildings. Here is nearly 20 acres with existing facilities we think could be converted to accommodate incubators, startups, and other more established companies. Avon is going to be staying in town for another three to five years. That’s fine, because Pasadena needs the sales tax revenue that comes with that operation. In a sense, Avon is a bird in the hand, while we pursue our innovation strategy.
Pasadena’s status as an “enterprise zone” will end in 2014, thanks to legislation passed by Governor Brown. What does that mean for the effort to recruit businesses and startups here?
This is the second major setback for Pasadena and other California cities that were practitioners of enterprise zones. A couple of years ago we lost redevelopment power that had been a source of momentum in California for almost 60 years. The loss of enterprise zones is a similar blow, though perhaps not as significant. I’m confident that on both counts Pasadena will overcome. Things might not happen as quickly. Things might not happen as elegantly. When we had redevelopment funding we could invest in capital improvements in a way we can’t do today. We want to provide parking as needed to support business activities. We want to fund, if we can, incubator and high tech space. That’s infrastructure from my point of view. All of that is something we would have pursued much more aggressively if we had redevelopment funds available.
Enterprise zones are designed to incentivize job creation. Companies could hire new employees above and beyond the existing work force, and get a significant tax credit. So they really were able to expand at much less cost than would otherwise be the case. It provided an incentive to take the risk to add additional expenses. It’s been a tool we’ve used to allow companies to expand, to stay in Pasadena when considering office space. That technique alone, however, while useful, wasn’t a game-changer.