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Economic development program making waves

ESCONDIDO — Seven years ago the five cities of the Highway 78 corridor, along with the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, collaborated and developed a new way of driving business.

Dubbed, Innovate 78 and officially created several years ago, the goals were to market, attract and retain businesses and employees to North County.

Last month, Escondido Economic Development Manager Michelle Geller and SDREDC Economic Development Manager Jennifer Schoeneck ventured to Oakland to present some of their marketing success stories to the East Bay Economic Development Alliance.

At the core of Innovate 78 is a collaboration between Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos and Vista to attract and retain business. If recruiting to one city doesn’t work, the business is steered to one of the other cities where they may have a stronger environment for a particular industry.

“It was about collaborative regional economic development efforts,” Geller said. “We said ‘here’s what we did and here’s how you could potentially model your program after us.’”

The program has been a success in North County, Geller said, and Innovate 78 grew organically. The five mayors were meeting on the issue, while the economic development leaders from each city were also meeting concurrently, Geller said.

The difficulty was the logistics between cities, but this was made easier since all the mayors were on board.

“There is an antiquated mindset that cities are competing against each other for businesses that generate sales tax,” Geller explained. “We all were kind of over that mindset and we just need to formalize that. What we were looking at was high-quality jobs and high-quality businesses.”

Schoeneck said the opportunity is unique because “true” collaboration between cities doesn’t happen often. The EBEDA received a detailed history of the initiative and the operational perspective as the SDREDC holds the contract for Innovate 78.

The cities pay each other for the contract, with one — Escondido — currently holding the contract and all five interface with the SDREDC.

“We answered (questions about) some of those more technical and operational marketing campaigns,” Schoeneck said. “They were more interested in the mechanics of it and how to collaborate as public entities.”

As for the EBEDA, Executive Director Darien Laurie said much of its curiosity centered on the marketing. One challenge it faces is its scale, as its membership is much greater and more expansive than Innovate 78.

The EBEDA membership includes Alameda and Contra Costa counties with more than 30 cities. The draw to Innovate 78, Laurie said, was its regional marketing strategies.

She said another challenge comes from San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where much of the area’s corporate headquarters are located. With so many different cities and business industries, Laurie said it is a challenge to tailor marketing strategies, along with recruiting cities to embrace collaboration and working together.

“We wanted to learn about the strategies and how they got their materials and program,” Laurie said. “Some of the differences are we don’t have a more contained area of business investment. It’s a little more difficult to raise capital. We know it would be a little more difficult to replicate. I think it was really important for my cities to see what could be done when cities cooperate together.”