The Colusa City Council voted 5-0 to hire a consultant to give new purpose to the old Pirelli plant.
The unanimous decision to invest up to $75,000 by Dec. 31 followed a well-attended public workshop last week, where citizens of Colusa largely expressed cautious optimism in the city moving forward.
The consultant, Kristy Levings, owner of Woodland-based Golden Oaks Business Services, plans to help the city first acquire the long-shuttered manufacturing plant and then convert it into a hub for manufacturing bio-polymers, bio-plastics, green chemistry, bio-composits, bio-fuels, and building materials from renewable bast fiber crops like jute, flax, kenaf, and hemp, as well as manufacturing products from currently-available materials like almond hulls and rice straw.
The only difference in the contract from the original proposal in February is that that city will be able to take more cautious steps to measure results.
“It is a month-to-month contract with Golden Oaks,” City Manager Jesse Cain said. “We did make a change on that. It means that the city or Golden Oaks can end the contract at any given time.”
The city, at the March 10 City Council meeting, also committed an “in-kind” match (staff and consultant time) for a Rural Business Development Grant, which Levings had prepared, which should get the project rolling, if awarded.
Levings initially worked with Cain pro-bono for several months on a plan that may allow the company that owns the property to donate it to the city.
The city hopes to then lease space to businesses in the growing biomaterial industry.
City Council members, particularly Tom Reische and Greg Ponciano, said the workshop held prior to the meeting helped make their decision easier.
Before that, only the consultant’s contact – not the project – had been before the council for public discussion.
“I appreciated the opportunity to have this vetted out in public,” Ponciano said. “It makes it a lot easier to absorb and understand the entire scope of the project.”
While the city had no results from economic development studies done more than a decade ago, which cost taxpayers over $300,000, Cain said the city would take what they’ve learned and move forward.
Cain said the city is fully aware of the economic problem: Colusa lacks industry and jobs to keep a healthy workforce, particularly ages 18-44, who contribute – through spending – to local businesses.
“Without creating jobs – without creating industry and getting people paychecks – our downtown is never going to survive,” Cain said. “Our businesses in the downtown struggle month to month. There are just not enough people here. There are not enough jobs here, so (people) can actually spend their money downtown. So, without creating some kind of industry, the downtown is going to continue to struggle.”
Cain emphasized what the city will do differently from previous economic development efforts, is first concentrate on a site-specific project like Pirelli, before widespread efforts to revitalize the downtown.
“This broad approach to economic development doesn’t work here,” he said. “Another thing that’s different – what we want to do this time versus what we did back in 2010 – is we want to have clear goals; clear objectives.”
Cain said Levings, who will be paid $6,891 per month, would also provide the city with frequent progress reports.
The city will also have clear oversight of the project, and Levings will pursue all available grants, he said.
Levings’ contract was approved retroactive to Jan. 1.
At the workshop, Levings said she believes Colusa will be successful at broadening economic development efforts once the city fills the old Pirelli property with multiple businesses. ■