California town takes 'bold step' to attract businesses

TURLOCK — The city wants business so badly it's going to pay people to open up shop.

After looking into ways of waiving fees to encourage new business, city officials came up with a simpler plan: They will pay $1,000 to anyone who moves into a vacant business in Turlock.

"It's very different," said Bill Bassitt, chief executive officer of the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, which will help the city administer the Turlock Partnership Incentives program.

"It think it's a very positive and bold step forward," Bassitt said.

He said other communities have considered similar efforts, but Turlock is the first he knows of to move ahead.

To get the money, business owners must meet four requirements: development of a business plan, identification of an appropriately zoned location, participation at a pre-development meeting with city staff and provision of general information regarding the business on a quarterly basis.

Al Seaton, who will oversee the program for the alliance, said prospective business owners will have to have a plan and a bookkeeping system in place to prove their proposal is viable. Close attention and approval on a case-by-case basis will help weed out anyone looking for a quick $1,000.

But for legitimate entrepreneurs, there is no limit to what they could do with the money: pay fees, buy merchandise, hire staff. "You could use it to go a Giants game if you want," Seaton said. "Of course, we would prefer you didn't."

The idea of waiving fees didn't take because City Attorney Phaedra Norton said that would be considered a new fee. As such, it would have to go to a ballot and win approval from two-thirds of voters. And for most small companies, the fee waiver would amount to about $400, Seaton said.

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