In January of this year, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) announced that it had chosen the City of Richmond as the site for its second campus. It was a tremendous success for the City, which won over twenty competitors in the region, after a year- long competition.
The LBNL is projected to include more than two million square feet of research and office space, housing three main divisions: the Joint Bio Energy Institute, the Joint Genome Institute and the Life Sciences Division. Construction of Phase One of the new facilities begins in 2013, with operations starting in 2016.
It is not clear, though, how much the LBNL will impact Richmond’s unemployment (15.1% in December 2011) or how much LBNL will generate revenues for Richmond-based businesses. In workforce parlance, LBNL constitutes an “Anchor Institution”—a major institution, that is both large employer and large contractor for goods and services. The history in California and elsewhere indicates that anchor institutions—among which hospitals and universities are prominent—have not, by their presence alone, had major impacts on local workforces or local businesses.
A team of graduate students in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley recently reviewed procurement policies of the LBNL campus in Berkeley. Among the three divisions scheduled for the Richmond campus, East Bay-based firms obtained from 10% to 19% of procurement dollars annually between 2007 and 2010 (the equivalent numbers for the 9 county Bay Area are 18% to 29%). The obstacles to greater local impacts include the federal prohibitions on preferences to local vendors and workers, and the scientific/technology specialization required in many LBNL procurements.
The City staff is aware of these numbers, and is seeking a different result for Richmond. The Richmond City Manager, Mr. Bill Lindsay, and Ms. Shasa Curl, Administrative Chief, coordinated the Richmond effort to win the LBNL selection in 2011. Within a week or so of the LBNL selection, they launched three planning efforts to maximize local impacts.
The first effort involves land planning for the Richmond Field Station area, site of the LBNL campus. Over the past decade a planning team of Mr. Richard Mitchell, planning director, and senior planner Ms. Lina Velasco, along with Mr. Alan Wolken and Mr. Chad Smalley of Richmond Redevelopment, have focused on rebuilding the MacDonald Avenue corridor and Richmond BART transit village. They have emphasized new neighborhoods of pedestrian and bicycle accessibility/safety, mixes of uses, and ties to local and regional transit. Now they are embarking on similar principles for rebuilding the Field Station and South Shoreline area.
The second effort involves workforce and hiring. The WIB Director, Mr. Sal Vaca, joined with Mr. Stephen Baiter of the nearby Contra Costa WIB to convene the Contra Costa Community College district, High School Career Academies and Richmond BUILD . Part of the effort involves pre-apprenticeship training for the construction jobs to be generated by LBNL construction. A greater part involves training for the scientific and technical jobs at LBNL, and beyond LBNL at Chevron and other regional employers.
The third effort involves the entrepreneurship and small business development. The local business opportunities include the retail and hospitality services to LBNL employees. These opportunities also include the scientific/technology cluster that the City hopes for in the South Shoreline area.
Richmond City Councilmember Jeff Ritterman has been among the most active elected Richmond officials in attracting LBNL to the city, and in these three planning efforts. In the past month, he has volunteered time to attend each of the three workforce meetings so far, as well as other sessions on land planning and contracting.
Mr. Ritterman is a physician, and for years was the head of cardiology at Kaiser Hospital. After he was elected to the City Council, he retired to work full time on LBNL and other economic development strategies. He sees LBNL as a major economic development force in itself, and also as part of a City business development/employment strategy with the other major employers/contractors in Richmond (including Kaiser and Chevron), as well as the emerging solar technology and life sciences start-ups the City is attracting.
In California, “anchor institutions” do not have a strong track record on local employment and business development impacts. The next few years will see whether Richmond’s pro-active efforts, working in concert with LBNL leadership, will achieve a different result.