Update: The city council approved the agreement at a meeting on June 21. The chamber proposes to reach out to businesses with 20 to 99 employees, estimated at about 222 in Milpitas.
For decades, the has advocated for business growth and development in the city. But a new proposal would expand the chamber's role.
The chamber, through 20 to 40 face-to-face visits or calls per month, is purposing to assist businesses by acting as a liaison between the city and businesses–those who are new or want to expand, those who are at-risk and may move or close, and ones who qualify for federal assistance.
In return, the city would provide $20,000 in redevelopment money to the chamber. The payment would be up-front and requested again on a quarterly basis. The city council/redevelopment agency approved the agreement for the upcoming quarter on Tuesday night.
In addition, chamber CEO Carol Kassab and the board of directors plan to outreach to businesses, including ones outside of city to lure them to Milpitas, she said.
The number of businesses in Milpitas with 20 to 99 employees is estimated at 222, according to the presented to council members at the June 21 meeting.
In addition, through interviews by phone or in person, "they would be able to identify at-risk businesses, those businesses which may be struggling financially or looking to move," said Diana Barnhart, the city's Redevelopment and Economic Development Manager at a city council meeting on May 17.
For businesses getting started or want to expand, "We can help those businesses work through the building and planning permit process to expedite the process as an aid to both the city and the business owner," wrote Chamber CEO Carol Kassab in an email.
"We have spoken to some businesses who needed the help and also some that just went ahead and built out without going through the process and hoped they wouldn’t get caught," she wrote.
In addition, the chamber proposal identifies two big-ticket incentives that could attract and keep companies in Milpitas. One is a foreign trade zone status to lower or reduce duties on imports, or imported components used to manufacture a product and resold. The city has the ability to designate a physical location as a foreign trade zone.
“A Foreign Trade Zone is a federal incentive program for importing items to be assembled locally by American workers for export and sale," according to Kassab.
The other incentive is for foreign nationals to obtain U.S. green card eligibility by investing $500,000 or $1 million, depending on the location, in a business project that maintains or creates more than ten sustainable jobs. Currently, the EB5 visa program is set to expire in September 2012 unless it is extended or made permanent by Congress.
"The EB5 program is a federal incentive effort designed to attract foreign investors who can benefit with an easier Visa process for themselves and their families,” according to Kassab.
"Both the chamber and the city staff are pulling together information on these two programs, how that foreign trade zone sub-area would work for businesses here and would be it be applicable to all businesses in the city, and how the EB5 might help us further our goals development activity," said Barnhart at the May 17 city council meeting.
Neither the city nor the chamber have extensive experience in either program, but it would mostly be referrals and follow-ups.
The referrals and applications would be tracked through a point-system and used to report back to the city.
"I also think it's going to take some time to get some performance measurements that would work for the chamber and work for the city," said Barnhart at the May 17 council meeting. Part of the first quarter would be about fine-tuning the measurements and moving forward, she said.
In 2010, the chamber received $32,000 for producing publications, according to Office Manager C.J. Ericson. They included the Official City Map, Apartment Listing, Community School Guide, Business Directory, Industrial Guide, Clubs & Organizations, Dining, Lodging & Entertainment Guide, Government Affairs Resource Guide, Banquet Halls/Facilities Listing, and the Milpitas Economic Profile.
During city budget study sessions, members of the city council had discussed cutting the $32,000 to save money.