Gonzales Grows Green: An Innovative Economic Program

The City of Gonzales won the League Partners Award for Excellence in City-Business Relations in the 2011 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more about the award program, visit www.HelenPutnam.org.

Gonzales is a friendly community of nearly 9,000 along the U.S. Highway 101 corridor south of Salinas in Monterey County. The city is an ethnically and economically diverse community where parks, businesses, older residential neighborhoods and newer housing developments are spread on both sides of the highway.

The Gonzales City Council has adopted a community sustainability initiative built around three principles: economic viability, environmental responsibility and social equity for all.The initiative is called Gonzales Grows Green, or G3.

The Challenges of Helping Diverse Businesses

Increasing economic opportunity for local employers is a key focus of G3. The city is home to many small businesses with few resources to invest in planning activities or community involvement. Larger businesses in Gonzales tend to have limited time for participating in community-based events. Consequently, city department heads and staff make regular visits to businesses as part of G3. Small businesses receive the same level of attention and assistance as larger ones.

When city staff spends time with local businesses to identify opportunities for improved energy efficiency, savings and profitability, employers and employees understand they can play an important role in community sustainability. And when G3 efforts can save businesses significant amounts of money through efficiencies, they are more willing to invest part of those savings back into the community by sponsoring local events and programs.

G3 in Action

Gonzales has assisted many local businessses through G3. One is HealthySoil, a company that develops innovative products that improve soil health and is committed to sustainable business practices. HealthySoil began as a small operation in Gonzales and subsequently expanded, with several regional offices. The company’s hub for training staff and clients remains in Gonzales. Working with G3, HealthySoil expanded its facility with an investment from a Community Development Block Grant and enterprise zone tax credits. HealthySoil donates excess product to help landscape areas throughout the city.

Another local company, Converted Organics of California, started small and now distributes its all-natural fertilizer products throughout North America. Working with many partners, G3 developed a food waste diversion program whereby local schools take their food waste to Converted Organics to be returned as free fertilizer for school sites and city parks. This model zero-waste lunch program is currently being considered as a regional solution for food waste. “The relationship between Converted Organics, the City of Gonzales and the school district is a model for other communities,” says Edward J. Gildea, president of Converted Organics. “The city is an innovative partner, and the G3 program is a cutting-edge example of how business and government can work together to benefit the community.”

The city helps numerous businesses realize savings through recycling and waste diversion efforts. One local food processor now saves nearly $80,000 annually on waste disposal fees after working with G3 on recycling and redirecting its waste. An international winery with a local facility is now diverting between 82 and 90 percent of its waste stream from the landfill at a substantial cost savings after exploring options through G3.

Gonzales is also home to biodiesel producer Energy Alternative Solutions, Inc. The company expanded with investments from Gonzales business and redevelopment agency loans, and local farmers are piloting a project to grow biodiesel-producing crops. Looking to the future, Gonzales and the local air district collaborated with private industry to build a biodiesel fueling station to distribute the local fuel. In addition to benefiting from the sales tax produced through fuel sales, the city negotiated an innovative revenue-sharing arrangement with Energy Alternative Solutions, Inc., which provides additional revenues to help fund essential local services.

Gonzales receives regular inquiries from companies seeking new opportunities, as a result of referrals from existing businesses. Local businesses indicate satisfaction with the partnerships the city has fostered. Mike Kennedy of Green Valley Farm Supply says, “I’m very pleased with the G3 effort. Gonzales has made the extra effort to assist our business. When we’re asked to sponsor local events, there is no hesitation on our part because of the reciprocal effort.”

Through G3’s sustainability efforts, Gonzales businesses perceive local government as a partner and provider of helpful services rather than simply a regulator. Gonzales offers an excellent model of an economic development program that focuses on sustainability, builds trust and understanding and helps all businesses regardless of size.

Contact: Harold Wolgamott, emergency services director/special projects analyst; phone: (831) 594-8101; email: hwolgamott@ci.gonzales.ca.us.

This article appears in the May 2012 issue of Western City
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