Mountain View has a unique dynamic, with not only a charming, pedestrian-friendly downtown, but also a significant portion of Silicon Valley – a technology district known worldwide for its size and scope.
Perhaps its biggest claim to fame is that it is home to Google – the city’s largest employer with nearly 20,000 jobs. But it also houses Intuit, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Symantec, Samsung and many others. Several auto companies have set up shop here, too. They include BMW, Volvo, Honda and Toyota.
The city strives to stay competitive with neighboring markets. That’s why the city passed a minimum wage ordinance that brings theirs up to $15 per hour by 2018. It has a vibrant downtown and technology sector, but it needs to keep reliable, long-term employees working in them.
Downtown Mountain View is special in that it’s historical with a mixed-use flair. City officials have made sure to maintain and promote its walkable environment because they know that’s a big part of the allure, especially when you consider the average age here is 35.
Downtown is located on 10 blocks of Castro Street between Evelyn Avenue and El Camino Real and boasts more than 20 retailers and 70 restaurants. It is home to a wide range of businesses, with everything from bistros to salons to home décor stores to a performing arts center. A major transit hub is located there, as well.
“We have a good balance of businesses in our downtown,” said Tiffany Chew, the city’s business development specialist. “However, I think it’s a delicate balance as we work to attract new businesses and retain our existing businesses.”
One particularly popular attraction is the farmers market – one of the 10 largest in the whole state. Up to 8,000 visitors flock to it on Sundays in the summer. Other events that the downtown puts on include classic car shows, trick-or-treating, festivals, a yearly spring family parade and a holiday open house.
The largest downtown event, drawing more than 200,000 guests in a weekend, is the annual Art & Wine Festival, ranked one of the best in the country. The event has been put on by the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce for the past 45 years, said Tony Siress, president and CEO.
The downtown has a rich history and is overseen and cared for by the Central Business Association (CBA), which was formed in 1960 when a handful of downtown merchants came together to redevelop the downtown. The CBA has since worked with the city council to form two special business taxing districts that generate $40,000 annually in order to fund advertising, promotions and special event/activities.
“Mountain View is very unique,” Chew said. “We’re fortunate to have a community that supports our downtown.”
In the past 10 years, it has seen significant change. Today it’s home to over 100 technology startups, as part of short-term accelerator programs funded by two globally-known technology incubators: 500 Startups and Y Combinator.
“That’s where our downtown has come into its own,” Chew remarked.
But with great success often comes great attention and demand. That’s why city and chamber of commerce officials are ramping up efforts to retain the businesses they’ve got.
With costs of both labor and rent climbing, and internet shopping rapidly growing in popularity, the local business climate is changing. Retail is evolving. And yet property owners (the rent-chargers) need to be satisfied, too. So it’s not uncommon to see flourishing companies and businesses suddenly finding themselves unable to afford a nearby larger space in which to grow.
Staff currently works to retain existing businesses by responding to situations where a business may need to expand or relocate and reaching out to businesses through the corporate visitation program and regional economic development programs. However, a new business retention program is in the works – the program will first focus on existing downtown retailers, Chew said.
There is also the thought that perhaps the future of retail could include new types of shops, such as storefronts with a smaller footprint designed to function as fitting shops – where customers try on items in store and then submit their order there online, Siress noted.
Recently, the city’s economic development team brought in real estate professionals to discuss retail trends. It’s a realistic approach to trying to stay ahead of the curve, Chew said.
It’s not a challenge unique to Mountain View by any stretch, but it’s something that the city wants to curb.
“It is easier to retain than to recruit,” Chew added.