EMERYVILLE barely qualifies as a dot on the map. Its entirety is squeezed into 1.2 square miles.

Blink your eyes when you're driving north, and you're in Berkeley. Whip a U-turn, and welcome to Oakland. You could fit Emeryville into Concord more than 25 times if you could find a way to get it through the Caldecott Tunnel.

But the town of about 10,000 residents stands large in another way. It is home to enough business activity to swell its population to three times that on work days.

Among the corporations within city limits are Academy Award-winning Pixar Animation Studios, pharmaceutical giant Novartis, biofuels producer Amyris and educational toys manufacturer Leapfrog.

Every wide-eyed candidate who runs for city council pledges to bring commerce and jobs to the community, but Emeryville's civic leaders actually have done it. City Manager Pat O'Keeffe credits a culture that traces to the city's founder.

"Joseph Emery created Emeryville in the late 1800s as a place to do business," he said. "He had been in Oakland and San Francisco, but he was discouraged by the regulations and taxation there."

Emeryville practices what its namesake preached. O'Keeffe says business license fees are lower than nearby cities, there are no payroll taxes and permits are processed at light speed compared to its neighbors.


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Bob Canter, president of the chamber of commerce, credits a business-friendly attitude that permeates city hall. Healthy companies have helped the city escape massive budget cuts. This year's $28 million operating budget is about the same as four years ago.

"Some cities succumb to anti-business pressures and enact regulations that hurt the business community," he said. "We don't do that here. You don't have to go through layers of bureaucracy. You get to decision-makers."

He summons a contrast with Oakland, where he worked in 1978, when council members talked about attracting high-end retailers for a mall near San Pablo and Telegraph Avenues. "Thirty-three years later, they're still talking about it."

In the meantime, Bay Street Emeryville sprang up as a 65-store complex, featuring retailers such as Williams-Sonoma, Coach and Pottery Barn. "Emeryville got it planned, permitted and built in about four years," he said. "We get things done."

As another example, he cites an office-furniture store owner who felt his business was hurt by 30-minute street-parking restrictions.

"I called the public works director," Canter said, "and within 48 hours, it was changed to 60 minutes."

There are no parking meters in Emeryville. (Let's pause here to let Walnut Creek officials sniff smelling salts.) Automobile traffic is reduced because of a free bus service -- Emery Go Round -- that shuttles employees and visitors from the McArthur BART station to nearly every part of town.

That idea originated in City Hall, but the funding comes from the business community, which voted to fund a $2.5 million annual budget. The buses transport 1.3 million passengers a year.

O'Keeffe, an Emeryville employee since 1995, said the city's real story is how it continually reinvents itself. In the early 1900s, it was known for meat-packing plants. After World War II, manufacturing was king. Redevelopment attracted today's industries.

"Pixar is where the Del Monte canning plant used to be," he said. "Where Novartis is was a Shell Oil plant. We've been actively involved in that transformation."

Emeryville is small, but it's all business.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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