If you harbor reservations about California's business climate, or its attractiveness to commercial ventures, it can only mean you have yet to make the acquaintance of Kish Rajan, the state's director of business and economic development. When the former Walnut Creek councilman talks about what lies ahead, he sounds as excited as a kid on Christmas Eve.
"This is a place where the greatest ideas on the planet are born and grow up to be wonderful industries that contribute to the quality of life in our state," he said last week, addressing community leaders in Pleasant Hill during a "business briefing" organized by the East Bay Economic Development Alliance.
It was his latest stop on a statewide feel-good tour to explain a three-pronged economic development initiative embodied in a recently enacted bill (AB93) that phases out regional Enterprise Zone tax credits.
Rajan is charged with promoting and overseeing a statewide plan that calls for (1) sales-tax exemptions on qualifying purchases of manufacturing and biotechnology equipment; (2) five-year employee tax credits on full-time jobs paying between $12 and $28 an hour in targeted locations; and (3) corporate income-tax credits for industries locating in California.
"Too often," Rajan said, "we see great technologies invented and business formed in California, but when it's time for them to grow they start looking around to other states -- Texas, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico. We want to help those businesses stay here."
He acknowledged that California has a reputation for being "inhospitable" to business. The high costs of real estate, labor and energy won't go away, but the state can lessen tax loads, and simplify burdensome regulations that discourage new enterprises.
That, in a nutshell, is why Gov. Jerry Brown created the department Rajan now runs. Statewide coordination of tax incentives and streamlining of regulations are the governor's version of "welcome" signs for commercial investors.
"The easier we make it for business to invest, the more they're going to invest," Rajan said. "That doesn't mean giving up local control. But we have to be sensible. To the extent we can collaborate and think innovatively, the better off we'll be."
A prime example, he said, is the East Bay Green Corridor -- nine neighboring cities, as far north as Richmond and as far south as Hayward, that have banned together to attract clean-energy companies.
"Those cities have agreed to develop a model so there will be a consistency of regulatory processes for rooftop solar installations across the region," Rajan said. "It makes it very difficult for an industry to scale its operations and be successful when it has to deal with different permitting from one city to the next.
"Businesses are fine complying with regulations, but they want a process that's sensible and expeditious."
Rajan is quick to point out that there already are many positive indicators in the state's economy. Unemployment, which was in excess of 12 percent when Brown took office, now hovers around 8½ percent. The state's gross domestic product last year ($2 trillion; eighth-largest in the world) reflected an increase of 3½ percent -- fifth best jump in the nation.
"California's economy is coming back, and it's coming back strong," he said.
I noticed he had a water bottle at his side. Yes, it was half full.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.