Paul Saldana steps down after 20 years as president and CEO of the Tulare County Economic Development Corporation
TULARE COUNTY – After 20 years of helping businesses navigate through economic recoveries, recessions, natural disasters and now a global pandemic, Paul Saldana decided last week it was time to do even more of that.
On Oct. 5, Saldana notified the Tulare County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) he will be retiring as president and CEO of the organization on Oct. 31, but not from economic development. Instead, Saldana said he wanted to pursue projects to advance emerging industries in the post pandemic economy.
“I am grateful to have worked to bring jobs and economic growth to the residents of Tulare County and am looking forward to continuing to make contributions to that economic growth in a new role,” Saldana said in a released statement.
Hired just before the 9/11 economic downturn, Saldana has shepherded the EDC through the recession that followed, the Great Recession following the housing market collapse in 2008, the historic Central Valley drought from 2012-2016 and the current coronavirus pandemic.
“Paul has been a champion for Tulare County’s economy for two decades and his contributions to our economic resilience will continue to be felt for decades to come,” EDC Board Chairman Scott Harness said in response to the announcement.
Later this month, the EDC will be recognized as an “Economic Development Organization” of the Year by the International Economic Development Council, “a fitting tribute to the hard work, dedication and leadership that Paul has contributed to the EDC,” Harness stated.
The EDC Board of Directors will celebrate Saldana’s contributions to Tulare County at their Board meeting on Oct. 28, 2020. The EDC Board will conduct a national search for the President & CEO position and hopes to have the position filled by the start of the new year.
“Paul’s professional reputation nationally and statewide has positioned the EDC as one of the top economic development organizations in North America and he leaves the EDC with strong financial reserves, an unprecedented number of business attraction opportunities and a strategic plan that will continue to position the EDC well into the future,” Immediate Past Chairman Colby Wells added.
In his final year with the EDC, Saldana was able to oversee the highest number of community/site tours in recent years, the highest number of clients/customers assisted in the last decade, launch of the COVID-19 Biz Assist grant website to help businesses during the pandemic, awarded the EDC’s first micro-business loan of $10,000 to ImagineU Children’s Museum through its newly launched Business Capital Fund, the launch of Size Up Tulare County tool to help businesses see how they stack up in their industry at the local, state and national level and the launch and completion of one of its most successful programs.
Funded by a $100,000 grant from SoCalGas, Fueling Our Communities program spent $90,000 at local restaurants, one of the sectors most affected by COVID, to provide about 6,000 meals to seniors residing in assisted or senior living facilities throughout Tulare County, the population most affected by COVID. The project was capped off with the delivery of custom-made chocolate bars made by Stafford’s Chocolates and bearing the SoCalGas logo to the residents all 36 facilities that participated.
While the EDC has had a successful year in terms of supporting businesses and increasing private membership, it was less successful in retaining its public members. Public members have come and gone in the last 20 years but this year was particularly difficult for the EDC, which began its current fiscal year on July 1 without just under half of the local government membership despite lowering the annual cost for most of its cities.
Farmersville was the first to withdraw from the EDC in April. Mayor Greg Gomez said his decision to leave the EDC was not only based on budget, but also on a governance structure that would diminish, and some years eliminate, Farmersville’s vote on the board. At its April 22 meeting, the EDC presented a new formula that gave a seat to one elected official from every public entity contributing more than $10,000 to the EDC, which would include the County and the cities of Dinuba, Porterville, Tulare and Visalia. Members contributing less than $10,000 (Farmersville, Exeter, Lindsay and Woodlake) would share a single seat that would rotate annually among representatives for each city. Farmersville was set to be first in the rotation for the 2020-21 year, but that didn’t score any points with Gomez.
Exeter opted out in June for similar reasons but also because of budgeting issues, saying it would rather spend the money on supporting the Exeter Chamber of Commerce. Porterville did not include the EDC in its 2020-21 budget, thereby withdrawing its membership in June, but could not be reached for comment. Lindsay notified the EDC it did not have the funding to support its membership.
The County of Tulare almost left in May when Supervisor Amy Shuklian, the board’s representative on the EDC, recommended withdrawing its membership when its dues were proposed to more than double to $90,000 on July 1. Instead, the EDC decided to increase its private membership and only raised the county’s membership fee by $6,000 from the previous year. Shuklian, and the Board of Supervisors, decided to retain their membership under the revised fee structure.
With the cities of Dinuba, Tulare and Woodlake rejoining the EDC, the last and largest city left was Visalia. The Visalia City Council did not decide until last week if it would maintain its membership beyond the first quarter of the current fiscal year.
That decision was made on Oct. 5 when the council voted to pay the remaining $37,000 of its $50,000 for the 2020-21 year. Councilmember Brian Poochigian, the council’s representatitive on the EDC board, notified his fellow councilmembers CEO Paul Saldana had announced his retirement from the organization earlier that day. He then recommended the city pay the full amount to support the organization during a time of transition.
“On Oct. 31 the EDC will begin the search for new CEO. I think it would be important for us to show our full commitment and pay the rest of the year to show the new management they have the full support of the largest city in the county,” Poochigian said.
Before exiting the council chambers, Saldana restated the EDC’s importance for the county’s economic hub in Visalia. He said the organization had generated eight new prospects for the city looking at up to nine sites to locate. He said the EDC’s newly redesigned website has a much more inclusive data base of sites across the county and that he had started a new policy of meeting monthly with each of the cities and county officials.
“Paul has served the county well,” Councilmember Greg Collins said. “I have appreciated your service.”