FREMONT -- After years of drifting through economic darkness, the city is entering a brighter era of financial growth and optimism, but still must remain pragmatic, Mayor Bill Harrison said Thursday during the annual State of the City luncheon.
Harrison, a first-time mayor elected in November, usually peppers his public comments with lighthearted one-liners. But in a straightforward 24-minute address titled "Moving Fremont Forward," he was all business. "We're a city on the move," Harrison said. "We're looking to align our city as a major player in Silicon Valley."
Harrison listed the city's commercial successes of the past year, including the business expansion in Fremont of biotech company ThermoFisher Scientific; Delta Products, a manufacturer of solar and wind energy systems; and Men's Wearhouse, an East Bay clothier. He also celebrated the emergence of Seagate Technology. The cutting-edge research and development company has moved into the Fremont complex that formerly housed Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that went bankrupt in 2011 after receiving more than $500 million in federal loans.
"The Solyndra chapter in Fremont's history is officially closed," Harrison said. The crowd of nearly 300 people loudly applauded.
Harrison noted that Fremont continues to receive national recognition. Reader's Digest ranked it third in its Top 10 list of "Sharpest, Smartest Cities." Meanwhile, 24/7 Wall Street listed Fremont as the nation's fifth-best-run city, and SizeUp.com gave the city its top ranking, per capita, for creating startup companies.
Even with those public accolades, the city wants to do a better job of promoting itself.
"We don't want to be the Bay Area's best-kept secret," Harrison said.
Other good news included forecasts of small budget surpluses in coming years.
But Harrison cautioned that the city must remain pragmatic because it still has major unmet needs, including a shortage of at least three police officers, library and fire station closures and deferred street maintenance. An additional $20.4 million in annual funding is needed to pay for those services, Harrison said.
The mayor reiterated the city's ambitious vision for a pair of transit-oriented projects that would transform Fremont's suburban image into that of a regional destination offering more entertainment options. City officials have proposed a downtown development that includes 110 acres near the BART station and City Hall, 850 acres surrounding the Tesla factory (formerly NUMMI), and the planned South Fremont/Warm Springs BART station, which is expected to open in 2015.
Harrison conceded that the city's downtown concept has been many years in the planning. But, true to the speech's theme, he allowed for more than a little optimism.
"I'm confident that, this time, we'll deliver that sense of place," he said.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.