ANTIOCH -- The East Contra Costa region has the resources in place to be strong in business, but work must be done to tap into that potential.

That was a common idea that emerged during Thursday's EC2 The Collaborative summit.

A waterfront with deep-water shipping channels, undeveloped riverside land and accessible railroad lines are among the region's attributes, Contra Costa County senior deputy administrator Rich Seithel told the near 150 business and civic leaders at the Antioch Community Center.

"These areas are ripe. There are opportunities here that you find in very few places," Seithel said.

Over the years, East Contra Costa County has evolved into a housing-rich area but¿ has not been good at job creation.

In the 1950s through 1970s, the region was poised to be central to the future of the Bay Area, but fragmented planning led cities to "fend for themselves," said Alex Schafran, a doctoral candidate in the Department of City & Regional Planning at UC Berkeley.

Schafran told the crowd via Skype that perhaps there are some economic opportunities to work with cities along the Carquinez Strait because they have similar historical and industrial roots.

Economic consultant Gary Craft said that East Contra Costa has opportunities to create "clusters" of existing businesses in manufacturing, energy, clean technology and agriculture business and agri-tourism.


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The EC2 event came about after Antioch Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Sean Wright and two other members began meeting over a year ago to find a regional approach toward stimulating job growth and making the area more desirable to new non-retail business. The meetings grew to about three dozen participants.

"Imagine how nice it would be if people got off by 5 p.m. and were able to get home by 5:30 p.m. and play with their kids," Wright said.

The East Contra Costa area is behind all other East Bay regions when it comes to non-retail commercial development, according to a January report from the Workforce Development Board.

Among the strengths identified during small groups discussions is the $1.3 billion in transportation improvements that are coming to the region in the next few years. Leaders throughout the region have said East Contra Costa is like a cul-de-sac. Weaknesses included the lack of a unique identity, the perception of the area and a low self-esteem from residents.

Jamie Duran, who started his small business Solar Harmonics in Brentwood three years ago, said he was pleased to see that there are a lot of people working toward one goal.

"At least there's some effort to try to take a look at what needs to be done and what can be done," he said.

Small business owner Robert Kilbourne of Antioch added that the information he received was outstanding.

"I know I'm going to get out there and be an advocate in telling people what we can do and what strengths we have," he said.

EC2 The Collaborative will air on Contra Costa TV at 9 p.m. Oct. 16 and 10 a.m. Oct. 17.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.