Early each morning on Richmond's waterfront, just a few hundred feet from where thousands of men and women once feverishly assembled Navy ships, military jeeps, and half-track tanks during World War II, a new type of assembly line busily produces fresh, gourmet desserts.
Galaxy Desserts has been touted as one of the fastest growing businesses in the Bay Area. Its two hundred production workers steadily handcraft delectable crèmes, tarts, cheesecakes, mousse cakes, and the company's most celebrated item — the three-ounce French croissant, which has so much morning goodness in its fluffy folds that Oprah Winfrey has featured it five times on her favorite things list. The Oprah exposure brought such an onslaught of new orders (the company now makes upwards of 75,000 croissants a day) that Galaxy needed a larger kitchen. So the company moved from its San Rafael facility in 2005 to Richmond, where it found an ideal geographical location, competitive leasing rates, and enterprise zone tax incentives.
"I don't think any business looks forward to navigating city departments, but the City of Richmond has been more than functional; if I have a question, I know who to call to get it answered right away," said Galaxy CEO Paul Levitan. "We're entrepreneurs so we keep thinking about growing, and right now that would involve growing in Richmond."
While it's enjoying phenomenal success, Galaxy is just one element of Richmond's newfound renaissance. It's a startling turnaround for the hardscrabble city. For the past six decades, the mere mention of Richmond has conjured an image of the massive Chevron oil refinery looming over a bleak industrial landscape and violence-ridden neighborhoods where the heartbreak of each homicide bled freely into the next. But over the past six years there has been a profound change. A new spirit in city government has helped transform industry, the quality of life in the city, and Richmond's grim reputation. The city has undergone a facelift, citizens are attending community meetings and events in unprecedented numbers, and new businesses — many of them green — are bringing economic opportunities back to town.
While other cities are desperately contending with debilitating budget deficits and struggling to maintain public safety and other basic services, Richmond has produced balanced budgets and enjoys a full complement of police officers. The combined efforts of city departments and community members have resulted in meaningful reductions in violent crime. And the city has completed numerous civic and neighborhood revitalization projects that have given Richmond a new air of vitality and community health.
There are many reasons for Richmond's rebirth, but there's widespread agreement in the city that much of the credit goes to the leadership of City Manager Bill Lindsay, who took over as the city's top administrator in 2005. "You have to acknowledge Bill Lindsay's role; he has brought a lot of integrity to Richmond," said John Gioia, who represents Richmond on the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. "The culture of any organization originates at the top. If the leadership is one of integrity and hard work, that message flows through the rest of the city departments. And that's filtered out to the business community. Now the reputation of Richmond is that Bill Lindsay has brought integrity to the process and businesses have confidence that they will get a fair hearing."
Richmond's new reputation has been paying off. Not only have dozens of new businesses like Galaxy come to town in the past six years, but the city has negotiated valuable contracts at its port. The city recently signed long-term deals with Honda and Subaru to offload car carrier ships at the city's port, which will bring in close to $90 million in revenue over the next fifteen years.
And there could be another rosy spot on the city's financial horizon. Richmond is a finalist in the competition to host the second Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory campus. The two-million-square-foot project would create hundreds of high-quality jobs and draw dozens of new lab-associated businesses to the city. Richmond is considered a strong contender because of its proximity to the UC Berkeley campus and because the university already owns a ninety-acre plot of land on the city's waterfront. The lab is expected to make its decision by November.
As for Lindsay, he takes a hands-on role in bringing new business to Richmond and in some cases he's been the deciding factor, said Redevelopment Executive Director Steve Duran. "When we need to show a prospective business that they are important to the city, Bill always makes himself available to meet with the owners to let them know that Richmond is open to growth and if they have any problems, he's available," Duran said. "And people do go to him directly. He has such an open-door policy; I don't know how he has time to do anything."
Lindsay was born and raised in Walnut Creek, where he still lives with his wife Meg. They have two children: a son, Ian, who is in college, and a daughter, Sarah, who, after graduating, followed her father into public service and is currently working for AmeriCorps.
At 55, Lindsay still has a boyish look, though he has some gray showing in his otherwise thick hair. His sincere manner belies a quick wit that is often self-deprecating and has been a valuable asset at city functions. He earned his undergraduate degree from Yale and an MBA from UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. After graduating he committed himself to public service, and before coming to Richmond, he was the city manager of Orinda, a leafy, well-heeled suburb whose kinship to Richmond is at best paradoxical.