EDC director set to retire
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune File Photo
After more than 20 years with the Madera County Economic Development Commission, Executive Director Bobby Kahn is set to retire — eventually.
When Kahn was interviewed at the end of July, he said it will probably be within 30 days, however, he’s at the helm trying to bring in big companies to Madera.
“There’s been a lot changes,” he said. “ One of the changes I’ve seen over the time is a 100,000-square-foot building was considered a big building. Now, 200,000 square feet is an average building. A million-square-foot building is what you will see on the marketplace. Developers build a million square feet on spec. Not in Madera, but throughout the state. They are erecting these huge buildings without a tenant. The industrial market is so robust that most of the time, they have them leased before they are finished.”
Although he has one foot out the door, that doesn’t mean he is sitting back and relaxing. He is working to improve Madera until he goes out the door.
“The person that takes my place will have to be ready to roll,” he said. “We have a lot of stuff on the books.”
The person taking over for Kahn will be at the ribbon cutting for Amond World, a 250,000 square foot facility that will bring much-needed cold storage to farmers.
“The Amond World building will be one of the biggest buildings in Madera,” he said. “I think if a developer built a 200,000 square foot building on spec, they would have it leased before it would be finished, for industrial uses. There’s so much demand for it on the market. It’s not just Madera, but the San Joaquin Valley. If you wanted to find a 200,000 square foot building from Bakersfield to Stockton, I would have a hard time to move into in the next 8-9 months.”
Kahn is still answering requests for information. However, instead of responding to them with existing buildings, he is responding with how fast they can build it if they are able to get the materials for it.
“Span Construction used to say they can build the building in eight months,” he said. “Now, they are hesitant to say that because they don’t know. They built the 37,500 square foot in Freedom Industrial Park and they had to hit the pause button for four or five months because they couldn’t get a roof. What would have taken them six months to build took them over a year because they had to wait so long.”
One of Kahn’s first big fish was getting Madera its first Starbucks.
“When I first took this job, there was not a Starbucks located anywhere in Madera County,” he said. “Somebody came to me and said if you can get a Starbucks in Madera, you’re golden and never have to worry about job security. Now, we have five or six in the city of Madera. People are now complaining about getting another Starbucks.”
The Freedom Industrial Park stands out as one of Kahn’s biggest accomplishments because it all hinged on a handshake deal from King Husein with Span Construction and David Tooley with the City of Madera.
“That was a very unique project,” Kahn said. “It was this crazy idea I had. I talked to David Tooley and he told me to talk to King Husein with Span. King said okay, and we started to bring the parties together. King’s accountant said if you give them land in exchange for infrastructure, it’s going to establish value for that land. That will trigger a capital gains tax. I thought all the work I put in was going to fall apart. Before the end of the conversation, the accountant said you have to donate the land to the city. Even at that, there can’t be a contract between you and the city saying if you are making the donation, the city will do things in exchange. He said it has to be done on a handshake. I remember the pause in the room. King looked at me and to David Tooley. King said he builds all over the world. I wouldn’t do it with any other jurisdiction except you guys. He stood up and reached out to David and shook his hand and said, let’s do it. That’s how Freedom Industrial Park was started.”
The one project Kahn has spent the most time on is the casino that is supposed to be built on Avenue 17, and he won’t even be in office when it eventually breaks ground.
“All this gray hair I have is from the casino,” Kahn said. “The casino is in good hands and definitely a go. I was thinking it would break ground last month. In talking to the officials, it will break ground in another six months. I will be ridden into the sunset when it breaks ground. It will be a great project. There’s a lot of stuff going on in that Avenue 17 corridor. You will see the city take a growth spurt that way. The Avenue 17 and State Route 99 will become a busy commercial and industrial area. The future of Madera out there looks really strong and vital.”
Another business Kahn was proud to bring to Madera was Boot Barn.
“I thought Boot Barn would be an ideal fit for Madera,” he said. “I have been seriously talking to them for five years. They liked Madera and wanted to come to Madera, but we couldn’t find them the right location. They like to be close to Home Depot. If you go around and look around at those stores, there’s Home Depot close by.
“When Office Depot closed, the broker that represented the property called me and said he had that property listed for lease. I told him that was going to be a perfect place in my mind for Boot Barn. I told him I was going to make a phone call to Boot Barn. They asked how big it was and I said 20,000 square feet. They said it was way too big. A town like Madera, we want to stay at 12,500 or 15,000 square feet. I called the broker and he talked to the owner. They made the lease-rate low enough to make it worthwhile for Boot Barn to go there. That store is beautiful inside. It’s one of their premier stores. Their sales are going through the roof. They said their sales have been great.”
One last project Kahn is pushing to the finish line is Dutch Bros, which will be located in front of Vallarta Supermarket.
“When you are in this job, you are always working on something,” Kahn said. “Dutch Bros. are on the dotted line. I just want to get a building permit in their hands. It’s been a back-and-forth with civil drawings and getting them approved. I think we’re almost there. We have some I’s to dot and T’s to cross with PG&E. I want to say, when I walk out the door, they have their building permits so I can say that one is finished.”
Over the past 20 years, Kahn has seen businesses come and go, but what gives him a “Proud Papa” moment is seeing the local small businesses thrive and succeed.
“Everybody wants to talk about the really big projects,” he said. “I’m proud of the small businesses. We were able to help them in small little ways to help them launch and they have a business of their own, which has been a dream to open their own business. There are a couple downtown that we’ve helped and I’m happy for those people. It is nice to see places like Oldcastle. When we did the deal with them, they were originally using one of the four buildings. That site has grown so much for them, in their whole corporate structure, Madera has become their core facility. They are using all four of the buildings and the yard is full of product. It’s been fun to work with them.”
First on the agenda for Kahn when he is finally retired is work on his campaign for the State Center Community College Board, which he has been on for almost eight years and is at the end of his second term. His seat is up for reelection this November.
“Redistricting has made it a little more challenging because they changed the area drastically,” he said. “After election, I will take a deep breath and go on vacation for a couple of weeks. If I win the election, I will be set for four years.”
After that, Kahn isn’t sure.
“People ask me what I’m going to do, but I haven’t thought about that chapter, yet,” he said. “I will have time to think it over and do things I want to do. There’s a lot of options I could do or may do. People think I may do another job. I’m not saying I’m not going to do something. I’m here at 7:30 in the morning and I don’t know when my day ends. I don’t want to do that moving forward. I may just fool around the house. I may get my body back in shape and get back into umpiring.”