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New Plumas Corporation director focuses on improving local economy

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer
3/7/2012

If reviving Plumas County’s economy will require a team effort, Greg O’Sullivan said he wants to be the quarterback.

“That’s what we need, someone to call the plays,” O’Sullivan said. “I think that’s my strong suit.”

O’Sullivan, who was hired as executive director of nonprofit Plumas Corporation two months ago, said he’s a “bottom-line” person who likes to make things happen quickly. He said he wants to see results by the end of his first year.

O’Sullivan has spent much of his first 60 days on the job getting to know people and organizations who can impact economic development. And he likes what he sees.

He said the county has “a lot of resources” already in place. O’Sullivan enthusiastically ran down his mental checklist of the county’s economic resources.

He emphasized the importance of Feather River College, Alliance for Workforce Development, the county’s community development block grant program and the chambers of commerce, to name just a few.

He praised the county’s planning department and said it will play an important role.

And he lauded the efforts by Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative to bring high-speed broadband to the county.

“That’s just the basics of doing business,” O’Sullivan said. “You have to have those (Internet) speeds.”

He said Plumas Bank’s commitment to lend money to businesses is a positive economic indicator.

“When Plumas Bank comes out with a program to lend $40 million in their service territory, that’s a pretty bold step,” he said. “They are saying they have some money to lend and they are going to take some risk on businesses.

“This is a great team,” O’Sullivan said of the people he has met so far. “And I know I’m leaving out others. Some of them I haven’t met yet.”

He said he eventually plans to do “a business walk” to meet local business owners. And he said he would welcome their phone calls and emails. “I want to hear all the stories. You’ve got to hear them and understand them to work with them.”

When it comes to his work, O’Sullivan considers himself “a boots on the ground” kind of guy. He has a 20-year track record of getting results with that kind of style.

The 51-year-old Williams native has been orchestrating economic development in Northern California since 1990, when he started with an economic development corporation in Colusa County.

“I completely fell in love with the industry. Because it was so grassroots,” O’Sullivan said. “The one thing about small communities, you can really feel the impact when you have a success. It’s a home run out of the park.”

A home run would be great. But helping create a few more jobs would be a great start.

Supervisor Lori Simpson said she doesn’t know O’Sullivan very well, but she said she admires his enthusiasm.

“Greg comes from a rural area and he understands the issues we face in Plumas County,” Simpson said. “Creating jobs isn’t easy. It’s a lot more complicated than people think. But he has vast experience and an extensive background.”

His resume includes experience in business recruitment, advertising, marketing, sales and finding the money to gets things accomplished.

O’Sullivan and his wife of 26 years, Alison, own an economic development consulting business. The business specializes in writing grant proposals. They have won $30 million in grants for their clients since 1996.

He was recently the president of the nonprofit Economic Development Corporation of Shasta.

O’Sullivan was also the president and general manager of Upstate California Economic Development Council. It is a council comprised of 20 county economic development professionals.

“They do regional marketing, much like the visitors bureau here,” O’Sullivan said.

However, Plumas County doesn’t have a visitors bureau.

The Board of Supervisors eliminated the traditional funding to the bureau as part of the county’s budget cuts. Plumas Corporation ran the visitors bureau operation.

O’Sullivan said the decision took him by surprise.

“I didn’t expect to walk in and have to shut down the visitors bureau,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with that … winding it down.”

Despite the setback, O’Sullivan said he understands the supervisors’ decision, even if he doesn’t agree with it.

“These are difficult times,” he said. “They, too, have to answer to the bottom line.”

O’Sullivan said the visitors bureau was very productive. He said visitors and lodging providers were happy with the service.

However, he said Plumas Corporation has to shoulder some responsibility for the bureau’s demise.

“Where (Plumas Corporation) may have misstepped over the years is complacency as far as communications,” O’Sullivan said. “We are working on improving that through every function of Plumas Corporation.”

He said the county needs to market itself in one way or another.

“Business attraction and visitors bureau marketing go hand in hand in a community like this,” he said. “I think that’s how you get the attention of the outside world.”

Despite the vote to close the visitors bureau, O’Sullivan said he isn’t at odds with the supervisors.

“I think they have treated me fairly,” he said. “They do have some concerns, and I understand that.”

O’Sullivan singled out conversations he’s had with Supervisor Jon Kennedy. He said he appreciates the supervisor’s input, although he admitted Kennedy hasn’t agreed with all of his ideas and perceptions.

“Kennedy is going to be good for me,” O’Sullivan said, smiling. “I think he’s going to keep me on my toes.”

Kennedy said he supports O’Sullivan’s effort to bring jobs and business to the county. He just wants the enthusiastic Plumas Corporation director to be financially realistic.

“I think Greg is trying hard to identify the needs of our county — economic development-wise — and develop a thoughtful plan to address them,” Kennedy said. “I think he’s being realistic about his task and will not try to waste much time on lofty and unrealistic goals.”

O’Sullivan said that for the county to accomplish any goals, it has to be a team effort.

“At the end of the year, I would like to see local government completely engaged in the economic development program,” O’Sullivan said. “And I would like to see the private sector engaged. I’m out scouting for leadership right now.”

That’s where O’Sullivan sees himself as the quarterback. He says he doesn’t have all the answers, ideas or resources, but he’s good at bringing together people and organizations that do.

“That’s my job,” he said. “To run interference, to make the calls, to do the planning and to identify the opportunities, and to prioritize those opportunities to go after.”

O’Sullivan and his wife still have a home in Red Bluff. He said he stays in Quincy during the week and goes home on the weekends. He, Alison and their three horses plan to move to Plumas County by the end of the year.

But right now he said his focus is on the new, and big, job at hand.

“Plumas Corp. took a chance on me,” O’Sullivan said. “They could have brought in a resource person to wind down and just do (Feather River Coordinated Resource Management) and Fire Safe Council stuff — a grants person. But they brought in an economic developer.”

By the end of the year, O’Sullivan said he wants to see improvement in the county’s economic landscape. It’s part of his self-imposed deadline.

“We need to be up and running at the end of this year with all of the resource providers,” he said. “And Plumas Corp. should be at the forefront in providing good, credible business services, in a well-coordinated fashion.

“At the end of the year, people will know that they can pass (business questions) to Plumas Corporation and Plumas Corp. will get those businesses to the right resource.”

He emphasized the county needs to help support the businesses it already has, including those in the recreation and tourism industry.

“They (tourism business owners) made an investment of their own cash and sweat equity. They need to be supported,” O’Sullivan said. “They are the generators of not just TOT (bed tax), but they are the generators of property taxes, of sales tax revenues. All of those tax revenues that run local government.

“We have to recognize that, and support that. And make that investment.”

 


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