Regional Identity Drives Economy

Five cities pull together to facilitate regional branding

SOUTHWEST RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA- The first step in a regional branding initiative launched Thursday, August 30th in the City of Temecula City Hall, one of the southern gateways into Southwest Riverside County, with more than a modicum of success. The efforts to define the five-city region, traditionally known as “Southwest Riverside County” as a marketable entity, and to solicit support from the five cities began with a consortium of representatives from Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Murrieta, Temecula, and Wildomar. The regional meeting was hosted by the Economic Development Coalition (EDC) and was attended by council members, city managers, mayors, city staff, business people and developers. The public was invited.

Home to over a half million people and with nearly 3 million people visiting each year, Southwest Riverside County area cities in partnership with the County of Riverside are aiming to collectively promote the area in an effort to attract talent, investment and new companies to the region. This equates to more job opportunities locally and fewer people commuting long hours to work outside of the region. A win-win situation that Southwest Riverside City Officials are very interested in pursuing.

Four industry experts presented testimonials on the need of a more regional identity: Jeff Kurtz, General Manager of Promenade Mall (retail); Greg Morrison, Government Relations Officer at Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District (EVMWD—utilities); Gene Wunderlich, Southwest Riverside County Association of Realtors (real estate); and John Mueller, Business Development for Truax Companies (commercial development).

Each city in the region had council members, elected officials, and staff attending the meeting. “The turnout was more than encouraging,” said Doug McAllister, the Director of the Economic Development Coalition and the moderator of the meeting.

“Who are we?” was the question presented by McAllister. “Are we the Inland Empire?” A resounding “No!” filled the room. Then, he urged, “just who are we? We’re cheerleaders for our area,” he said, “but we don’t know how to answer that question. That’s what this meeting is for—to see if there’s a consensus for a regional branding initiative that will define who we are, which ultimately leads to job creation for our residents. Regional identity assists the region and elevates it, highlighting what makes this region such a great place to invest, build a business, and to thrive.”

“We’re operating as one economy,” said John Mueller. “We’re often seen as one trade area. There are 23 million people within a 2-hour drive of us and we’re still missing that valuable label for this area.”

Jeff Kurtz added that it is always difficult when he and his team are talking to potential clients because in general, they don’t know what area of the country he’s talking about. “Our retailers don’t understand who we are when we say, ‘Temecula.’” Kurtz continued, “Recent research has shown that we are considered ‘young,’ there’s tremendous potential for growth, but they discount us just because they don’t understand who we are.”

Greg Morrison explained how his company covers about 100 square miles of the region, which either includes every city, or neighbors up with them. Morrison continued, “Outside of this area, potential employees see us as the ‘I.E.’ But a huge problem exists with that because the ‘I.E.’ includes San Bernardino County, as well as Riverside County, and that term is tainted and doesn’t represent our area.” He went on to add “that the human resources department of EVMWD has the hardest job because when they go to other areas seeking qualified job candidates, they face the same questions, “Where are you? Are you part of San Bernardino?”

“All the cities have done great jobs in branding themselves individually, as well as EVMWD; however, a regional brand would give us the power to reach out and help people understand what we’re a part of.”

Gene Wunderlich estimated that there are 9,000 real estate agents within the five-city area represented by the Southwest Riverside County Association of Realtors. Wunderlich conveyed to the group, “that the difficulties in real estate include lumping this region in with all of Riverside and San Bernardino counties; especially, when we visit Sacramento or Washington DC.” Wunderlich continued, “San Bernardino County, for example, has a median home value of $265,000, and while median prices in Riverside County are more like $400,000—in this region, they are even higher.”

Wunderlich explained to the group that lenders are required to follow the conforming loan limits when going for a loan. The cap for such a loan in Riverside County is $453,100, while the limit in San Diego County is $649,750. So, even though you could find a home here for a lower amount, you can’t get a conforming loan for it [the limit at which a lender can make a loan under Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac]. Wunderlich stated, “This makes it much more difficult for even established families to move here, and that is a big problem.

“With a 1.5 million home deficit in California, we need the identity to ease the crunch, as Southwest Riverside County is the housing market for Orange County and San Diego.

John Mueller continued the momentum adding personal experience when Truax wanted to secure financing outside of the immediate area. They did eventually receive financing, but it was a challenge for their company. “Local banks can lend up to about $20 million, but we needed more than that. And who wants to believe that a $100 million hotel is a good idea in a city of 100,000 residents? We had to prove there’s a demand for such a hotel by showing that we are more than just Temecula. There are no comps here for luxury hotels, no comps for the kind of marketplace we’re talking about and no comps for automated parking,” said Mueller.

“We’re all the five cities coalesced together. Once we described the outstanding merits of each city and explained that there are three million visitors a year here bringing in over $721 million in tourist dollars. Then they got over the initial question of, ‘where are you again?’”

Council members ended the discussion with comments and statements about the need for a regional branding.

Jonathan Ingram, the Mayor of Murrieta, said, “we are the last bastion of development between the coast and San Bernardino. This region is exploding. We need to be ready for what is headed our way. We need to make this investment and we need to make it now.”

Rick Gibbs, City of Murrieta added to Ingram’s statement, “the Inland Empire perception is negative because of the lower education and demographics of San Bernardino County and parts of Riverside County. But, in a demographic sense, we’re really an extension of San Diego County.”

Steve Manos, the Council member of Lake Elsinore, contributed in agreement, “we should’ve been doing this a long time ago. Is it time now? My answer is, ‘Hell Yes!’ This is incredibly timely, incredibly important. I would encourage all my colleagues to participate in this.” Manos continued, “If we’re going to spend the money, we should; if we’re going to go ahead and spend the money to get this out there, we should.”

Matt Liesemeyer, Council member of Menifee, “We all have an interest in doing this [creating a regional brand]; that’s why we’re here.”

Jeff Comerchero, Council member of Temecula, “we’ve tried this before, but now we are thinking differently. We need to identify us as something different, and we need to spend the money to tell others. It’s time to do.”

Maryanne Edwards, City of Temecula: “It’s up to us to define the regional brand and then consistently use it for the long term.”

In concluding the meeting, McAllister said, “There are things we want to accomplish in this region that no city can do on its own. Each city around the table has done amazing work in getting their own brand known. Now it’s time for the region and in order to make this work, we all must work together.”

Action items resulting from this meeting included having the EDC work with City Economic Development Departments to put together a Request for Proposals (RFP) for regional branding to be released within the next few months. For more information on how to participate in the RFP process, please contact the Economic Development Coalition at (951) 694-9800 or follow the website at for news and announcements.

The EDC is a private/public partnership that promotes Southwest California regional economic development through business retention and development, job opportunities, and related economic growth. The EDC is dedicated to expanding the competitive position of the regional businesses in a global economy.