A City’s Growth Spurt

City of Lincoln Economic Development Manager Shawn Tillman on growing business and revitalizing downtown

Back Q&A Apr 15, 2019 By Sena Christian

As the City of Lincoln’s economic development manager since 2014, Shawn Tillman’s job is to help guide economic growth, redevelopment efforts and land-use planning. Comstock’s recently spoke with Tillman about the city’s efforts to attract new business, reactivate its foreign trade zone designation and support investment happening downtown.

What should I know about Lincoln?

A lot of people will talk about Lincoln as having been the fastest-growing [small] city in America. It went from 10,000 to 40,000 people in the span of 10 years [2000-2010]. When a community experiences that amount of growth at that pace, it’s impossible to keep up. It’s really difficult to build the systems within the city organization that are necessary to accommodate a community that’s growing that quickly. It’s also difficult to develop the infrastructure that’s needed. Over the past five years, Lincoln has been growing at a very healthy and stable rate of about 1.6 percent annually. We are about to experience another housing boom; there are several hundred units ready to be constructed in the Twelve Bridges area.

What’s great about Lincoln — it’s a historic downtown with a traditional grid street pattern, but it’s also a suburban community that’s growing. The city will accommodate a build-out population of approximately 100,000-120,000 people [by 2050]. But the general plan that’s guiding that growth is very mindful of preserving the traditional and historic downtown and making that the city center. The residential development as it’s occurring is being done with both a mind toward connecting to downtown, but also preserving the magnificent open space out here. The other part of Lincoln that’s growing and changing is the workforce. This traditionally has been a community where people lived and slept, and then drove someplace else to work. Our job growth is increasing significantly. Some of the projects we’ve been working on in terms of economic development have yielded over 1,000 new jobs over the past four or so years. 

What kinds of jobs and in what sectors?

In the industrial-employment sector, there are a number of projects we’ve completed over the last few years. One is a carpet recycling company that chose to locate in Lincoln, called Circular Polymers. This company, which started with about five employees when they came to Lincoln in 2016, is now about 30 employees, and they are poised for significant growth. Another company called TransPak is a global crating, packing, logistics company, primarily to the technology industry — they are based in Silicon Valley. They acquired a company called Cases Plus that was formed in Lincoln in the early ’90s. … TransPak bought that company and operates [it] here, but they are now also doing their traditional crating and packaging work here in Lincoln. They’ve expanded almost threefold from 25,000 square feet to about 75,000 square feet and went from about 20 employees to 55 employees. These are production/processing jobs. Another company called GC Products has an operation in Lincoln — they make construction products for custom interiors for mostly commercial applications. They had another business they started in Reno, expecting they would relocate their Lincoln operation to Reno, because the conventional wisdom at the time was Nevada was lower cost, lower regulation, a better place to operate. After five years in business in Nevada, they realized it was not what they had expected it to be, and they relocated their Reno operation to California. They took about 25,000 square feet of industrial space and expanded their workforce from about 20 to about 45. 

What about Lincoln attracted these companies?

A big part of their decision to remain or expand here was the ability to retain their workforce and grow their workforce. One company that made the decision to stay is Gulfstream, a global manufacturer of business aircraft. They make jets. In Lincoln, they have one of their global repair centers. They were looking to expand and looking at real estate throughout the Sacramento region. They ultimately made their decision to stay in Lincoln because of the will of their workforce wanting to remain here.

What types of businesses is the city trying to attract now?

We have at Lincoln AirCenter Business Park businesses that have food-grade manufacturing facilities. One of them is a giant coffee roaster; they have a food-grade processing operation. Another company makes plastic products from plant-based resins, and those products are biodegradable. The coffee company uses that product for their single-cup coffee offering. Because the plastic touches food products, all those products are made in a food-grade manufacturing environment, even though they don’t make food products. Shari’s Berries is in Lincoln. They have a food-grade manufacturing environment. We’d like to attract more companies in the food-manufacturing space. Another priority area is supply-chain management for technology companies. What that means is there are a number of companies here that do repair and refurbishment of electronic products [on] a contract basis for other companies. We have three or four companies in that space, and we’d like to see more. So services to the technology industry, food-grade manufacturing, and I think there’s also further potential in the recycling area, as well. 

Can you tell me more about Lincoln’s foreign trade zone, which is in the process of being reactivated?

The foreign trade zone that we’re a part of is the Port of West Sacramento. We are a subzone, as is an area in south Sacramento and an area in Dixon. Our subzone was established in 1997 when Hewlett-Packard had a large operation here [until 2003]. What a foreign trade zone affords a qualified business, they’re essentially considered out of the country for customs purposes. When they bring in materials from offshore, and it comes into their facility, it’s considered still out of the country, so there’s a deferral, or reduction or sometimes even elimination of customs duties and import fees. The company that’s planning to reactivate it now is called Precision Medical Products, and they’re a company that looked throughout the region for an expansion opportunity and ultimately chose Lincoln, largely for the foreign trade zone, because they will be bringing in material that they use in their products from Asia. Essentially what happens is when you bring in a component or material from offshore, oftentimes you use that component as part of another product. Sometimes you’re sitting on it for several months before you actually sell it or transfer it to a customer. A foreign trade zone allows the company to defer the payment of those duties until such time as they essentially have an order for their product. … This building where Precision will be is only part of the area that can be used as a foreign trade zone.

So what’s going on downtown?

Downtown Lincoln has been the heart of the community for 150 years, and we’re very fortunate to have historic buildings that have stood the test of time. One of the more prominent ones is the Odd Fellows building. The building on Fifth Street was recently purchased for Double Barrel Smokehouse, a very popular barbeque in Lincoln, which relocated [there]. They just opened. Another historic building on Lincoln Boulevard and Sixth Street — the former Lincoln Hotel — is being completely renovated and will be the new home for Old Town Pizza, a very successful locally owned pizza restaurant. Down Lincoln Boulevard, the long brick building called Lincoln Brand Feeds, that building is in the process of being acquired. Each of these properties had been owned by their previous owners for decades. … When new owners come in, they come in with new investment, new ideas about what to do with the properties and, quite frankly, a lot of motivation. With those three properties changing hands, all within the last year, that’s a great signal for investors’ confidence in Lincoln and 
the downtown. 

We also in the last couple years have had the evolution of collegiate baseball in Lincoln. At McBean Park [in downtown], there is a baseball stadium originally established back in the ’40s. It hosted a semipro baseball team. In 2016, we entered into a long-term lease agreement with William Jessup University, and they have made McBean Stadium their home baseball field. It’s an up-and-coming collegiate baseball program that is nationally ranked. Shortly thereafter, a collegiate wood-bat team was established in Lincoln, the Lincoln Potters. … The Potters is like a minor league baseball experience — there’s entertainment, there’s a mascot. They have a peacock as their mascot. They have music, a bounce house for the kids. It’s very much a community thing that goes on all summer long. Leveraging that for our downtown was really important because it brings a lot of people to the downtown for baseball. Another thing we’ve facilitated [is] the development of over the last few years is a community theater — Lincoln Theatre Company. We try to leverage those city assets to create economic development. Each of the activities that goes on — whether it’s baseball or live theater — draws people to downtown, which, in turn, draws patrons to restaurants and businesses there. That’s one of the things we’ve focused on in the last few years, is leveraging our publicly owned assets.

Is Lincoln dealing with a lack of affordable housing?

There’s a tremendous lack of affordable housing. It’s the same in Lincoln as it is everywhere else in the region. Interestingly, we’re seeing a large influx of people impacted by the fires, especially the Camp Fire. But we’re definitely seeing former Bay Area residents relocating out here. The housing product being built in Lincoln, or that’s on the books right now, most of it is single-family. But our general plan requires higher densities, and part of the reason is so housing affordability can be maintained — higher density usually results in relatively lower costs. So that’s a priority for the city to make sure we’re achieving higher density in development to help with affordability.

As Lincoln’s population continues to grow, where will residents be employed — will they be employed locally or will they be commuting to Sacramento?

The South Placer area — Lincoln, Rocklin, Roseville and unincorporated Placer County — is, outside of Sacramento, the next largest employment center in our region. People who work in this area live in all of those communities. The continuing growth in employment envisions the growth of [Lincoln] in villages, starting with Village 1-7. Village 5 [4,785 acres along Highway 65 adjacent to the western city limit within the city’s sphere of influence] is huge; there’s probably 5,000-6,000 houses that would be here at build-out. Also in Village 5 is significant amount of land for an employment center and office buildings.

Many may think of Lincoln for Sun City — a large senior community development. How is the city working to bring in more younger people?

Sun City is static: There’s X number of houses there, and X number of people who live there. It’s not getting any bigger. The community is continuing to grow around it. Only about 22 percent of the population are retirees, and 45 percent are families. We’re working hard to provide services and recreation opportunities for families. In the South Placer area, Lincoln has a somewhat more affordable housing cost, and that attracts families as well. Lincoln’s school district has two school projects under development — a new high school and a new elementary school, and they also have refurbishment of the existing high school and junior high school. So those investments by the school district and the city’s investments in recreation programming are specifically geared toward attracting families.


Fran Neves (not verified)May 14, 2019 - 6:42pm

Great article. Great town. We’ve been here 16 years in June. Love it here. Shawn, you have a lot to be proud of with the success of this growth. It’s an honor knowing you and all the other city staff making these Things Happen!