Rob Lechner has been appointed the city of Lodi's new business development manager, charged with retaining jobs and attracting new ones to the community.
Lechner in recent years served as a manager in the city of Lodi Electric Utility department. The business development position has been vacant since 2004, but city leaders feel it is essential to the city's future economic health.
"This is a way to get someone focused on economic development-type strategies, and that's something we haven't been able to do in the past," Councilman Larry Hansen said. "The city has suffered from that."
Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce saw the potential to attract new businesses to Lodi when she served as mayor in 2012.
Companies were interested in the city's economic opportunities, but with budget cuts limiting the number of city employees, fewer resources were in place to woo possible suitors.
Mounce believes a new position could help improve Lodi's economy and even create new jobs.
"I was hoping we might get someone to help market Lodi, because during the time I served as mayor, businesses would contact me and say, 'Who do I talk to?'" said Mounce. "Nothing was in place to bring businesses to Lodi."
Lechner previously served as manager of customer services and programs for the Lodi Electric Utility.
Lechner's experience with the utility will benefit businesses needing assistance with permits and planning requirements in order to expand, said Pat Patrick, president and CEO of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce.
"Some businesses find that a daunting task," he said. "So having someone on the inside who can help with the permit and planning process is a very big help. Rob should be able to do that."
Lodi Electric Utility offers programs that assist businesses and encourage expansion. Lodi businesses, which are within the San Joaquin County Enterprise Zone, receive tax credits for hiring and investing in their companies.
But for several years, the city has struggled to connect with the business community.
Facing a slumping budget, the city chose not to hire a new business development manager after Tony Goehring left the position to become the city's parks and recreation director.
Lechner is slated to earn roughly $98,000 annually, and Mounce said that the utility will cover most of his salary.
Now, with Lechner taking over the position, Mounce hopes businesses see the opportunities in Lodi.
"You want to have the red carpet ready to roll out, and we haven't had that for a long time," she said.