When local Silicon Valley government managers encountered gangs of name-brand high-tech entrepreneurs and process engineers on their doorstep, they expected either an adversarial attack or an appeal for favors. But this assemblage of entrepreneurs had something very different in mind. Something quite unusual. They wanted to help.
The group, about 60 business leaders and consultants in all, wanted to donate their time (and talent from their companies) in a cooperative effort to remedy the regulatory quagmire that has long plagued California's Silicon Valley region, which comprises 29 balkanized and sometimes warring municipal jurisdictions. Those business leaders became the foundation for the Regulatory Streamlining Council, created by Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a public/private partnership formed four years ago with the backing of several large companies, including Applied Materials, Silicon Graphics, and Pacific Gas & Electric, not to mention the city of San Jose. Their approach to the smoothing of regulations offers important lessons for all economic-development officials and entrepreneurs.
By bringing together local public officials, environmental leaders, and efficiency experts, Joint Venture's Streamlining Council created what council chairman Christopher Greene calls "not a business group but a neutral forum"--one with the talent to solve problems and the decision makers to implement the solutions.
For a Joint Venture project in Sunnyvale, for example, Winston Chen, CEO of Solectron at the time, dispatched his director of facilities, director of quality, and environmental health and safety manager to work with city planners to streamline building-permit procedures. Within one year, after laboring together about five hours a week, the group had produced a new permitting procedure that reduced the number of steps from 117 to 37. "Sunnyvale got the director of quality from a Baldrige Awardwinning company for free," Greene notes. And in return, local businesses got a permitting process that now handles 95% of all applications in just one day. Prior to the process improvements, building applications could languish for as long as 18 months.
"What we discovered," Greene adds, "was a real lack of understanding on both sides" of the regulatory divide. All the city leaders Joint Venture contacted wanted to streamline things. "They just didn't know how. They often don't have access to topflight process engineers and information-technology specialists. What they have are tight budgets and angry customers. And since we were some of those angry customers, it just made sense to help."