Wayne Olson Makes History as Palm Springs’ First Chief Economic Development Officer

Chief Economic Development Officer Named

Wayne Olson

PALM SPRINGS — For the first time in the history of Palm Springs, this community has its own Chief Economic Development Officer.

Wayne Olson begins his new position at City Hall today, Tuesday, Jan. 2. He will earn $157,197.60 annually in addition to a robust benefits package, that includes health and retirement benefits,

The city first announced the hire on Friday, Dec. 29 as many had either departed or were departing for the long New Year’s Day weekend.

If the hire seemed sudden and spur-of-the-moment, it was not. It’s been in the works for months.

The positions of Chief Economic Development Officer and Business Liaison were discussed during the most recent budget cycle, which was unanimously approved, Mayor Jeffrey Bernstein told Uken Report. There’s a number of reasons for this, he said.

Chief Economic Development Officer Named

Mayor Jeffrey Bernstein

First, Palm Springs has historically had Community Development, Economic Development and Housing all under one department, he explained.

“It has become very clear that Housing & Homeless itself is more than enough for one Department,” Bernstein said.  “Although we have the navigation center and three affordable housing units opening, our housing element calls for an additional 2000 homes to be in works by 2029.   The Navigation Center and surrounding services requires a lot of attention.  In our housing department we also funded $1,000,000 for a tenant relief program and in just a few months we’ve had well over 100 qualifying applicants.”

This leaves little room for the focus that our businesses need, the mayor said.  The city has more than 30,000 business licenses and until now we haven’t had a dedicated liaison for more than a decade.

In terms of the Chief Economic Development officer, we have major issues that need to be addressed Bernstein said.  Hospitality provides the city about $50 million annually in TOT (which doesn’t include all the other revenue associated with it).  However, we have seen the need for significant improvements to our Convention Center and the need for more Convention Hotel rooms.

“This is not a case where we can choose to do nothing and maintain the status quo,” Bernstein said. “As other cities improve their facilities, and actively compete for the same group business, we run the risk of eroding ours.”

We also need to look at diversifying our revenue sources, the mayor said.  Several key areas have been identified (some of which are Valley wide):   Broadband/tech, renewable energy industries, creative arts & design.  Although Visit Greater Palm Springs is working on economic development initiatives, we have no one in the city who can focus on this.

There’s also a number of specific issues that come up frequently, he continued.

“I think we would have been in a much stronger position with the Cannabis industry had we had a Chief Economic Development officer sooner,” Bernstein said.  “We did just establish Commercial Districts but are looking at Business Improvement Districts (common in many cities), which are paid into by businesses, but need a form and structure.  In January we will look at a specific plan for the College Park area which includes both housing and commercial.  Previously, as in other cities, opportunities for large fulfillment centers have come up. It’s a delicate issue but understanding how best to proceed needs economic expertise.”

Then there’s the College of the Desert, the mayor said.  It will be great for the students, we know.  But we need to ensure that we have the right economic environment for these college educated people to find good jobs in Palm Springs.

“In a more general sense, we have seen Palm Springs grow over the years, and we did well economically during the pandemic, and have firmly established a worldwide brand,” Bernstein said.  “However, with a $200 million annual budget, we need ensure long term stability.  I have an economic and business background and it seems quite logical to me that there is someone in the city focused on maintaining and growing our economy.”

Olson was the City of Palm Desert’s senior development manager for economic development before coming to Palm Springs.

In Palm Desert, Olson was the Chief Architect of the strategy that led to the $90 million gift from the state of California to fund Cal State San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus. He created, implemented and oversaw the city’s $2 million citywide development incentive program. He also led negotiations related to city development projects totaling $200 million, including the “Dsrt Surf” project at the City of Palm Desert’s public golf course Desert Willow. In addition, he was responsible for liaising with the local business community on public policy programs.

Prior to his position in Palm Desert, Olson served for eight years as the Chief Manager of Carnivore, LLC, a real estate consultant company with clients in both Minnesota and California which advised clients on capital projects and programs totaling over $250 million.

Prior to Carnivore, he served as a Senior Project Manager for the City of Minneapolis Community Development Agency; overseeing and building out financing for industrial, mixed-use, commercial and entertainment venues. In addition, he managed the city’s $1 billion Upper River Master Plan.

“Wayne Olson has a wealth of experience directing successful community and economic development projects and incentive programs that make cities better and contribute to overall economic vitality,” Stiles said in a news release. “His extensive expertise will be a tremendous asset to Palm Springs and I am excited to welcome him to the executive management team at City Hall.”

Olson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

“Over the past decade, Palm Springs has undergone an incredible economic renaissance as one of the premiere resort destinations in Southern California and beyond,” Olson said in a news release. “I look forward to the exciting challenges ahead and I am honored to be chosen to serve the City Council and our community as the City’s first ever Chief Economic Development Officer.”



Image Sources

  • Jeffrey Bernstein: Jeffrey Bernstein
  • Palm Springs City Hall: Shutterstock