Bad news first: there are no official plans for In-N-Out Burger to open to Watsonville.
But the good news is Watsonville isn't off the menu for the fast food favorite's expansion, and other businesses have expressed interest about moving into the city as well, according to Watsonville Economic Development Manager Kurt Overmeyer.
"We're starting to see a pretty substantial pickup in interest," Overmeyer said this week. "There are a lot of things in the works."
Overmeyer was mum on the possibilities, as the city shies away from talking about businesses moving to or expanding within Watsonville until the ink is dry on the contracts. It's a long and delicate process, he explained.
"The reason we don't talk about things is because it can trigger speculative real estate transactions and that's not fair," Overmeyer said.
He hopes to bring living wage jobs to town—such as small manufacturing—instead of just retail. Positions that pay $12-14 an hour instead of the $8-10 retail jobs offer would improve people's quality of life in Watsonville, Overmeyer said.
But back to In-N-Out.
The hamburger chain is focusing its expansion efforts in Texas these days, however, Watsonville has not been ruled out, according to Overmeyer.
"In-N-Out is a very conservative, slow-moving business," Overmeyer said.
The company is building six restaurants a year right now; five years ago it was only adding two per year.
But the restaurant company has long wanted a Monterey Bay location. In early 2011, .
Santa Cruz was its top choice, according to Overmeyer, but finding a suitable site proved too challenging. Seaside was next, but the Seaside City Council rejected the project in May 2011 after the company asked for another extension to file its plans. Increased traffic was also a concern.
That leaves Watsonville, the No. 3 location. Overmeyer has pushed a parcel of undeveloped land on West Beach Street next to the Red Roof Inn. In-N-Out has never applied to build there, nor have they ever been turned down by Watsonville city officials.
"It's up in the air and it's going to be a long, slow process," Overmeyer said, explaining that it typically takes 18 to 36 months to recruit a new business, and that's just to get to the building stage.
One effort that has boosted Watsonville's chances of getting an In-N-Out restaurant is the community's support of the idea on Facebook. Overmeyer created a Facebook page in January 2011 about bringing In-N-Out to the city. The page has nearly 5,000 "likes."
"They pay attention to that," Overmeyer said, adding that In-N-Out leadership also noticed that the Facebook page urging In-N-Out to come to Santa Cruz had more than 2,000 more "likes" than the Watsonville page.
"They noticed that too," he said.
Overmeyer encouraged people to "like" the Facebook page, and also to send him feedback about the type of business growh they'd like to see in Watsonville. There is a feedback form HERE on the city website.
"I want to hear what people are interested in," he said.