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Communication firm grows with the Valley


Article located in the Antelope Valley Press
Business Profile, May 8, 2009
By Alexa Vaughn
Valley Press Staff Writer

Getting Megan’s Law passed through the California legislature would be the first time George Passantino and Andy Andersen marked a huge career achievement together, but it would not be the last.

A little more than a decade later the two opened up the flagship office of Passantino Andersen Communications, a strategic communications firm, in Palmdale.  Passantino’s wife Michelle (Herrera) grew up in the Antelope Valley and both had moved back to Palmdale to raise their family.

“I just thought, this community could use the service of a communications firm, so I called Andy up and asked if he’d be into it,” Passantino said of getting his friend to take the entrepreneurial leap with him.  Andy agreed with Passantino and they got to work. Soon they recruited clients such as Wal-Mart as they saved each money with their specialized knowledge of land-use law and the community itself.

But as the real estate industry and overall development started stalling in a declining economy, the small company had to make crucial changes in who and where they would make their clients.

Passantino Andersen Communications started securing deals as campaign managers for politicians and local measures out in California City, Victor Valley, Fresno and then even in Colorado, where Andersen’s family is from.  Now, instead of keeping afloat in dire straits, the company has grown from two employees to eight.

In addition to hiring employees with diverse legal backgrounds, Passantino Andersen gave their employees a packet of tasks, which includes things like doing an interview with a media organization for them to complete in their first two years.  Whenever completed, the employee gets a $10,000 bonus, Passantino said.

As executive director of the High Desert University Foundation, Passantino said he continues to be excited about getting a four year university out in the Antelope Valley.

Is this your first business?  Yes

Describe your business:  Passantino Andersen is a strategic communications firm and the Antelope Valley’s only full-service public affairs firm.  We specialize in helping businesses, government agencies and nonprofits effectively position themselves in front of target audiences to achieve their business objectives.  In particular, we specialize in assisting developers, home builders and retailers address community concerns and secure needed government approvals on their projects.  We provide these services across the High Desert, including, Kern, Los Angeles and San Bernardino County as well as within the Denver metropolitan area.

Why did you start your business?  Passantino Andersen began with the belief that emerging development patterns across the Southland will continue to direct more economic development and more growth activity to our region.  The future of certain growth requires more focused efforts to address community concerns and work to proactively engage a public toward collaborative solutions.  With not local firm specializing in land-use outreach, we saw a bring market and strong market niche.

How did you get the idea for it?  As a long-time resident of the Antelope Valley, I have witnessed firsthand the growth of the region.  I also recognized a need for more effective community outreach to address the concerns of area residents, particularly as the area continues to grow.  With a background in this practice and a personal commitment to the region the opportunity was clear to us.

How much time did it take to open?  Passantino Andersen has rapidly grown from a two-person operation in February 2007 to a full-service firm with eight members in February 2008 – in spite of the bear market.  We currently have a team of professionals located in the Antelope Valley, Denver, Victor Valley and Fresno.  Despite a collapse in real estate markets and a drastic reduction in new development, we continue to grow because of our focus on customer-service excellence and the unique nature of the services we provide.
 What were the start-up costs?  How did you finance them?  Passantino Andersen’s biggest financial risks in forming were that the partners had to put their futures – and those of their young families – on the line, sacrificing stable paychecks to start on the venture.  For the first several months, credit cards and personal savings funded the company owners’ livelihoods and operational expenses while the organization developed a book of business.

From whom did you get your advice?  We sought advice from family members and numerous small business owners, including several local businesses, who could speak to the challenges of starting a business.  We mirrored our business approach to that described by author Jim Collins in “Built to Last.”  As our organization grew, we also relied heavily on the input and ideas of our team members to build an organization we could all be proud of.

What problems did you not foresee?  While everyone saw a decline in the real estate market, nobody could have predicted a precipitous collapse in the market, coupled with the financial crisis, water shortage and overall economic decline.  Given that the majority of our business was focused on helping secure approvals for new real estate projects, we were forced to be innovate in the way we sought out new clients and the type of clients that we pursued.   We have diversified our portfolio geographically.

What are your goals for the business?  In the short term, with the market still struggling, our primary focus is developing out internal capacity through focused professional development of our team members and building a lasting brand for our organization.  We are confident that the market will rebound and when it does, we want to be prepared.  When new developments – whether retail, commercial or industrial – decide to locate in our target markets, we want ours to be the first name they think of in terms of helping them navigate the land-use process.

My long-term remains to be helping the high desert achieve its future potential in terms of quality of life, economic development and prosperity.  We see ourselves as the “special forces” or economic development.

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