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Public-private entrepreneurism at the local level: a small town--Holtville, California--achieves fame and fortune through entrepreneurial innovation.

The Holtville Grand Prix Motorcycle Race--the "Great Race"--made its debut at Holt Park on Saturday, October 29, 2005.The course, which began downtown and wound its way through desert brush, past farmland, and along the silty banks of the Alamo River, was one of the most challenging and exhilarating that the veteran racers of the American Motor Cycle Association and spectators had seen. The terrain--sharply graded gullies, unexpected moguls, and tight turns--challenged the skill of riders and durability of machines.

Designed by a partnership between the City of Holtville, private enterprise, and nonprofit groups, the Great Race is an example of a small community energizing itself through a strategic municipal vision, one of developing recreation and tourism in an underutilized region with a great potential for outdoor sports. Lying between the scenic Salton Sea area and Imperial County's sand dunes (the largest stretch of such dunes outside the Sahara Desert), Holtville's first Grand Prix is a natural fit in this unique outdoor recreational corridor.

This event will greatly enhance the economic base in Imperial County--one of the poorest areas in California, characterized by the following:
Median household income $50,099

Population 153,881

Percentage without a high
school diploma 40

Median home price $209,000 (high for region)

Source: Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation, 2005

Against this backdrop, the county appreciates the need for an entrepreneurial vision, willingness to network and partner with new constituencies, a competitive spirit, and a desire to invent creative solutions.

Action-Oriented Public Management

Increasingly, public- and private-sector leaders acknowledge the need for small and large entrepreneurial strategies initiated by local government. Motivated by shrinking revenues, budget constraints, and demands for improved performance, local public organizations have been forced to step outside traditional settings to satisfy their citizen customers and provide, among other things, entrepreneurial spirit and creative financing. Over the last few decades, the academic community and practitioners have reconstructed the older definitions of public management. The new constructions are based on economic and business models of efficiency and accountability to meet and match environmental capability. One such unusual look at resources suggests using the natural terrain and environmental scenic assets of a region as a prototype for future, more ambitious, larger-scale economic development.

Change, challenge, and competitiveness make management of local government in the twenty-first century much more demanding than in the past--requiring more creativity and flexibility and fewer bureaucratic, rules-based approaches. Stress generated by these demands has frequently been described as eustress (from the Greek prefix eu--meaning good), or positive stress.

Pursuit of Happiness

Our Founding Fathers spoke of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as unalienable rights of man that are self-evident. Understandably, public administration has been concerned directly with the first two values and indirectly (often seemingly neglecting) the third. Hurricanes, floods, fires, terrorist threats, and welfare needs (life and liberty) are, of course, more demanding on the nation's scarce resources--and satisfying these values does promote happiness as a byproduct.

But happiness, as directly expressed in areas that stimulate our ludic drive (the human need for play), is often low on the government's list of managerial priorities. Recreational and tourism needs are left up to the private sector and, thus, often become exclusionary on the basis of cost. The pursuit of happiness and social inclusion are some of the abstract values realized in the activity of the Great Race, envisioned by local government in Holtville through public-private partnerships.

The Holtville case does not exemplify the drawbacks of public-private ventures. Entrepreneurism has its dark side--particularly in the public arena. Some enthusiasts, trying breakthrough bureaucracy, adopt a narrow focus, are unwilling to follow rules, and have strong bias for action that places accountability out of reach. Innovation should not be accomplished at the cost of deliberation.

Holtville's Recreational Enterprise

Case Study Area

The City of Holtville, California, or Holton as it was first named, was incorporated in 1908 by its founder W. F. Holt. It is located in Imperial County, ten miles northeast of Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico.

Holtville is a small city, 5,612 residents, with a land mass of 1.1 square miles. It has a median household income of $36,000. Its population is young, with median resident age of thirty years. It is predominantly Hispanic (73.8 percent) and white (20 percent), with 6.2 percent black, Native American, and mixed (two or more) races.

The event's promoter, Gary Peacock, describes Holtville as a "sleepy little community," sorely in need of public-private ventures to transform it from a bedroom community into a viable economic district of its own. A potential direction for this growth is outdoor recreation. As a strategic link between the established, unique sand dune recreation area of Glamis in southeastern Imperial County and the Salton Sea, a developing area to the north, Holton has environmental characteristics that lend themselves to outdoor recreation. The region is drawing the attention of investors as one suitable for outdoor sporting activities, which are recognized as "clean" sports, demanding physical health and well-being. The partnership hopes to revitalize the Holtville and the Salton Sea communities, enabling economic growth and job opportunities as the positive externality of such recreational activity.

Temporary, Task-Based, Organization

A small, local government like that of Holtville must draw upon its environmental opportunities to energize and enlarge its powers to create negentropic (or counter-entropic) dynamics and morphogenic economic opportunities. (Negentropic dynamics are changes that counter the deterioration of a society, and morphogenic economic opportunities are those that develop the economy.)

One key factor is networking for the trust and goodwill of other sectors of the enterprise beyond formal relationships and hierarchies. Another is proximity: as a natural consequence of venue, small government enterprises (like the Great Race) rely on local contacts, where face-to-face interaction is possible to convey critical information. Still another is the willingness of the small government to engage in multiple roles: operations, mentoring, cooperation, etc. The role of broker and willingness to be transparent in each of the networks is critical to its success. A temporary, task-based organizational matrix emerged for planning purposes (Figure 1).



As a result of this race, the City of Holtville developed a contingency plan to manage risk and uncertainty. It then tailored the plan to the needs of the Great Race to meet critical incident objectives:

* Control objectives

** Prevention of accidental fires and injuries through fire prevention and life safety presence and activities

** Maintaining law and order among race participants, spectators, and the general population through a combination of public and private resources and, if necessary, mutual aid

** Protection of the citizens of and visitors to Holtville through fire and emergency medical services, activating mutual aid (public and private) if needed.

* Management objectives. Maintaining the organizational structure (of public and private agencies) established through this plan.

Holtville anticipated an influx of visitors (up to 500) and projected that 100 entrants would participate. The actual influx was 3,000 visitors (half the resident total population), and 120 entrants participated.

The city realized that the pilot project undertaken in 2005 could be grown into an annual event due to interest and support from the community and public at large. It is making plans for the next race--a larger, two-day event in fall 2006. One day will feature the motorcycle races, and the other, the all terrain vehicle races. A "ShowBoat Area" on the track will be designed for special vehicle maneuvers--such as mud-jumping, holehurdles, and other obstacle challenges--to pique spectator interest.

New groups, such as churches and nonprofit agencies, have approached the planners with proposals to incorporate temporary business ventures (food vending, arts and crafts sales, balloons, face painting, skin products, and other such small sales schemes). The promoters have also negotiated with Holtville High School to use its cheerleaders as part of the show. Other short entertainment spots are to be part of the program.

Volunteers will maintain the race course during the activities, including sprinkling and tamping the track for dust control.

Another first-time public-private partnership has spun off from the Grand Prix. Another race, it is a planned venture between Imperial Valley Off-Road Motorsports and the United States Navy. This race will be set up on federal land in the Chocolate Mountains, just north of Holtville, and billed as "United States Navy All American 100."


Why are new governmental partnership enterprises emerging in rural areas? Local communities across the nation are thinking up new ways to capture worthwhile and economically enriching entertainment projects appropriate to their environments. These recreational public-private partnerships

* maximize organizational learning in the areas of economic development and provision of social value;

* stimulate deployment of underused assets;

* extend the working day, working week, and holiday time to incorporate new opportunities for wealth creation and social satisfaction;

* create future employment opportunities;

* maximize and extend parameters of city and county investment, development, and income streams;

* lessen dependence on bonds and referendums; and

* reduce and spread out risk factors.


Barzelay, M. Breaking Through Bureaucracy (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1992).

Coates, B. E. "SMART Government on Line, not in Line: Opportunities, Challenges and Concerns for Public Leadership." The Public Manager, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Winter 2001-02), pp. 37-40.

DeLeon, L. "Ethics and Entrepreneurialism." Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 24, No. 3 (1996), pp. 495-510.

Harris, M., and R. Kinney. Innovation and Entrepreneurship in State and Local Government (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004).

Kingsley, G., and E. Malecki. "Networking for Competitiveness," Small Business Economics, Vol. 23, No. 1 (2004), p. 71.

Breena E. Coates, PhD, is associate professor and chairman, Division of Public, Business and Criminal Justice Administration at San Diego State University. This article was adapted from a paper that explored other issues and included considerable citations, footnotes, and bibliographical references. For the complete paper in electronic form--with citations, footnotes, and the entire bibliography--contact the author at
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Title Annotation:Holtville Grand Prix Motorcycle Race
Author:Coates, Breena E.
Publication:The Public Manager
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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