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Walt Disney’s move to Novato has feel of another regional milestone

There are some events that have a lasting and disproportionate impact on this region's economic prosperity.

Included in this long list of events are the arrival of Hewlett-Packard – now Agilent Technologies – in the 1970s, the development of the wine industry, Fireman’s Fund and Autodesk in Marin County and the decision by telecom pioneer Don Green to move his then-fledgling company from Novato to Petaluma.

For some observers, Walt Disney Studios’ decision to locate one of its principal creative centers at Hamilton Landing in Novato is another one of those events.

Disney plans to locate as many as 300 people in two renovated hangars, the last of the old buildings at the former military base.

People familiar with Disney’s decision to locate in Novato say the offices and studios covering 120,000 square feet will be one of its top centers of talent.

Why Novato?

Disney could have located its growing ImageMovers Digital 3-D animation operation – now in San Rafael – anywhere, experts said. It could have been Los Angeles, for instance.

But choosing Novato is proof that a very special pool of creative talent exists in Marin County, thanks in large part to the area’s long history with filmmaker George Lucas.

And Disney is not the only software or animation company at Hamilton. Other firms there include Sony Imageworks, Take Two Interactive and Nihilistic Software.

This cluster of companies is unique to Marin and the North Bay and is here because the talent wants to be here, enjoying one of the best lifestyles anywhere.

As a movie company executive remarked recently, “You can only convince so many creative people to move to Culver City.”

As word spreads of Novato’s catch, it won’t get any easier.

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