What does it take for a city in California to get a AAA rating from Standard & Poor’s?
There is not necessarily a simple answer. But one of the 20 cities in the Golden State to carry S&P’s highest rating happens to be Camarillo. And in informal remarks to the board of Ventura County Economic Development Association on July 25, longtime city councilman Mike Morgan described some of his city’s approaches to economic sustainability. We’ve taken a few literary liberties but here is a summary:
• Wishin’ and hopin’ for revenue won’t cut it. Camarillo undertakes projects that are fiscally feasible today, and doesn’t bet the farm on future revenue materializing out of thin air.
• Connection to higher education is key. Camarillo scored big because it was the only city in Ventura County with the political will and capacity to host CSU Channel Islands. CSUCI has had its share of tough times, but it is on a trajectory to reach enrollment of 15,000 to 20,000 students. Camarillo joins Santa Barbara-Goleta and San Luis Obispo in hosting a major public university, although the CSUCI campus is just outside the city limits.
• Throw the long ball when the odds are in your favor. Camarillo is hoping to use the lure of athletic fields to build a new training camp for the Dallas Cowboys, who are currently ensconced in Oxnard a few miles up Pleasant Valley. And it’s looking to permit a few more wineries, capitalizing on a trend that’s sweeping the Tri-Counties.
• Leverage your strengths. Along with CSUCI, Camarillo hosts one of California’s top grossing outlet malls, the Camarillo Premium Outlets, and it has long coveted a four-star hotel with an adjacent conference center that the city could easily finance with its high credit rating. Get it? Strength begets strength.
• Keep employee costs and pensions in check. Camarillo has dramatically reduced pension and pay expenses by contracting for municipal workers wherever it can — including for grounds maintenance and with the employees at its new and highly popular library.
Not every city can replicate all of the moves that made Camarillo an AAA-rated place to do business. Hitting a home run with a factory store complex, for example, takes luck, timing and picking the right operator. But there is plenty to be learned from Camarillo’s success.