California’s sometimes inward-looking cities need to make economic and business development a key part of their plans. And they will probably have more success if they can think regionally about workforce and business issues.
That was the message that Kish Rajan, director of the Governor’s Office of Business & Economic Development, or GoBiz, brought to the Central Coast on July 23.
Speaking to a panel in San Luis Obispo assembled by the Economic Vitality Corp., Rajan described the Brown Administration’s efforts to shore up small business financing, promote international trade, tourism and innovation, streamline regulation and provide funding for infrastructure.
Among the governor’s early successes, he said was a newly-enacted state sales-tax exemption for the purchase of manufacturing equipment including gear used in winemaking, distilleries and agribusiness.
He also applauded efforts by Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong to develop new programs in cybersecurity, saying that he hoped that the CSU system would create an innovation center along the lines of one announced recently by University of California President Janet Napolitano.
Saying that California is really “a collection of regional economies” he said that part of the GoBiz effort was to motivate communities to “self-identify as part of a region.”
That’s a message likely to go down well in the Central Coast where the Highway 101 technology corridor, a booming tourism industry and specialized agriculture led by viticulture have gone a long way to create a regional identification for the Tri-Counties.
In comments to the Business Times, Rajan said his office has met with Oxnard-based machine-tool maker Haas Automation in an effort to retain what might be several hundred manufacturing jobs in Ventura County. “It’s a very, very big deal,” he said. Haas has been involved in a dispute with the state Franchise Tax Board that doesn’t involve GoBiz.
Rajan, a former city councilman from Walnut Creek, worked as an executive in the mobile tech field. No stranger to politics, he worked as an aide to Sen. Barbara Boxer and Phil Angelides, who served as state treasurer. He was appointed head of GoBiz in 2012.
Rajan said the governor’s office recognized what economist Bill Watkins of California Lutheran University has described as persistent underperformance by the Central Coast and California economies. Rajan said the best way to get the economy moving at a faster clip was through the creation of higher-wage jobs and “targeted investments and incentives” to improve the workforce and expand the pool of qualified workers.
“Manufacturing, construction, energy and food production are all industries that came under stress” during the recession, he said. He said the governor’s office also has created an expanded loan guarantee program for smaller companies working closely with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
When Brown entered office, he said, California faced “meaningful challenges” in balancing the budget and bringing the state back from the brink of collapse. With the state making progress and even able to put away some $1 billion in reserves, he said the next goal is to make business and economic development a priority.
During a blitz through the region, Rajan spoke at a reception for business leaders at the Biddle Ranch Winery in Avila Beach on the evening of the July 23.
He was slated to speak at the monthly SLO Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Thursday and at a lunch gathering at the University Club put together by the Santa Barbara Region Chamber and the Workforce Investment Board before returning to Sacramento.