Region awaits Obama
On Nov. 4, millions of people from across the country voted for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., but the Tri-Counties’ particular enthusiasm for the president-elect indicated more than just a hope for change.
Thanks to an Obama victory, the Tri-Counties is poised to see a wave of federal interest in sectors such as alternative energy, technology and health care, which could help the region slow its skid toward recession.
Throughout his campaign, Obama has promised to provide accessible and affordable health care to every American, which pivots on reducing costs within the system while maintaining efficient and advanced medical technology.
That’s where companies like Carpinteria-based Celerus Diagnostics come into play. Celerus has developed a device that can determine, for example, how far a cancer has spread while the patient is still on the table anesthetized during an operation. And the device can do it in 15 minutes.
But Chief Executive Officer Michael Sarrasin said the credit crunch has been problematic for his industry in recent months. With Obama taking office in January, he’s become a bit more optimistic.
“Loosening up on credit is a big thing, especially for capital equipment expenditures that these hospitals go through every year,” Sarrasin said. “Also implicit in his campaign is really a health care for everyone and the best health care available and keeping innovation and technology running and developing in the U.S., and that’s the part that’s going to be hard.”
An Obama presidency also means good news for the University of California, Santa Barbara, which has been limited in its access to stem-cell research. Ken Kosik, chairman of the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department at UCSB, said it’s “pretty clear” that Obama was the best presidential candidate for scientific research.
Kosik’s department gets considerable funding from the U.S. Army to research regenerative medicine, though his faculty and students can only work on existing stem cell lines thanks to a 2001 ban by President George W. Bush to on creating new ones.
“They see soldiers coming back from Iraq – and wouldn’t it be great if we had a shelf full of arms and legs that we could put on them?” Kosik said.
Increased scientific funding won’t just help UCSB, Kosik said – it could be a boon for the entire region.
“The more research that goes on at UCSB, the more collaborations will be done within the industry and more spin- off companies will arise,” he said. “So I think there is definitely a ripple effect that helps the local economy and has a potential to create local jobs.”
THE HEALTH SYSTEM
On the regional level, Obama’s health-care plan will have a considerable impact on neighborhood clinics, who see many of the uninsured Americans who Obama plans to bring under his national health-care plan. Cynder Sinclair, executive director of the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, said renewed help from the federal government would be significant for clinics like hers in the long run.
“The net effect of all of this for SBNC would be an enhanced ability to survive the tidal wave of uninsured, underinsured and underserved who have substantially no other option for care in this community and who are at our doors every day, and every evening,” Sinclair said in an e-mail interview.
Currently, SBNC gets about 60 percent of its $6.2 million budget from the federal government.
Obama has said throughout his campaign that under his plan, employers will still offer health insurance to workers but that the government will provide coverage for small employers who cannot afford to do so. Obama’s plan would tax employers who do not voluntarily provide coverage, but also define what they must provide to their workers.
Gary Wilde, president of Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, said he expects the new health system to take time before it’s completely rolled out.
“His plan is to cover perhaps all of people who don’t have insurance, so that will be a sea change,” Wilde said.
“The reason I say I don’t think it’ll happen overnight is the funding mechanism in a down economy will be a challenge.”
He also warned that unless Obama can get the plan rolling by 2009, it may difficult to implement. He said a 2010 congressional race might slow it down and a 2012 presidential election could make Obama hesitant to continue implementation in 2011, particularly if preliminary cost projections balloon as “the accountants start putting pencil to paper.”
Tri-county voters may have also taken a liking to Obama for his attention to green technology and alternative energy.
The Central and South Coasts have been a breeding ground for industry start-ups, including the now international Clipper Windpower, based in Carpinteria, and REC Solar in San Luis Obispo.
In his campaign, Obama has promised to create 5 million “green-collar” jobs, which could mean an increase in federal interest in developing technology in the Tri-Counties. San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce President Dave Garth said he expects Obama’s energy policy to be good for his county.
“He says he wants to spend a lot of money developing alternative energy sources, and there’s a lot of potential in this area for that,” he said.
Obama’s energy plan also calls for putting 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015 with a new $7,000 tax credit to people who buy “advanced” vehicles. This could be a boost for the newly opened Greenrides, an electric and hybrid auto dealership in San Luis Obispo.
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