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Time to rethink area economic development

By   /   Friday, December 12th, 2008  /   Comments Off on Time to rethink area economic development

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You know that the economy is in deep recession when movers and shakers in greater Santa Barbara start using those two dreaded words: “economic development.”

Never a shrinking violet when it comes to politics, Carpinteria City Councilman Joe Armendariz has come close to touching the third rail of South Coast politics by calling for “resurrecting the now-defunct Economic Vitality Committee.”

In a note to a small group of influential folks, Armendariz said he did not want to recreate a formal organization but wanted to brainstorm with “the best and brightest local and regional business minds” about the economic future of the area. Some thoughts:

Any conversation about jobs and the South Coast is dumb if it doesn’t include North Santa Barbara County and at least half of Ventura County.
Bad public policy decisions that go back more than a decade have produced a situation where Santa Maria, Ventura, Oxnard and Camarillo act as the South Coast’s labor bank, exporting tens of thousands of workers a day to jobs in hospitality, technology, academia and services.

The second aspect of this conversation should be to produce an economic development plan for the Santa Maria Valley. The Valley has a great airport, proximity to Vandenberg Air Force Base, incredibly cheap housing and underutilized office space.

Finally, there is the 800-pound gorilla, the University of California, Santa Barbara. UCSB has a growing interest in connecting with the local community through its Venture Acceleration Initiative and the investment in science and technology at UCSB will probably produce another 10,000 jobs in spin-off activity during the next decade or two.

These jobs could be the economic engine for the entire region if there are places for them to settle, get financing and grow.

Let’s let the conversation about the future of economic development in our region begin. Let’s not be afraid to think big.

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