On June 9, more than 30 business and community leaders convened in Santa Barbara to begin the work of creating a Green Coast economic development initiative for the Tri-Counties.
The Green Coast initiative began with an April column in the Business Times. The idea behind it is to reinvent the economy of our region, using sustainable business practices and new “green” technologies to grow jobs and new businesses.
After two hours of meetings we learned a lot about what it will take to reinvent our economy. Some thoughts:
• There is a growing trend toward tri-county cooperation. Our common mix of smaller cities and rural areas, our history of innovation in business and our academic institutions all work together.
• There is strength in numbers. Ventura County resists being lumped in with greater Los Angeles. Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo are too small to have much influence on their own. But together the three counties can exercise considerable influence in Sacramento and even Washington, D.C.
• Green construction practices and some aspects of workforce development already see regional cooperation. We have a regional economic forecast and a number of banks operate on a three-county footing.
• Educational institutions and large employers will play a big role in any new green initiative. Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; University of California, Santa Barbara; California Lutheran University; and California State University, Channel Islands are the region’s biggest drivers for entrepreneurship and innovation. Plus they all are taking a lead in green practices.
• Leadership is not in short supply. Our meeting was brought together in part through the efforts of Limoneira CEO Harold Edwards, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum. But it also included representation from Cal Poly, UCSB, the Economic Vitality Corp. in San Luis Obispo, Patagonia, CLU, Ventura County’s Economic Development Association and its Economic Development Collaborative, as well as the Santa Maria Valley EDC.
• The state’s fiscal position is a huge challenge — and a big opportunity. In ordinary times it might be easy to get money from the state for creating a new “innovation zone” around green technology, but the taps aren’t exactly flowing. However, this is also the time when the state desperately needs ideas that generate job growth, and perhaps it is a time when regulation-bound utilities and governments will choose results over paperwork.