California has a budget crisis. A jobs crisis.
And just as important, an economic development crisis.
Precisely when the state needs to be fostering new business starts and helping small firms become the next eBays and Intels, there’s no one minding the store.
As Assistant Managing Editor Marlize van Romburgh reported in a recent edition of the Business Times, the fact that no one is minding the job-development store has vectored into millions of dollars in lost funding for small businesses — and desperately needed new jobs.
That’s mainly because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talked big and touted public-private partnerships for high-profile projects. But he single-handedly dismantled the Trade and Commerce agency, the group that did the blocking and tackling work of economic development organization in the state.
Meanwhile on the Central Coast, Santa Barbara County’s small, largely-under-the radar economic development effort quietly was put to bed a few years ago, the victim of a cost-cutting move.
That leaves Santa Barbara County behind the curve as Ventura County and San Luis Obispo County begin to think about future sources of job growth and development. The best evidence is a Sept. 17 meeting of the Ventura County Economic Development Association and the SLO Economic Vitality Corp. hosted in Santa Paula by Limoneira Co. Santa Barbara will have a presence but not a leading role.
Other organizations, notably Community Environmental Council and area chambers of commerce, are filling the void. But the bottom line is that the county lacks a turnkey solution for rebuilding the tri-county economy around clean energy and energy efficiency research.
Killing economic development agencies is popular and expedient. For the far right, it means starving the government beast — at the cost of support for small business, of course.
For unions, environmental groups and NIMBYs it’s popular because it means fewer profit-hungry entrepreneurs adding non-union employees who increase demand for housing and put more cars on the highway.
California and Santa Barbara now face the daunting task of inventing economic development just as Nevada, Michigan, Texas an other states are poaching our best companies and best technologists.
The next governor of California must commit to keeping a vibrant economic development effort going. And across our region, leaders must make it a priority — or risk seeing our economy slip into permanent decline.