The Central Coast presents an attractive landscape for entrepreneurs but lacks some of the community support systems required to grow successful niche companies.
That was the consensus among three company presidents from a wide range of industries from Paso Robles to Santa Maria at the second annual Central Coast Business Symposium, held in Arroyo Grande on Feb. 18.
“Increasingly, there’s a perception that San Luis Obispo is where you go when you’ve made it,” said Ty Safreno, founder and chief executive of Trust Automation Management in San Luis Obispo. He said that while the city is an attractive place to raise a family, it’s increasingly more difficult to attract talented professionals who need a second income earner to afford housing. “It’s a spouse problem,” he said.
Randy Flamm of software firm IQMS in Paso Robles said there doesn’t seem to be a recognition by public officials that his company is helping the economy by offering services around the world and creating wealth and professional-level jobs. Instead, he said, there’s a lot of focus on government in building retail stores and expanding the retail tax base.
Steve Newell, co-founder of Windset Farms, which is building a highly efficient, environmentally friendly tomato-growing operation in Santa Maria, said the physical properties of the Santa Maria Valley are very attractive. “We need water, and we need people who know our business,” he said, adding that he had found both in the area.
But he said that California’s high tax structure — higher than British Columbia, where Windset is based — would prevent the company from moving its headquarters to the Golden State. He also said that compared to Canada’s nationalized health care system, America’s array of choices and options for health insurance for employees make it much more time-consuming to navigate the system.
Safreno said his choice of San Luis Obispo came after he worked in the Bay Area but got a taste of the Central Coast lifestyle at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He said that one of SLO’s biggest problems is that there’s a lot of community support for entrepreneurship, but when it comes to actually building a building or getting a permit to expand, the process can be time-consuming and opaque.
He said he’s still hanging on to a 6.5-acre parcel that was supposed to be used for commercial development but couldn’t get permits.
Newell said he chose Santa Maria over a similar site in Camarillo because Mayor Larry Lavagnino took a personal interest in his project and also because he felt proximity to Cal Poly, and its agriculture and engineering graduates, would be an advantage.
IQMS’s Flamm said despite the barriers to growth on the Central Coast, he felt his business could double its revenue in the next five years.
This is the second annual Business Symposium produced by the law firm Andre, Morris & Buttery, which has offices in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and Santa Maria. Jonathan York, a professor at the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly, moderated the CEO panel.