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Editorial: Economic development needs a regional touch

By   /   Monday, November 22nd, 2010  /   Comments Off on Editorial: Economic development needs a regional touch

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All of a sudden, economic development is the talk of the Tri-Counties.

San Luis Obispo County is out with a blueprint for its economic future — the first such effort in decades. Santa Barbara County is talking — and so far it’s just talk — about becoming more business-friendly, at least as far as retaining area businesses is concerned.

And Ventura County has a new advertising campaign aimed at recruiting businesses from elsewhere in Southern California, including Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties. These are welcome developments that put a strong emphasis on wealth creation and job growth.

But here’s a novel idea: How about a three-county economic development strategy that stresses the intrinsic strength of the entire regional economy?

Not so very long ago, such a strategy had a real chance for success, building on the region’s signature business events: UC Santa Barbara’s Economic Forecast Project breakfasts for Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, plus some of the bigger cities, such as Oxnard and Santa Maria. But the demise of the forecast as a regional entity and the disparate fortunes of the three counties have led them to seek different approaches.

San Luis Obispo is looking to create businesses and jobs beyond the tourism industry, and it is trying to foster a budding tech sector. Santa Maria has the capacity to host large technical or industrial companies if it can find the right targets.

South Santa Barbara County’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in the region; it wants better jobs, not necessarily more of them.  And Ventura County offers everything a new corporation could want — if only it could magically shed California’s intractable budget woes.

We’ll suggest that the tri-county region could make itself much more attractive to businesses as a region than as a collection of rival political jurisdictions. Our three public universities are without peer in their areas of expertise. Our climate and amenities for tourism and travel are unrivaled. Our corporate flagship companies — Amgen, Teledyne, Clipper Windpower, REC Solar, Limoneira Co., Calavo Growers, Semtech, Hardy Diagnostics, Mindbody, QAD and Deckers Outdoor Corp. — are unrivaled anywhere in the world.

Perhaps the only way the region can really offer up a strategy for job growth and private-sector wealth creation is by stressing the competitive advantages of the region as a whole.

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