With Affinity Group ready to move out of its digs on the bluffs above Ventura’s beaches, the city has an opportunity to rebrand itself as a viable place for corporate headquarters. Whether it will take advantage of the opportunity is another question.
Not so very long ago, Ventura was satisfied with its mix of small companies, county government and a single major corporate flag — Kinko’s. Others, including Patagonia and several energy firms, kept a much lower profile.
But Kinko’s abrupt departure to Dallas left a big hole — one that was largely filled by an expanding public sector.
But given the state’s deep budget problems, the days when a school district or expanding county department could soak up excess real estate are over.
Instead, Ventura will have to incubate its own successful companies or recruit new firms, most likely from Los Angeles, to move in.
What large corporate employers give to a city such as Ventura are invaluable. They typically support arts organizations and create spinoff jobs in accounting, real estate, insurance and business services.
As big companies evolve, their employees often retire and create new spinoff businesses.
Ventura has become known as a city with good technical talent and a planning department that’s difficult to navigate. Its technology incubator has been successful and it is in the process of re-energizing its tourism base.
But headquarters, whether home-grown or imported from elsewhere, have put Thousand Oaks and Santa Barbara ahead in the headquarters hosting game. Still, those cities are expensive and running out of opportunities.
In the heyday of the Affinity empire, its banking company could be reliably counted on to support arts organizations, especially the Ventura Music Festival. Affinity Media, the company that’s moving out of the former Bank of A. Levy headquarters on the bluffs, was less high-profile, but its executives filled downtown bistros at lunchtime and its vendors patronized the city’s hotels.
There is every reason to believe that Ventura could be a player — but it will have to identify sites that would work well for headquarters operations, provide a clear path to development and target industries that make sense for a coastal California city.
For example, the former Ventura County Star site just off Highway 101 at Telephone Road, would make an excellent addition to the lineup.
By courting and developing a diverse group of corporate headquarters, Ventura can elevate its game — and aid the region’s economic recovery.