South Santa Barbara County has been swallowed by an economic development doughnut hole.
Up and down Highway 101 in the Tri-Counties, the buzzword among government leaders is jobs, jobs and more jobs. Everywhere, city and county officials are turning to the private sector with offers of assistance or at least an open mind. Everywhere, that is, except in the greater Santa Barbara area.
The Carpinteria to Goleta corridor lacks a coordinated economic development effort of any sort, even as similar programs have surrounded it from all sides. Ventura County has improved its already robust economic development infrastructure during the Great Recession.
The Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County continues its successful loan program and can point to funded firms such as PBS Biotech that are creating jobs. The EDC-VC has also taken on Small Business Development Center duties, and the Workforce Investment Board has factory owners pointing to how they tapped the program to cost-effectively train new hires.
The city of Ventura, meanwhile, turned a sleepy building behind City Hall into a technology incubator. Not all of the ventures will succeed, of course, but several have grown significantly since the incubator kicked off a few years ago.
San Luis Obispo County’s government leaders and the Economic Vitality Corp. made a remarkable investment in indentifying the county’s best prospects for growth over the next decade. And they have put in place an infrastructure to act on what they found. At a recent symposium on tapping local resources to start or grow a business, nine organizations showed up to speak, and the biggest question the audience had was where to start with all the help being thrown at them – an enviable problem.
Santa Maria, for its part, has never flagged in its interest in economic development. It is witnessing a renaissance among its Manufacturer’s Association gatherings.
But in the greater Santa Barbara area, there is a roaring silence about economic development. It’s not for lack of business community effort.
The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce brings together city and private-sector leaders, has done its best to find consensus among shopkeepers in revitalizing Old Town, and has played a big part in persuading the City Council to court a potential Target store.
Carpinterians rejected Venoco’s oil development plans for their city but have welcomed lynda.com’s influx of high-quality technology jobs and kept the hamlet’s beach-town-meets-corporate-headquarters vibe.
Under Steve Cushman and now Michael Holliday, the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce has pushed for, and hosted events to spur, a coordinated economic development plan.
Even without such an effort, companies like RightScale and Sonos are expanding in Santa Barbara. A lot more can be done without putting the area’s “American Riviera” identity at risk.
Memo to Santa Barbara City Council members and county supervisors: Take a page from your neighbors’ recipe books and cook up an economic development effort. Don’t leave the South Coast in the doughnut hole.