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Goleta partners with UCSB, chamber to attract tech

By   /   Friday, May 25th, 2012  /   Comments Off on Goleta partners with UCSB, chamber to attract tech

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story, originally published online on May 18, was updated with additional quotes and information. The updated version, published May 25, is below].

On the heels of $463 million in business investment since 2010, the city of Goleta is teaming up with its neighbor UC Santa Barbara and the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce in an effort to lure and retain technology businesses.

The new initiative, called GEM for Goleta Entrepreneurial Magnet, is designed to capitalize on Goleta’s proximity to UCSB, which has spun out dozens of successful technology companies over the past two decades. Some of them, such as Citrix Online and the former Digital Instruments, have retained large workforces of well-paying jobs in the city.

The first step of the collaboration is a website with input from the city, chamber and university that will bring together all the information that entrepreneurs need to start a business, find a space or get permits and start recruiting employees.

City Manager Dan Singer said the goal is to retain Goleta’s reputation for punching far above its weight in terms of white-collar tech jobs. The quiet, semi-rural city of 30,000 has eight of the 25 largest office complexes in the Tri-Counties. “We’ve got room for businesses to not only start here, but to remain and grow here,” Singer said.

And grow they have. Since 2010, Singer estimated that $463 million in investment — most of it venture capital to startup companies such as Transphorm, Soraa and Sientra — has poured into Goleta since 2010. Among the city’s top 12 employers, 700 jobs have been created since 2006, and companies such as Flir and Citrix Online rose from a few hundred workers to 425 employees and 544, respectively.

Singer called the investment “a clear sign that there’s belief in what’s happening here in Goleta. … They’re going to reinvest in their companies, and they’re going to reinvest in their communities,” he said.

Many of UCSB’s professors and graduate students live within Goleta. “We have approximately four to six startups out of UCSB a year. Many of these entrepreneurs want to stay in Goleta,” Gene Lucas, executive vice chancellor at UCSB, said.

Lucas pointed out that many professors take a leave of absence to start a company and return to teaching and research after handing the company off to professional management. But those professors often remain involved in vital technological advisory roles, and having nearby business helps facilitate balancing that with teaching. “Sometimes the companies are within walking distance of their house,” Lucas said.

‘Oftentimes chambers of commerce have a tough time connecting with technology companies whose investors, customers and vendors are all far away from a localized business community. But in Goleta, business advocates have pushed to learn more about the city’s technology employers and what they need. Steve Fedde, the immediate past chair of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, said it’s more important than ever to make sure an employer doesn’t stumble while trying to secure permits or other services when states like Texas are courting businesses aggressively. “In a tough economy, it’s a very competitive environment for these companies with where they’ll consider locating,” Fedde said. “You’d hate to see these companies leave because they can’t get things done.”

Another pressing reason for the chamber to embrace and understand technology is that the sector’s face is changing.

While firms such as AppFolio are adding dozens of jobs at a time and boosting headcount, legacy employers such as Raytheon have cut hundreds of jobs. “There’s been a historic transition — so much of the tech industry used to be defense and space-oriented,” he said.

In the coming months, Goleta will get a huge business boost as Deckers Outdoor Corp., the maker of the Ugg boot and one of the largest publicly traded companies in the region, builds its headquarters at the Cabrillo Business Park within the city’s limits. Singer, Goleta’s city manger, said Deckers presents a prime example of where Goleta can shine. The company’s shoes are made overseas, and its major warehouses are in Camarillo. But all of its creative, sales, marketing and executive staff is in Goleta.

“Goleta is not going to be for everyone. As a lot of these businesses grow, they’re not always going to be able to stay in Goleta,” Singer said. “But what they can do is represent some of their headquarters here — some of those higher-paying jobs where you need an educated workforce, where you need the university and where you need the energy of a lot of like-minded companies.”

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