At precisely 2:25 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, the future of San Luis Obispo county as an emerging hub for technology companies suddenly got a lot brighter.
That’s the moment when Mindbody CEO Rick Stollmeyer and a half-dozen local dignitaries dug the first shovelful of dirt for the software and services company’s new $20 million campus.
The 64,000-square-foot building, parking structure and promenade will provide an anchor tenant for the corner of Broad Street and Tank Farm Road, effectively creating a new node on the Highway 101 technology corridor.
When the project is completed and Stollmeyer hires some 720 additional workers, San Luis Obispo County will for the first time enable a private employer other than PG&E’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to exceed 1,000 workers.
The moment was not lost on city of San Luis Obispo Vice Mayor Kathy Smith, who took the podium and, in front of more than 100 local leaders, heralded the end of a decades long
“Hatfields versus McCoys” fight between business and the environmentalists. “This is the end of the ’90s feud,” she said.
Although San Luis Obispo had a bit of a flurry of tech startups in the dot-com era, it is only during the past few years that Mindbody, tech self-help firm iFixit, internet advertising firm Rosetta — located near the Mindbody campus — and ecommerce firm Shopatron emerged as significant forces on the tri-county technology scene.
The supremely well-organized Stollmeyer brought a Silicon Valley-style-vision to Mindbody, which is building its campus with the proceeds of three venture capital raises. The firm is clearly in pre-IPO mode these days.
Mindbody currently provides software, merchant processing and other support to some 20,000 yoga studios and workout centers worldwide, a small fraction of its total potential customer base. It has been one of the fastest-growing companies in the region and on Inc. magazine’s fastest growing list for years.
The fights between business and the environment in SLO were rooted in battles over large retail and housing projects. The result of no-growth policies was to turn real estate investment into a business that was in effect the only game in town.
But the crash and financial crisis brought an abrupt halt to the real estate merry-go-round. Since then, tech has become the key to the county’s comeback, led by a renewed connection between Cal Poly’s entrepreneurial programs and the city.
Stollmeyer acknowledged the emergence of a “thriving tech ecosystem in SLO,” which includes a more cooperative attitude from city and county bureaucrats, something he said must continue.
“We don’t want to be the only big employer in town,” he said.
Erik Justesen, head of architecture firm RRM Group, which designed the campus, said the next generation of SLO startups is already here. “Under the radar, there’s a very large group of tech companies,” he said adding that specialty foods, agribusiness, media and research and development are particularly hot areas.
Mike Manchak, head of the San Luis Obispo County Economic Vitality Corp., said that he hoped the buzz around Mindbody’s big expansion would trickle up to Chicago, where United Airlines is mulling a direct flight from the nearby SLO Airport to Denver. “This is a poster child for what can happen in California,” he said.
There is no question that the recession put a scare into San Luis Obispo, but reaching back into its own entrepreneurial roots it has found a way to reinvent itself as a technology cluster. The new generation of CEOs — Stollmeyer and his counterparts — are much more intensely focused on market niches than the proceeding generation which produced more services-oriented companies such as Meathead Movers, Kennedy Club Fitness and IT firm Clever Ducks, which recently completed its own $2 million expansion.
At full build-out, the MindBody campus will host 1,300 workers including 500 new positions that pay head-of-household wages, an achievement that will actually have a measurable impact on unemployment in the city of SLO.
And that is really the bottom line, said Supervisor Adam Hill, a relentless advocate for head of household positions in the county. “This place gets it,” Hill said.
• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]