Santa Barbara County is edging closer to an economic development strategy.
At least that was our takeaway after sitting in on the “Morality of Prosperity,” the name for this year’s action summit put on by the Santa Barbara County Technology & Industry Association.
The program laid out in stark terms the economic divide between north and south Santa Barbara County and it underscored the fact that in both areas the jobs that are disappearing fastest are head-of-household, middle-class jobs. The speakers, including former county CEO Mike Brown and economic researcher Josh Williams, laid out several plans for charting a new direction for economic development efforts.
These efforts show promise for solving three vast problems facing the region — a chronic revenue deficit in the Santa Barbara County budget due to no-growth politics, a dearth of higher paying jobs in the North County and the county’s need to import roughly 15,000 workers per day, many of them in managerial or professional capacities. They include:
• Permit the Santa Maria Energy project. This project has taken steps to deal with environmental impacts, it’s the best chance on the horizon for better paying jobs in the Santa Maria Valley, and the taxes and fees generated by the project are sorely needed to refill Santa Barbara County’s coffers.
• Work with municipalities and the planning commission to designate three to four sites countywide as economic vitality zones for technology-oriented research/industrial campuses. They would be eligible for faster-tracked permitting and perhaps other concessions and located in areas such as Lompoc that would derive huge economic benefits from a new high tech campus.
• Finally fund a broad-based economic development collaborative along the lines of the Economic Vitality Corp. in San Luis Obispo, the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County and Santa Maria’s own Economic Development Commission. What is not needed is another business lobbying group. What is needed is an organization that thoughtfully represents the notion that good-paying jobs are an economic benefit, not a detriment, to the region.
As Brown and others pointed out, current policies have led to a proliferation of low-paid jobs as municipalities embraced the tourism/hotel culture as a way to grab sales/hotel tax revenue. Those same policies tilted housing rules toward huge mansions that generate new property tax revenue but also create more low-wage jobs and middle-class management who must be imported from outside the area.
Rather than artificially suppressing growth in the name of environmentalism, then feeding county government with hotel taxes and mansion levies, the harder work is to build an economic ecosystem that grows the pie equitably with the least amount of carbon impact. San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties are farther ahead in embracing that vision. It is time for Santa Barbara County to play catch up.
Cancer has claimed the life of Thomas Frances McGrath III of Fillmore, a fourth-generation member of the McGrath farming business in Ventura County.
He was active in Rotary, the Boys & Girls Club and he served as president of the Ventura County Farm Bureau. He was a longtime supporter of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation.
He died Oct. 13 at age 67. Our condolences to his wife, his daughter and the McGrath family.