May 25, 2024
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Santa Barbara County bets $150K on economics of vitality


Backed with $150,000 in county seed money, The Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region has launched an economic vitality team to be led by Zoe Taylor, who has managed chambers of commerce throughout Southern California for decades.

“We’re very excited about this,” said President and CEO Ken Oplinger.

The new task force, a private sector-led initiative, includes the participation of key chambers of commerce across the county and will have $150,000 in its first year but has not yet set future funding. Under the leadership of Taylor, who will begin her term July 16, the new team will be responsible for coordinating countywide efforts for growth, from working with tech startups along the South Coast to developing and drawing in business to the northern region of the county.

“It will give us a roadmap for the economic development work we’re going to be doing throughout the county,” Oplinger said.

The city of Santa Barbara has been translating its pristine beaches and Mediterranean climate into a booming tourism industry for years, and recently, the area has benefitted from a blossoming tech sector thanks in large part to startups nurtured at UCSB. Oplinger said the new economic vitality team will work with these strong sectors of tech and tourism, but also draw focus to areas of the county in need of more development and growth.

For instance, he said the new team wants to target Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc for developing economic initiatives or helping nearby businesses. “We definitely want to capitalize on that,” he said, adding that it’s essential to bring “growth across the county, and not just in the small pockets where we’ve had growth for years.”

“What we want to do is make sure everyone is working together on macro issues,” Oplinger said, adding that one countywide effort will be developing a common marketing strategy.

Taylor holds about 30 years of chamber management experience. She served as the interim president of The Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region from 2012 until the recent appointment of Oplinger to the position. She was also the full-time CEO of three chambers, including the Ventura Chamber of Commerce, and the interim president of three chambers in addition to Santa Barbara. 

“Zoe is well qualified to help us start the first private sector-led economic development agency in Santa Barbara County,” Oplinger said in a statement from the chamber. “Her extensive background in economic development, coupled with her expertise in bringing people together to solve problems, will ensure the EVT gets off to a fast and successful start.”