Dubroff: West Ventura County needs to attract more capital
The announcement that Richard Rush was going to retire next spring after a decade at the helm of CSU Channel Islands took a number of folks by surprise.
And as Business Times writer Tony Biasotti pointed out in his article on the resignation in our Aug. 28 edition, his departure leaves a vision for the Camarillo campus intact but not yet fulfilled.
More broadly, however, it does expose a problem that is unique to a few areas in our region — most notably the western half of Ventura County. That problem is a severe shortage of capital from private, public, local and state sources.
You would think that, in a fairly wealthy county known for good schools, relatively high real estate prices and a great lifestyle, attracting capital would not be a problem. But it is. Let’s take a closer look.
Even after a decade of relentless fundraising and the efforts of an energetic president, CSUCI is truly an underdeveloped asset. Shortly after it was founded more than a decade ago, generous contributions from the late Jack Broome and the Martin V. Smith Foundation built a Sir Norman Foster-designed library and helped create a strong business school.
But thanks in part to the state’s budget crises, CSUCI is missing the funding to pay for dorms to house its students, an engineering lab and athletic facilities that would allow it to compete in major NCAA sports. An event center and athletic facilities for CSUCI could cost $100 million or more.
Ventura County’s transportation system is similarly underdeveloped, desperately needing millions of dollars to improve connections between its cities and between the county and its neighbors.
A transportation tax, such as the one in place in Santa Barbara and other large counties, would provide the capital for such improvements but voters in Ventura County haven’t come close to passing one. A half-cent sales tax for transportation that was twice overwhelmingly approved by Santa Barbara County voters brought in $33 million in 2013 and more than $300 million over a decade for roads, bike paths and other improvements. Ventura County voters have rejected measures that would likely produce even more revenue.
Attracting equity capital to the region is another problem. West Ventura County has had some wins, including Lucix, a small Camarillo-based company that attracted institutional investors and then was quietly sold to Florida-based Heico. The Trade Desk, an advertising platform based in Ventura, may be the next initial public stock offering in the region.
But the big IPOs of the past half-decade have mainly been elsewhere. Inogen in Goleta and AppFolio in Santa Barbara have put the South Coast on the map while MindBody has done the same thing for San Luis Obispo. Combined capital raised by MindBody and AppFolio in their IPOs totaled around $200 million.
Not all of Ventura County is a capital wasteland. Just 20 minutes away in the Thousand Oaks-Westlake Village part of the Conejo Valley, capital flows freely.
Amgen has attracted billions of dollars in debt and equity capital and Kythera, a biopharmaceuticals firm, is about to be bought by Allergan for $2 billion.
Equally impressive, California Lutheran University President Chris Kimball has attracted more than $100 million in private funding for new athletic facilities and classrooms. In recent years, part of that funding has gone to create new entrepreneurship programs, sewing the seeds for a next generation of startups.
When it comes to public sector improvements, CalTrans has poured millions into the widening of Highway 101 and the Highway 23 connector and it is just now upgrading the interchange between the two highways.
As the inaugural president of CSUCI, Rush did a terrific job of connecting the university to surrounding communities, being a relentless advocate and developing a campus with good spirit and a vision to supply the technology firms of the future.
It will take more private and public capital to really fulfill this vision and put the west Ventura County piece of the Highway 101 corridor fully on track.
• Editor Henry Dubroff is a member of the CSU Channel Islands Foundation Board. Reach him at HDubroff@pacbiztimes.com