June 18, 2024
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Two Central Coast economic development nonprofits to merge


The economic development groups Reach and the San Luis Obispo Economic Vitality Corporation announced a merger on Dec. 17, one that will bring the EVC under the Reach banner in a combined effort to improve the economies of San Luis Obispo County and northern Santa Barbara County.

The boards of both Reach and the EVC voted unanimously to approve the consolidation on Dec. 16, and the move is expected to be finalized in 2021.

At that time, a few members of the EVC board will join the Reach board, which Reach President and CEO Melissa James estimates will have 20 to 25 members.

Reach CEO Melissa James in 2019

“We are really excited to be announcing this,” James told the Business Times. “It’s a conversation that has been underway for some time, about how we can work together to more efficiently serve the needs of the Central Coast region.”

Reach will also add a San Luis Obispo County Advisory Board.

“Reach is a regional organization that spans Santa Barbara and SLO County, so this is a way in which some of the historic impact of the EVC focus on SLO County will be able to continue going forward,” James said.

EVC Board Chair Jolie Ditmore said in an email that she is “looking forward” to joining Reach.

“We hope you join in our excitement about the possibilities of a unified vision and voice for the region’s economy, especially in the face of ongoing recovery and reinvention due to Covid-19, and we look forward to continuing to partner with you in creating a brighter Central Coast future,” Ditmore said. “The community will be hearing more from us as we begin integrating our organizations and initiatives. We’re eager to share ideas and get down to the work of increasing the region’s economic prosperity.”

Reach—the first four letters stand for “Regional Economic Action Coalition”—is a fairly new organization, founded in 2018 as the Hourglass Project. The EVC was founded in 1994.

James said Reach’s annual budget is about $1.5 million. More than half of the funding comes from the private sector, while the rest comes from state grants and government contracts.

Reach has a plan for the area entitled “REACH 2030” that outlines six strategic initiatives with the goal of bringing at least 15,000 new high-paying jobs, defined as those that pay more than $50,000 per year.

“As you think about the impacts of COVID, the economic challenges that we’re facing are only that much more acute … so focusing on ensuring that there are jobs and economic opportunity across the Central Coast region is going to remain paramount,” James said.

One of the initiatives is to build a thriving space enterprise at the Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc. Reach has advocated for Vandenberg to be selected as the headquarters for the Air Force’s new Space Force Command, but it was not on the list of six finalists released by the Air Force in November.

James expects some of Reach’s initiatives to be completed sooner than the anticipated timeline because of the consolidation.

“The combining of efforts between Reach and the EVC is only going to kind of accelerate the impact that we’re trying to achieve, both across the region and in SLO County,” James said. “By consolidating resources, talent and energy towards singular goals, it’s only going to help us go further and faster to create a central coast that has a great quality of life and job creation across the two counties.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated Dec. 18. to reflect that Reach’s $1.5 million budget is its current annual budget, not it’s post-consolidation budget.