February 23, 2024
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Dubroff: Celebrating 150 years of Ventura County excellence and passion

IN THIS ARTICLE

It was one of the biggest economic events in the history of the Central Coast. 

And it happened exactly 150 years ago. 

The creation of Ventura County, born out of Santa Barbara County in 1873, required an act of the California Legislature. 

It was the work of enterprising leaders in the area who saw the promise of a new community. 

For its 3,500 residents, the creation of a new county allowed a fledgling economic engine to come to life. 

The Business Times has been privileged enough to create a 150th-anniversary legacy publication for the County of Ventura, which is being distributed to subscribers in this issue. 

Henry Dubroff
Henry Dubroff

Rather than retrace the history that Staff Writer Mike Harris has told in our publication, here are a few things you might not know about the County of Ventura.

Religious tolerance has been part of the county’s DNA since the beginning. 

So has innovation. 

They came together in the form of Achille Levy, a French-Jewish immigrant who arrived in the town of Hueneme from San Francisco in the 1880s. 

He was an innovator in lima beans who made a fortune in agribusiness, helped put the county on the map and founded the Bank of A. Levy, which was the dominant bank in Ventura County until the early 1990s. 

Those clusters that look like grape leaves on the former county courthouse — now Ventura’s City Hall — are really lima bean vines. 

The beans and sugar beats dominated agriculture the way that strawberries, lemons and avocados now do.

From ocean bottom to mountain top to bottom, some of the most innovative technology literally comes from Ventura County. 

The late Fritz Huntsinger and other members of the Hunsinger clan transformed a metal working shop into a formidable company that built underwater drilling tools in the early years of offshore drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel — and around the world. 

Yvon Chouinard, the co-founder of Patagonia, used the tin shed on the company’s property to make climbing tools that are still world-renowned.   

As he and co-author Vincent Stanley tell it in their new book “The Future of the Responsible Company,” the Patagonia apparel business began as a way to make money to sustain the climbing gear business.

The county is home to three of the most unique agribusinesses in the world — and all three are public. 

Limoneira, founded in 1893, is one of the global leaders in lemons and remains controlled by its founding families. The system for grading lemons was developed in its hometown of Santa Paula.

Meanwhile, Calavo Growers, helmed by the venerable Lee Cole, is one of the largest distributors of avocados — it has a very successful packaged food business, too. 

Finally, Mission Produce, founded by Cal Poly alum Steve Barnard, is the global leader in growing and distributing avocados. 

It transformed an empty postal facility in Oxnard into a vast processing station powered by rooftop solar.   

In recent years, the Thousand Oaks-Westlake Village corridor has emerged as a corporate headquarters center, hosting Amgen, Jafra Cosmetics and others — not to mention, success in attracting new and thriving biotechs to the area.

One of my favorite stories is about a guy named Dave Power who gave up a promising career as a marketing executive in the auto industry and struck out his own with a plan to measure consumer satisfaction through quality surveys.

You might recognize the company by the founder’s initials, “J.D. Power & Associates.” 

I’ll wrap up by recognizing a few people who, like Dave Power, are no longer with us but really helped me and the Business Times.

The late Hank Lacayo, a labor leader, helped me understand Ventura County’s political landscape. 

Alan Tague, the late chair of Limoneira, taught me that a legacy begins with character. 

Dr. Sam Edwards combined a passion for public health with a passion for farming. 

Jack Gilbert was an inventor, executive and developer who loved the challenge of free enterprise. 

The late Carmen Ramirez stuck to her guns on sustainable energy development and won big — she left us way too soon. 

Ventura County has written its own story for 150 years. 

The Business Times is eager to write the next chapter.    

Henry Dubroff is the founder, owner and editor of the Business Times. He can be reached at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com.