Technology has historically driven economic growth throughout society, and today’s Central Coast startup companies have the same potential to make a positive impact, according to speakers at a forum Wednesday night.
More than 100 business leaders and supporters gathered at the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center to hear what role they and others can play to realize that economic impact during the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast presentation of “California Central Coast: Startup Your Engines!”
Peter Rupert, chair of UC Santa Barbara’s Economic Department and director of the UCSB Economic Forecast, provided attendees with an in-depth look at how technology has shaped economic growth overtime before joining a panel of experts from Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties to discuss larger local economic implications.
Rupert explained that economic growth is typically measured through standard of living and gross domestic product.
“It’s exactly about technology,” Rupert said of growth. “It changes the way we play. This technology is everywhere.”
A typical growth cycle starts with skill-based technological change, which leads to an increase in income inequality, resource reallocation and a productivity slowdown, he said.
Examples of the phenomenon include an economic slowdown after the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s and another blip in 1974 as more people began investing in information technology, Rupert said.
Although some areas saw a big slowdown in the technology industry after the recession in 2008, Santa Barbara County experienced just a slight setback, he said.
“Now it’s growing faster than almost anywhere else in the country,” Rupert said. “Its share of employment is now higher than the U.S. average. It’s a big growth sector, in my view.”
How the local business community and others could take advantage of that growth remains to be seen.
Rupert said growing infrastructure and allowing startups to start and grow on the Central Coast would be essential.
“A lot of people are better off with this technology,” he said, directing a question to local politicians. “What about the people who are worse off?”
John Greathouse, a serial entrepreneur in Santa Barbara, talked about the investors, universities, large companies and others who should be helping foster growth through new entrepreneurs.
Greathouse and Rupert were joined on the ensuing panel by Thea Chase, managing director of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Ben Kuo, a publisher of SocalTECH.com.
A subsequent question-and-answer session gathered attendees for a brainstorming session about where the local technology industry is going and how to reach a level that makes the most impact.