Outreach efforts to fill the more than 800,000 square feet of vacant or available office space on the South Coast are under way through a collaborative called “Start It in Santa Barbara."
The idea for the South Coast-centric collaborative to keep and foster local entrepreneurs and new businesses has been around about four years, but a local business leader recently took stock of what the movement has been able to achieve a little more than a year after the Santa Barbara campaign kicked into high gear.
Michael Holliday, a local architect and one of the founders of the South Coast Business Forum, said Start It in Santa Barbara plays up the area’s strengths: beautiful environment, world-class higher education institutions, business opportunities and overall quality of life.
Retaining local talent and company headquarters in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Carpinteria are the primary focus, although Holliday said the collaborative is also open to drawing in companies that started outside local limits.
He said a South Coast economic development web portal is in the works — via a link from the Santa Barbara Regional Chamber of Commerce website — to connect local businesses, chambers of commerce, government agencies, advocacy groups and the community with business resources, demographic information and community statistics that would be important to growing an existing business or starting something new in the Santa Barbara area.
In Goleta, meanwhile, a unique partnership between the City of Goleta, the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce and UC Santa Barbara led to the launch last year of GEM, the Goleta Entrepreneurial Magnet. Earlier this year, GEM organizers hired serial entrepreneur and business adviser Doug Lynch to lead the initiative as executive director.
Holliday pointed to Santa Barbara’s SYNERGY Business & Technology Center as a prime example of what Start It in Santa Barbara aims to achieve.
The center, created by Holliday at the fringe of the Funk Zone on North Calle Cesar Chavez, opened in April 2012 with two businesses signed on to occupy the one-of-a-kind space for entrepreneurs.
Today the suite in a former lemon-packing warehouse boasts 32 businesses, with room for growth.
Last week, Holliday took Noozhawk on a tour of the open, naturally lit facilities that emphasis the reuse of materials, local artwork and the area’s natural beauty.
“We kind of wanted this place to be ‘from Santa Barbara’,” he said.
Finishing touches were still being made as recently as last week, when the center added a soundproof area for recording or quiet discussions.
Young entrepreneurs could be found working away in one of several offices or common spaces.
Becca Tannebring, a senior account manager of Neighborhood Power Corp., commented on the “cool” co-workers who also use the space.
“It’s a beautiful work environment,” she said. “It makes coming to work a lot more pleasant.”
Holliday said a majority of the businesses in the center were web technology-based — the exact type of businesses he says the South Coast needs to reach economic vitality.
He said locals are looking to what has been done in Boulder, Colo., for direction, since that community also doesn’t grow much in population, is environmentally conscious and has started its own Build It in Boulder campaign.
“Technology benefits all segments of the economy,” Holliday said. “We really need to think of ourselves as one community.”
Holliday said Start It in Santa Barbara, like the Goleta Entrepreneurial Magnet, is just one collaborative of many, stacked with dedicated locals who plan to continue highlighting the South Coast as a business destination region.