World-class learning institutions, high-tech entrepreneurs and beautiful landscapes all make the Central Coast a prime candidate for establishing a “regional innovation corridor,” according state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.
Such a corridor would attract innovators and entrepreneurs to an area that is already flooded with talent and the potential to find an economic foothold as a smaller scale version of the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley – minus the millions of residents and traffic.
Jackson, who represents California’s 19th Senate District encompassing Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, said she has been playing “facilitator” between local businesses, entrepreneur centers and educational facilities so they can connect, better align resources and bring more energy and organization to an idea that has been in the works for years.
She envisions the corridor beginning as far south as Thousand Oaks and winding all the way through San Luis Obispo.
“We have a lot of companies and individuals who are focused on the 21st century jobs,” Jackson told Noozhawk.. “We have extraordinary education institutions. What we should be able to do is link up education interests with business interests.
"It’s something that has seemed like a real opportunity for me for years. There’s a lot of this effort going on, but really not on a regional basis.”
Many universities already have embraced the potential of entrepreneurial skills, including UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara City College, Cal State University Channel Islands, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and other colleges.
Jackson takes no credit for the emphasis.
She said she’s merely offering to help identify key innovators, capitalists and others so that the region can progress as a whole — not just as Santa Barbara, Goleta or Ventura.
“The bottom line is, the key to the future of this area is to have a really strong economic base,” Jackson said. “We can do that by making this area sort of the home of 21st century businesses, technology and vision. It’s really just a question of connecting the dots.”
Jackson already has compiled a robust email list of those who have expressed interest in having a state legislator as one of several advocates.
Whether the corridor will have a physical presence — outside the entrepreneurial centers that already exist — has been a part of initial discussions between interested parties.
Michael Holliday, executive director of SYNERGY Business & Technology Center in Santa Barbara, said he and other business leaders have been mulling the topic for months and renewing a collaborative focus needed to make change happen sooner than later.
“We’re excited that she’s interested in really pushing this initiative forward for the whole 101 corridor,” Holliday said. “It’s already happening. There’s so much momentum. I think having someone of her governmental stature is critical to seeing any kind of initiative like this be successful.
"The entire economy benefits when you have a sector like the technology sector. These are typically very high paying jobs.”
Jackson said anyone interested in the initiative should contact her office to be put in touch with like-minded locals.
“The hope is that they will create their own energy,” she said. “What I can do as a state legislator is to assist in any way I can. We are still in very early stages. Hopefully, at some point in the not too distant future, we’ll be able to announce that there’s a real focal point for this.”