Monday, March 19 , 2018, 4:28 pm | Fair 63º



South Coast Business Symposium Talks Strategy for Spurring Local Economic Growth

Speakers use San Luis Obispo County as an example of what might work in Santa Barbara to attract viable enrepreneurs

More than 200 business and government representatives discussed plans for speeding the slowly recovering local economy at the South Coast Business Forum’s Economic Vitality Symposium held Wednesday afternoon at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort in Santa Barbara.

Speakers included Mike Manchak, director of the Economic Vitality Corporation of San Luis Obispo, and Bill Campbell, chairman of the Ventura Economic Development Corporation. Jeff Bermant, founder of Goleta-based high-tech corporation Virtual World Computing, Joe Vetrano of Carpinteria manufacturer BEGA-USA and Jeanette Webber, owner of the Santa Barbara Hotel Group, also presented.

Manchak outlined San Luis Obispo County’s strategy and implementation of its Economic Vitality Corporation.

He said it first had to take an outsider’s view of the area’s economy and determine its weaknesses and strengths. So it hired a consulting company and chose a strategy that cost about $100,000.

“Once we picked a strategy, the challenge becomes staff time, and then you need to raise about double that and then figure out the cost of implementation,” Manchak said. “In the end, we needed to raise a few hundred thousand dollars, but you could easily do that in this community.”

He said San Luis Obispo has some weaknesses similar to Santa Barbara, such as high home prices, lack of career opportunity, and companies are challenged to attract employees from an outside region.

“It comes down to the reasons people don’t decide to move to area for instance permitting and taxes ... but you need to create a checklist of what work and what doesn’t work,” Manchak said. “If you reduce the fees that are too high and be hyper-competitive, businesses will have all the reasons to come here. It’s an expensive place to live and you can’t change that, but make the other aspects of their lives easy.”

San Luis Obispo County focused its strategy on the areas that produced 90 percent of its job growth since 1995, such as green energy, tourism, wine and agriculture.

“There are sectors of the economy who are doing well but are below the radar,” and Santa Barbara can find similar results, Manchak said.

But doing so requires an aggregation and analysis of data which Michael Holliday, chairman of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, will provide with a web portal set to launch in about a month designed to attract entrepreneurs.

Two things Santa Barbara needs to focus on are growing their own companies and utilizing UCSB, Bermant said.

“One of things we do best is internally grow our companies, and that means the capital needs to be here and businesses that want to fund companies here,” he said. “We have a huge wealth of resource just in the university alone.”

Holliday also pointed to Boulder, Colo., as a growing city that Santa Barbara could learn from. It offers free airfare to entrepreneurs who qualify and want to start a business there. If quality of life means anything to entrepreneurs, they will consider Santa Barbara, he said.

“We have an opportunity to go after companies and industries that fit here,” Holliday said. “There are some industries that do not fit here, like major manufacturing and assembly productions, but we need to foster high technology, clean technology and green technology industries, because they really fit here.”

Santa Barbara needs to work within the county’s environmental and construction limitations so the area doesn’t turn into Orange County or Los Angeles, Holliday said.

“There is a legacy of environmental concerns, and we need to embrace those constraints” by using the 1 million square feet of space the area has available, he said. “We need to bring in high technology, clean technology and green technology that complement our lifestyle.”

The speaker panels were moderated by Henry Dubroff, owner and editor of the Pacific Coast Business Times, and Janet Garufis, president of Montecito Bank & Trust.

The South Coast Business Symposium has held two previous meetings, one of which rallied the support of local government. The other focused on the efforts of local business leaders.

But Manchak said it’s the business community that must lead the effort, and it must do it now.

“I recommend you not take so much time to do this,” he said. “You have a window of opportunity, and the recession is that window.”

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >

Meet Your Realtor Sponsored by Village Properties

John Sener
"I am known for tenacity, diligence, honesty, and sound decision making with the ultimate goal of closing every transaction to the satisfaction of all involved parties."

Full Profile >