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Business

Techtopia: A Vision for Santa Barbara’s Business Future

Government and business leaders discuss strategy for sustainable economic growth of South Coast region

Last month, Santa Barbara County Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Janet Wolf and County CEO Chandra Waller met with key leaders from the South Coast Business Forum to discuss strategies and ideas for the sustainable economic growth for the South Coast region.

Michael Holliday
Michael Holliday

Santa Barbara County, in cooperation with the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, brought together business community representatives to meet with top governmental leaders from the county as well as the cities of Goleta, Santa Barbara and Carpinteria to discuss Techtopia — a concept of strategic business identity and focus for the South Coast region.

Techtopia is a moniker recently given to the South Coast region as part of a national news segment by CNBC, identifying the South Coast as “the ultimate place to start and build a high technology business.”

Michael Holliday, board chairman of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, said the immediate focus of the South Coast Business Forum is to fill the existing vacant 1 million square feet of office, manufacturing and industrial space on the South Coast with “the right kind of entrepreneurial businesses that fit within our region.”

“Our focus is to promote the economic vitality of our region and to support local start-up ventures in our community,” Holliday said. “We also want to recruit the right kind of businesses and business leaders from around the country who value the quality of life Santa Barbara has to offer. Due to existing vacancies, we can do this without building one new commercial building.

“Santa Barbara already has the cachet of being a world-class place to live. We want to promote the region as being a world-class place to build and grow a high-tech clean industry business ... living up to the moniker of Techtopia.”

Click here to view the CNBC video segment on Techtopia.

In the program, CNBC proclaims that Santa Barbara is “Techtopia ... a gorgeous beach community 90 miles north of Los Angeles that is a slice of heaven and home to dozens of tech start-ups lured by the great weather, quality of life and strong engineering community at nearby UC Santa Barbara.”

In the video segment shot on Stearns Wharf, CNBC interviews tech mavens Kevin O’Connor, Brian Danahoo and Michael Crandell to ask them the question, “Why move to Santa Barbara, besides the obvious reasons?”

Each CEO shares his own reasons he sees Santa Barbara as not only a world-class place to live but a world-class place to do business.

Crandell, CEO of RightScale, shared his company’s business focus and perspective of the Santa Barbara tech community.

“We are a cloud computing company so we manage, compute and storage resources that can be located anywhere in the world, and it really doesn’t matter where we are located,” he said. “So when you have the choice and you can be in a place that combines very smart dedicated people with the year-round availability of outdoor activity, why not?”

O’Connor, founder of FindTheBest.com and, before that, DoubleClick, a local start-up company that was ultimately sold to Google for $3 billion, shared said Santa Barbara “is a great place for talent” and noted that UCSB has “a phenomenal engineering program ... and that Santa Barbara is a great, great community.”

Donahoo, CEO of AppFolio, said, “People want to live here, they want to have long-lasting careers here. You don’t have the same competition that you have in Silicon Valley, so it is an easier place to attract and to retain strong talent.”

Money Magazine recently rated Santa Barbara as one of the top 10 places to live in the United States.

When pressed to respond to questions regarding overcoming the high cost of housing in Santa Barbara and California’s high tax rate climate, O’Connor said that when comparing Santa Barbara to Silicon Valley, some of the housing is more expensive but for a computer scientist the cost of living is about 20 percent less.

Crandell added, “There are advantages to everywhere you live, and about a quarter of our people are located all over the world, and I would argue a little bit with the ‘laid back’ reputation that we have in the tech community. People work as hard here as anywhere else — Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley in New York. It’s just a lot easier with the free time that you do have to use it more effectively and have fun.”

O’Connor said Santa Barbara is limited in size and growth potential bounded by the ocean and the mountains.

“There are about 200,000 people in the South Coast area, and there is a finite number of people who can live and work here,” he said. “I think people welcome the tech community. We are quiet, laid back and have great jobs.”

“The primary goal of the South Coast Business Forum is to preserve and enhance the quality of life that we all enjoy here in Santa Barbara and to promote a vibrant economic environment,” Holliday said. “There can be a healthy balance to keep this community beautiful and to maintain our status as an environmental leader, yet still having a strong business and tech community that benefits all segments of our region, that includes the hospitality industry, the tourism industry and the local business industry.

“It is important to note that not one person on our board wants to erode the unparalleled charm, beauty and quality of life that define this community. We don’t want to become Silicon Valley, San Diego, Los Angeles or even Ventura. Santa Barbara is a one-of-a-kind community, and we need to preserve and enhance that distinction as well as retaining and attracting the kind of entrepreneurs and business that value that quality of life. Our focus is on reaching out to companies and business leaders who want to give back to their community to make Santa Barbara even a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

The focus of the South Coast Business Forum for the balance of 2011-2012 will be leveraging the momentum the group has established during the past 24 months and to continue collaborating with existing business organizations in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Carpinteria.

“Our immediate goal is to fill the existing office and manufacturing vacancies,” Holliday said. “We don’t need to build one new building to accomplish that vision. We have about 1 million square feet of vacant space that we want to fill with the right kind of high-tech, clean-tech and green-tech businesses that ‘fit’ in our community, and that is our group focus for the next 24 to 36 months.”

Holliday said that Boulder, Colo., recently established a “Build it in Boulder” program to reach out to high-tech entrepreneurs in an effort to become the Techtopia of the Rockies.

“We have been in touch with the director of that program and plan to launch a ‘Start It in Santa Barbara’ business support and outreach program in 2012 that can help Santa Barbara become the Techtopia of the Pacific Coast,” Holliday said.

— Renee Johnson for the South Coast Business Forum.

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