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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 10:13 pm | Fair 53º


Economic Vitality Team of Santa Barbara County Focuses on Barriers to Business

Lack of available housing tops the list of problems tackled by the 19-member chambers of commerce group started last year by the county Board of Supervisors

The Economic Vitality Team of Santa Barbara County has been around a year, helping to connect chambers of commerce from across the region on issues.
The Economic Vitality Team of Santa Barbara County has been around a year, helping to connect chambers of commerce from across the region on issues. (EVT of Santa Barbara County photo)

After working nearly a year to identify the biggest problems facing Santa Barbara County business, a group of local chambers of commerce leaders are ironing out plans to tackle them.

Not surprisingly, housing and available leasing space top the list of concerns shared by the Economic Vitality Team of Santa Barbara County, which was created in late 2014 after securing $150,000 in seed money from the County Board of Supervisors.

That money went to the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, which is overseeing the EVT and using part of that for Zoe Taylor, who was hired in January 2015 as the EVT director of economic development.

She was also the interim president and CEO of the Santa Barbara chamber before Ken Oplinger came on three years ago.

“She’s out doing the core work of the organization,” Oplinger told Noozhawk. “Each of the communities has a little bit different situation.”

Taylor thinks big picture while a 19-member board of directors made up of chambers of commerce in Santa Maria, Lompoc, Buellton, Solvang, Goleta, Carpinteria and Santa Barbara — as well as a county representative — meet on a monthly basis to think of ways to break down barriers between north and south county, Oplinger said.

The board elected Oplinger as chair and Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Ken Ostini as vice chair, positions planned to alternate between north and south leadership.

The EVT wants to help grow jobs across the region, no matter where that may be.

“There’s a place for everyone in Santa Barbara County,” Oplinger said. “Exactly where that is is less of an issue as long as it’s in Santa Barbara County.”

Since the launch last year, EVT has picked up funding from private business as well as from county supervisors, who followed up an initial allotment with $75,000 in the 2015-16 budget year.

Taylor said joint-marketing efforts are the focus for 2016, working to improve the EVT message that there’s a place for everyone’s business in the county through website improvements, advertising, trade shows and more.

“The mission of EVT is to enhance the quality of life throughout Santa Barbara County by promoting economic vitality through generation of jobs, increased capital investment, business retention, expansion and attraction, while promoting and supporting entrepreneurs,” she said.

“In addition to the housing needs, other infrastructure needs such as transportation and water are a part of the business plan. EVT will provide the economic support where needed while the chambers of commerce and other agencies will provide the advocacy for airports, widening of the (Highway) 101 corridor, improved commuter rail service, efficient and timely bus service and alternative transportation such as bike trails.”

EVT has created an economic development roundtable to identify community-specific industrial zone opportunities and challenges and a group of commercial real estate brokers to help attract businesses.

EVT is also a partner of the Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast, which includes Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties trying to develop a fiber highway across all three regions.

The issue impacts not only business, Taylor said, but education, healthcare, public safety and any other resident using the internet. EVT has identified Lompoc as the top priority community for that project.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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