Pixel Tracker

Friday, January 18 , 2019, 5:27 pm | Fair 62º

 
 
 
 

Experts Weigh In on Slow Recovery, Future Financial Options at North County Economic Forecast Summit

UCSB Economic Forecast Project Executive Director Peter Rupert moderates a panel discussion among Santa Maria City Manager Rick Haydon, Allan Hancock College President Kevin Walthers, Pacific Coast Business Times Editor-in-chief Henry Dubroff and Sacramento Bee journalist Dan Walters.
UCSB Economic Forecast Project Executive Director Peter Rupert moderates a panel discussion among Santa Maria City Manager Rick Haydon, Allan Hancock College President Kevin Walthers, Pacific Coast Business Times Editor-in-chief Henry Dubroff and Sacramento Bee journalist Dan Walters. (Sonia Fernandez / The UCSB Current photo)

Making a living and doing business in Santa Barbara’s North County were among topics of discussion as UC Santa Barbara’s Economic Forecast Project (EFP) headed to Santa Maria for the second of two annual symposia on the state of the economy.

Held Friday, May 6, at the Radisson Hotel in Santa Maria, the event featured several talks on different aspects of North County business, in addition to the staple overviews on the local and regional economy presented by EFP Executive Director Peter Rupert, chair of UCSB’s economics department.

According to Rupert, the economy in Santa Barbara County is trending upward, albeit sluggishly and unevenly. In the mostly rural and agriculture-based northern region, recovery from the Great Recession — indicated by housing values, employment and wages — is particularly slow relative to the more southern cities.

While agricultural operations employ the most number of people in the county, wages are also on the low end, which tends to weaken people’s abilities to save, spend more money in their local stores and invest in their communities.

Allan Hancock College President Kevin Walthers knows higher education can help low-wage workers by providing training and opportunities for local students to branch out and develop skills, but for him the challenge is a geographic and financial one: Northern Santa Barbara County, he said, is an “education desert.”

“Education is how we all get out of an economic downturn,” Walthers said. “But right now, the State of California is not investing in higher education.” Student enrollments at public institutions are up, but the state budget has not grown with it, he explained.

Compounding the problem in the North County, according to Walthers, is that access to four-year institutions is limited, forcing students to drive or live far away if they want to get their university degrees.

Among possible solutions, he suggested, were satellite campuses of four-year institutions, and perhaps even the conversion of Hancock College into a baccalaureate-offering institution.

Beefing up North County’s education offerings could also spur high-tech industry in the area, added Henry Dubroff, editor-in-chief of the Pacific Coast Business Times.

“If the Santa Maria Valley is going to emerge out of agriculture into this post-manufacturing era and attract tech companies, some sort of four-year institution is going to be important,” he said.

Taking a cue from emerging hybrid semiconductor and software design and production operations in San Luis Obispo, South Santa Barbara County and Ventura County, he suggested that those industries could find footing in the North County if the conditions were right: education and an “x-factor” culture that could attract the high-tech brains and deep pockets of the tech industry. 

In the shorter term, however, there are plans afoot to augment the local income as the region regains its economic footing. According to Santa Maria City Manager Rick Haydon, the city is rolling out programs to attract and retain small businesses and the jobs they bring.

Additionally, the city is engaging in several large development projects to bring more commerce and homes to the area, as well as jobs and sales and property taxes.

“We wouldn’t be here today if there wasn’t development,” Haydon told the room.

Meanwhile, the recent $15 minimum wage bill that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown was heavy on the minds of the summit speakers. Although the bill does not go into full effect until 2022, the outlook seemed bleak — at least at first glance — for the business-minded in North County.

“The legislators probably had the right idea,” commented Haydon, but at the state level didn’t realize the unintended local consequences of the bill’s implementation.

“It’s foolish to try to apply one standard to the whole state,” said Dubroff, adding concern about effects on overtime, salaried vs. hourly employees and the push toward automation to reduce the number of workers, particularly in the agricultural and service industries.

The new wage structure could have an impact in terms of housing costs, added Sacramento Bee journalist Dan Walters, who focused on what he saw as the looming housing crisis in California.

“When those minimum wages kick in, landlords will — in their own interest —take advantage of that,” he said, suggesting that new wages would get sucked into rents unless steps were taken to manage the state’s current housing shortage.

Sonia Fernandez writes for the UCSB Office of Public Affairs and Communications.

 

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 using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • 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 >

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.