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Chamber of Commerce-Led County Economic Development Task Force Interviewing for Executive Director

Planning for a new Economic Vitality Task Force for Santa Barbara County is well under way, with finding a director and finalizing a board of chamber of commerce executives among the first priorities.

Ken Oplinger, president of The Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region, is spearheading efforts as head of the agency contracted by the county to put the task force together.

In June, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved funding for the group, which will be made up of chambers of commerce members from across the county. At a meeting last month, the supervisors wrote an agreement to pay the Santa Barbara chamber no more than $150,000 for one year of services.

At the top of the list is getting a board together to plan how the collaborative will tackle the task of becoming a mechanism to both seek and grow jobs across the region.

“We are ramping up now,” Oplinger told Noozhawk.

The board will have 19 members, mostly chosen from within current ranks, with a chair position rotating between the North County and the South Coast.

The chambers in Goleta, Lompoc, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria will choose three members, while smaller chambers in BuelltonCarpinteria and Solvang will choose two. One board member will come from the county, with a the list finalized by the end of the month, Oplinger said.

Since the local Economic Vitality Task Force was modeled after the Economic Development Collaborative Ventura County and the San Luis Obispo County Economic Vitality Corp., Oplinger said cooperating with those organizations will be vital.

The task force will act as a central point of contact for business, help local business expand in surrounding communities, provide information for startup companies and develop relationships with surrounding regional groups.

Industrial space in Goleta or Santa Maria could suit a Santa Barbara business looking to expand manufacturing, for example, and the group could help make it happen.

The group will need to work quickly, however, since the county has started the clock on financial support that ends in October.

Oplinger said the task force will need to provide quarterly updates on goals and practices, which is where a new director will come in.

Seed money will hire a team director of economic development who can oversee day-to-day operations, technically as an employee of the Santa Barbara chamber.

Three finalists have been identified through an initial application process based on experience in development and nonprofit management. Oplinger said they will be interviewed in the coming weeks, with an expected start date for one of them by Jan. 1.

One works inside the county, another within the region and a third lives outside the area.

“It really depends on the person’s skill set,” Oplinger said. “We want to very quickly address key things.”

Other director responsibilities would include developing a countywide/regional economic development strategic plan, creating a centralized county economic development website, securing grant funds, and working under Oplinger to provide assistance to the task force and county supervisors on business-related matters.

Chambers need to start using the same theme and words to market Santa Barbara County, Oplinger said.

He said he doesn’t plan to ask the county for more money, and hopes the task force will present a favorable report come spring.

“We do think the county needs to play a role in this effort in the future years,” he said. “We’re going to work with the county to see what needs they have moving forward.”

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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