By Mark A. Diaz
The Central Coast Coalition of Chambers (CCCC), an organization comprised of 13 chambers of commerce, unveiled its Hourglass project which plans to combat the growing economic struggles of the area they dubbed as the “Central Coast Super Region” stretching from Camp Roberts to Vandenberg Airforce Base. The event held at the Cliffs in Shell Beach gathered more than 150 business owners and public representatives to encourage, inspire and entreat them to work together for the common good.
“We face several real economic threats,” said Mellissa James, San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce director of economic initiatives and regional advocacy, “which will compound the struggles currently dominating the story of our community.”
Citing looming issues such as the “inevitable economic downturn,” the Diablo Power Plant closure and the projection that 30 percent of the local workforce will be “greatly affected by automation in the next five to ten years,” James brought a called to arms to the group. She told the gathering that if these issues and more are not correctly dealt with, eventually, the Central Coast will be populated with only tourist, students and retirees.
“I want the community that I am raising my family in to include my kids as they get older,” said James. “I want the story of the Central Coast to be one that gives our kids the opportunity to build a business, to build a family and create a life here.”
The solution proposed by the organization was for locals to shed the selfish crab mentality and work together to help everyone. Using phrases like “a rising tide lifts all boats” the thrust of the presentation was regionalism and stressed that problems could be overcome if they are addressed with a collective force of business owners and public representatives.
James stated the organization recognized three significant gaps prohibiting regional economic development efforts; not working collectively, lacking action to address the issues despite constant recognition of the problems and the non-existent voice of the private job sector to guide local economic policy issues.
Mindbody Co-founder and CEO, Rick Stollmeyer spoke briefly about his experience in creating an international business in San Luis Obispo and how outside business community leaders underestimate the Central Coast. Referencing assets such as the various high ranking colleges and the approximate half million people living in the super region, Stollmeyer said that “the community punches way above its weight.”
Stollmeyer admitted that the Central Coast is at a crossroads, but he insisted that he sees great opportunity for the region.
“Yes, I think that we are at a fork in the road,” said Stollmeyer, “this is either a community that ten years from now will be a community of haves and have-nots…all of those lucky people who own property and can afford to live this beautiful lifestyle and all those that serve us.”
Stollmeyer said that he envisions a vibrant working class using technology to create value on a global scale.
Keynote speaker, Tom Clark spoke on the importance of regionalism for the health of a community and cited numerous examples of his involvement in restoring the Denver economy through collaborative efforts.
Both Congressman Salud Carbajal (D) and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R) took their turns at plugging their recent political successes and their plans for the area.
“I commend the effort taken to bring this region of unique interest together,” said Carbajal, “to work towards a new and better Central Coast.” He went on to say that to look beyond cities and county limits and to approach economic development as a region was both innovative and strategic. “It just makes sense,” said Carbajal.
The Senator also said that he believed the area’s military infrastructure is an untapped resource not only in its physical presence but in the private sector as well. Carbajal also noted the closing of Diablo brings both an employment and energy production void. To address the plants closure, the senator introduced the Energy Opportunity Zones Act that promotes renewable energy investment through tax credits.
“I will continue to work to make this region a renewable energy hub,” said Carbajal, “and work to harness as many federal resources as possible.”
“We have tremendous potential on the Central Coast,” Cunningham said, “if we solve our water issues and if we solve our housing issues.”
The Assemblyman continued his push for career technical education and called those tech ed achievers “tomorrow’s middle class” who will be needed to replace the gap created by the approaching retirement of an estimated 5 million baby boomers out of the skilled trades in the next decade.
“There is tremendous opportunity we just need a plan,” said Cunningham. “We need everybody to be in a room like this…collaborating and talking.” He went on to say, “I am not known as an optimist, but I think our best days are ahead of us on the Central Coast.”