It was a revealing look at the local economy during last week's Chamber of Commerce panel discussion on the state of the local economy. Business writer Jennifer Pittman offers a good summary in last Saturday's Sentinel.
The general message was one of optimism, but some of these challenges are probably worth another look:
1. National retailing consultant Bob Gibbs reported that the last three years were the worst since the Depression.
2. National retailers have maxed out on the suburbs. National chains are taking another look at inner cities or "inner ring" suburbs -- like Santa Cruz. Stores are opening 5,000 square foot spaces, rather than the 250,000 mega-store sites.
3. He said it's "risky" not to have a department store anchor. He also said that Santa Cruz's downtown likely will not have such an anchor -- but that it's unique enough that it might not need one.
4. A shift is on toward "single-purpose" shopping, rather than "recreational shopping." With downtown Santa Cruz in transition, it's hard to know the impact of that locally.
5. Chamber Executive Director Bill Tysseling took Gibbs on a tour after the meeting and reported that Gibbs was concerned with "retail leakage" to other areas (except for groceries).
6. Tysseling also quoted a concern by Gibbs that the current one-way traffic pattern of downtown Santa Cruz is harmful to retail, particularly when it concerns out-of-town shoppers.
7. Cabrillo College President Brian King warned of the impact of massive spending cuts at the community college level. Most at risk: the education of those who need remedial work in math and English. The impact: 90 percent -- that's right, 90 percent -- of incoming students need remedial teaching in those subjects.
8. Finally, on the positive side, County Farm Bureau President Jess Brown reported a healthy rate of business for local agriculture. The biggest growth area? Direct-to-customer sales. The locavore movement -- with farmers' markets and direct-to-customer sales -- has meant a big increase in sales for farmers. He said there are 200 farmers on the waiting list to get into the Cabrillo Farmers Market.