LAST IN A SERIES
By TOM HONIG
What can be done to kick-start the local economy?
A variety of business leaders respond in a curious way that's both hopeful and skeptical.
One of the most successful local business leaders says it's time for local investment. Peggy Dolgenos of Cruzio said investment disasters nationally provide an opportunity locally: "Rather than placing money in an anonymous, far-away financial firm, which might turn out to be Lehman Brothers or Bernie Madoff, why not look for real needs, often local, that we cansee and understand, and then invest in filling the need? At Cruzioworks we have a lot of small entrepreneurial companies in our coworking space, and I've seen a lot of local talent and great ideas. There are a lot of worthy local investments that could help the local economy and could turn out to provide good returns for the investors, as well."
But some others have concerns: too many fees; too much regulation. One planning consultant said his prospective clients for local development are scared away by the city's traffic impact fee. "These fees are more tolerable when times are flush, but right now they can just eliminate small entrepreneurs from even getting started."
The most complete analysis I've heard comes from Bill Tysseling, executive director of the Santa Cruz Area Chamber of Commerce.
Essentially, Tysseling would like to see a reconfiguration of some regulatory codes that make locating in Santa Cruz more difficult than it should be. He's not saying do away with regulation -- but instead rethink them to see if they fit in with realities of today's economy. "We need a strategic shift in thinking (at the governmental level) to be actively seeking investment." He said that shift is already happening at the management level of the city's government, but other jurisdictions haven't budged.
As for planning: simplify, simplify, simplify. "Every project should be a one-stop process in which all departments have to solve issues together."
Nearly everyone I talked to about the local economy showed some optimism. These people quoted and others all talked about spreading the word about Santa Cruz -- branding the area as something attractive -- in order to attract outside investment. Yet, there are memories of an old "anti-business" attitude.
I'll let Tysseling have the penultimate word: "The communities that succeed bring an attitude that is based on doing lots of things simultaneously. They are first and foremost public/private partnerships in which the partners are dedicated to really working together. ...They are into continuous improvement. They are good at long-term strategies too, but their emphasis is what they can do today. They have shared energy at the center but lots of relatively independent moving parts, each working toward independent goals. They have shared vision with some sparking elements -- a conference center, a concert hall, a redevelopment project -- which keep the energy up and set a standard for quality and investment.
"The problem for us is that we are in an economy, a state and a social/political era which are disorganized. We are going to have to go it alone for a while and we will have to have some excellent leadership and excellent followership."
Does that sound like Santa Cruz? No. But younger folks around here need jobs and higher wages. And maybe the times are changing.