SECOND IN A SERIES
By TOM HONIG
Here's a fact that reveals a lot -- Santa Cruz residents earned $2.5 billion from outside the county last year. That's the highest in the state.
So says economist Jeffrey Michael of University of the Pacific, who prepared a unique look at the Santa Cruz economy during a speech last week sponsored by the Santa Cruz Business Council.
"You have to pay close attention to San Jose," Michael told the 50 or so audience members -- many of whom operated businesses in Santa Cruz.
The Santa Cruz economy is dominated by three areas of business: government, agriculture and hospitality. Government jobs pay well, but ag and hospitality are lower-paid. And that's why so many workers commute over Highway 17.
Of course, 30,000 or so commuters each day have an impact on more than the local economy. Most of those commuters are driving solo in their cars -- adding to significant traffic congestion and the environmental fallout from that. The role of Santa Cruz as a bedroom community doesn't really jibe with the pro-environmental image that we have of ourselves.
The need to commute also has an impact on the family life and sense of community. It's difficult for parents to be active in their children's school; it's difficult for commuters to attend local community meetings or even do volunteer work.
Could that mean that economic growth could actually improve the local quality of life? Perhaps it does, especially if Santa Cruz were able to welcome businesses that provided jobs with higher wages. That sort of thing doesn't happen overnight, but increasingly, more elected officials describe themselves as business-friendly. Even the Santa Cruz City Council is now made up of a majority of business-friendly council members. And in the 2012 election season, already at least two pro-business candidates are lining up to run for county supervisor.
Consider this pitch from the city of Santa Cruz -- taken right off the city's website:
"The great natural beauty of our area, the temperate climate, and our vast and varied cultural resources all combine to make Santa Cruz a very desirable place to live and work. We’re far enough outside Silicon Valley to enjoy our own unique identity, yet close enough to take advantage of all it has to offer.
"Most importantly, our quality of life is good for your bottom line. Our highly-educated work force offers experience, skills, and stability you can build on over the long term. Plus our environment has proven to foster creativity, a key competitive advantage in today’s global economy."
(NEXT: What some people think can be done to improve the local economy.)