Santa Maria Sun / Biz Spotlight
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 7
Spotlight on: Santa Maria Downtown Fridays appJames Howell, developer
By DAVID MINSKY
Transforming a bleak downtown urban landscape into a vibrant outdoor pedestrian mall with food, music, and fun—there's an app for that.
Downtown Fridays—the hugely popular event organized by Sofia Lopez and MEGA 97.1's Ed Carcarey and put on by the city of Santa Maria in April 2016—is back and bigger than ever with a farmers market, a beer and wine tent, and more than 70 food and product vendors. After a hiatus, the event restarted on March 31 and runs through Sept. 29.
Helping to grow and promote the event is James Howell, a computer programmer who worked to develop the Downtown Fridays Santa Maria app.
Howell, who co-founded Santa Maria-based Intricate Design Group, an app development company, immediately got behind Downtown Fridays to make the app.
Citing 2015's spike in homicides and the U-Haul murder trial that same year, Howell said the city needed something to bounce back with.
At first, people were skeptical whether the event would make it, but Downtown Fridays turned out to be a big hit. Carcarey told the Sun that the event drew more than 2,000 people each week.
"I thought, 'Oh my goodness, this is definitely what Santa Maria needs,'" Howell said. "When you look at Santa Maria, this is something we can possibly call our own, so why don't we find out what's going on?"
Howell asked the powers that be if there was a Facebook profile or website for the event, but there wasn't. That's when he stepped in to build an app, which he did for free.
The app contains vendor lists, what's available at the farmers market, who's performing live entertainment, a constantly updated picture gallery, scheduled events, and more. Downtown Fridays was recently canceled because of rain, and now, Howell said, anyone can simply open the app or receive a notification with that kind of update.
The point of the app, Howell said, is to make the event more personal, accessible, and interactive for users. The app is updated with fresh pictures from the previous week's event, so the content is constantly changing. Howell said the app is designed to address the attention spans of millennials, Gen-Xers, and baby boomers.
"It's interesting because now you start looking at generations being the great divide of attention," Howell said. "For instance, like the baby boomers, they can sit at the dinner table and read the entire newspaper from cover to end. Gen X, which is my generation, we have attention spans of 30 to 45 seconds. But millennials, they have attention spans of milliseconds."
Originally from Flint, Mich., Howell has nearly 20 years experience as a computer programmer. He has formal training in multiple computer languages and his experience includes working at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Recently, Howell was invited to Facebook's developer's conference held April 18 and 19.
Although the app rolled out shortly after the birth of Downtown Fridays, Howell said he and his co-developers worked on the back end for nearly two years. Howell also has other apps, such as Whuzzapp, which is designed to connect citizens to community events in Santa Maria.
The Downtown Fridays app is available for iPhone and Android smartphones. Since its debut about a year ago, Howell said it's been downloaded more than 4,000 times.
Howell wants everyone to support Downtown Fridays not just by downloading the app, but simply attending the event.
"Let's bring back family oriented communities," Howell said.
The next Downtown Friday event is scheduled for April 21, starting at 5 p.m. at the Santa Maria Town Center West, at the southwest corner of Broadway and Main streets.
• The Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau will host Congressman Salud Carbajal at a luncheon starting at 11:15 a.m. on April 20 at the Embassy Suites Hotel, 1117 North H St., Lompoc. Carbajal will give an update on the Central Coast's 24th Congressional District, which he represents, and will give a talk on the Republican-proposed American Health Care Act. The cost to attend is $20 for Chamber members and $30 for non-members. To register for the event, visit lompoc.com or call the Chamber office at 736-4567.
Staff Writer David Minsky wrote this week's Biz Spotlight. Have a business tip or one that should be featured? Email email@example.com.
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