A new nonprofit economic development organization says its intended goal is to create a Central Coast “super region” spanning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc to Camp Roberts north of Paso Robles.
More than a dozen Central Coast chambers of commerce, including San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria Valley, Solvang, and Templeton, rolled out the welcome mat for nearly 200 area business leaders at The Cliffs Resort in Pismo Beach on Nov. 26 to announce the Hourglass Project, the name of the new economic development group.
The guest list included companies representing the technology and energy industries, as well as Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara), Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-Templeton), and the presidents of Cal Poly, Cuesta, and Allan Hancock colleges.
The tenor among the crowd and speakers during the event was filled with optimism relating to how the Central Coast can best weather its uncertain economic future.
“This is our opportunity to think outside of our own special interests and focus on how we are stronger as a region,” Rep. Carbajal said.
One key point of focus for the Hourglass Project will be fostering a regional cooperative economy, with cities and communities working with one another rather than competing and “stabbing everybody in the back,” according to the event’s keynote speaker, Tom Clark. Clark is known as “the godfather of regionalism” for his work helping the Denver, Colorado, metropolitan area recover from an economic recession in the 1980s.
“This is about being friends with each other,” he added.
Clark and the speakers representing the new nonprofit called on private industry in particular to help jumpstart the regional initiative.
“They live in this community and have the capacity to move money faster than anybody else,” he explained.
Assemblymember Cunningham pointed to how government could help with transitioning the Central Coast to its “next phase” after the Diablo Canyon Power Plant and its nuclear reactor shutters in 2025. The assemblyman co-authored and helped pass a bill (SB 1090) with Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) that ensured the plant could in theory stay open until that year.
Cunningham said it was important for the region to keep those “high skilled” workers once the plant closed and to provide them with opportunities at companies like Mindbody. But to do that, he added, the region would have to have jobs that enticed those workers to stay, as well as some form of stability in terms of available housing and water.
“We have tremendous potential on the Central Coast if we solve our water issues and we solve our housing issues,” Cunningham said. “We have the best weather in the world, one of best universities in the world, two of the best community colleges in the world, but hundreds of thousands of graduates that moved, and keep moving away.
“There’s a lot of people that would love to come back here and raise a family but they need jobs,” he added.