PISMO BEACH — Approximately 150 of the Central Coast’s regional business and civic leaders came together on Tuesday, Nov. 26, in a Pismo Beach hotel conference to discuss participation in a new organization.
Billed as covering the “Central Coast Super Region” using the geographic markers of Vandenberg in the south to Camp Roberts north, the Hourglass Project aims to both attract and retain economic opportunities for businesses across the region, said Glenn Morris, CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, an organizer and member of the Hourglass Project workgroup along with Atascadero Chamber of Commerce President Derrick Kirk.
Whilst en route to the meeting Morris took a moment to explain why and how the group has been working together.
“Vandenberg and Camp Roberts really are just geographic markers we believed people would recognize as bordering our region,” Morris said. “The reality of enterprise is that companies don’t think about political boundaries, county and city borders aren’t as important as other factors shared across broader areas.”
There are 10 incorporated cities and two county governments in the “Super Region” with several times as many community service districts and advisory groups covering individual communities in that span.
While the individual policies and attitudes of a governing body or Chamber of Commerce might sway some decision making, said Morris, big companies are far more likely to look at infrastructure and workforce amenities in a broader area than what specifically any one of those groups does alone.
In a statement issued alongside those from other supporters on the day, including Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong, and the region’s Congressional Representative Salud Carbajal, MindBody CEO Rick Stollmeyer added, “Each of our individual communities faces difficult economic and social challenges, many of them common to all of us, but too difficult to solve within our individual local communities. What we need is the collaborative leadership and capacity to drive bold actions by leveraging the strengths and assets that exist across our region.”
In practice that might mean, for example, Morris said, pitching a large company looking for a West Coast facility on the industrial base available in Santa Maria with a nod to the housing stock still available to workers in Atascadero. While that might be seen as problematic by local governing bodies looking to diversify the economy in their own neighborhoods, he noted the opportunities arise on a more granular level, to build synergy within the way the economy is already unfolding.
If a company finds many of its employees already needing to commute from Atascadero into San Luis Obispo, then directing them toward a new office space in the city will benefit everyone involved. Similarly, a company outgrowing its warehouse in Santa Maria might be persuaded to stay local if a suitable building is found to be available in Grover Beach.
In fact, he cited the example of an — unnamed for confidentiality — Cal Poly start-up company which had grown too large for San Luis Obispo offices and initially explored moving out of the region to Oregon or the San Francisco Bay Area before being persuaded that what they needed could be tapped into just north of the Cuesta Grade instead.
It sounds simple, and Morris noted they’re not reinventing the wheel in practice, but there has not been regional coordination of the kind until now.
Keynote for the event was Tom Clark, who earned the moniker “Godfather of Regionalism” for his work with similar efforts over the last three decades in Denver-Boulder, Colo. Or as the Hourglass organizers termed it, “leadership in transforming the Metro Denver area from a culture of competition to a culture of collaboration.”
Morris noted that the Central Coast has an added incentive to come together now in the closure of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
“It wasn’t the only factor but I think that got us working together solidly over the last six months, from, ‘Oh that’s a good idea,’ to ‘OK, what does this look like seriously?’” he said, of representatives from the six to eight community organizations most involved.
Melissa James of the SLO Chamber of Commerce, added in a press statement on behalf of the Hourglass Project Working Group, why they picked the name to represent these efforts, “We adopted the name ‘Hourglass Project’ temporarily because we felt a sense of urgency about the need for greater economic opportunities for our region’s residents.”
James outlined the reasons that a new approach to economic development is needed.
“To put it simply, we need to change course if want our kids to have the opportunity to live, work and raise a family here,” she said.