Ventura County beach (Photo Credit: Ken Lund/Flickr)
When you think of Ventura County nestled between bustling Los Angeles and expensive Santa Barbara, you think of one thing—a good quality of life. It’s not like the rest of most of California and its economy reflects that diversity.
So when around 100 local economic leaders met in a Regional Forum to discuss their regional priorities for increasing jobs, it had a unique feel.
“Our region is crazily pro-business and crazily quality of life,” said Bruce Stenslie, president of the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County.
He pointed out that Ventura County assets also include financial stability, a diverse economic base, good education and attractive price points.
This Regional Forum is one of 16 happening around California is preparation for the California Economic Summit this November.
As the Ventura County leaders voted on what was important to helping their local economy, there were some familiar themes echoed from similar meetings around the state.
They said that workforce development is very important, and that the top priority should be increasing investment in career technical education in high demand fields.
“We need to ask ourselves how to deliver jobs and training for success in higher paying jobs,” said Sharon Dwyer of the Ventura County Civic Alliance (VCCA).
On the topic of infrastructure, they were very clear on their top priority. Nearly half (45 percent) said that the modernization of California’s water infrastructure to ensure a reliable water supply was the top priority.
Part of that concern is because agriculture is a $2 billion part of the Ventura County economy. (For a full analysis of the economy, here’s the link to the VCCA State of the Region Report)
In the area of regulatory reform, which is a key issue for many people in economic development, the vote was again fairly straightforward. A third of those present said modernizing the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA) was a top priority while 29 percent said encouraging local government to streamline their regulations was tops.
Manufacturing will be an area of to target for growth, and in Ventura County that means small manufacturing firms. There are 550 manufacturing firms with less than 10 employees.
“We are a national leader in industry diversity, we have a thriving manufacturing export economy, robust agriculture, and state lead in oil production,” said Stenslie, who also pointed out that defense spending is a significant if under-publicized part of the economy.
That’s why, when asked for other factors that are important to the economy, participants voted for better promoting their export economy and protecting and expanding their defense industry business.
The theme of quality of life is important and was reinforced many times. The forum’s Briefing Book noted that folks in Ventura County drive less than most other people in California.
And when they drive they can head to the great nearby beaches, golf courses and recreation opportunities that dot the county. (Writer’s note–I can personally vouch for the quality of the golf courses and often travel from Los Angeles to play these courses which are superior to the public courses in Los Angeles)
This is the second set of regional meetings being held around California in the last two years. Last year, Ventura County didn’t have its own regional meeting in the series. But as Summit leaders realized the distinct nature of the local economy, it was apparent that Ventura County needed its own meeting.
“That’s what we are trying to do in the Summit process,” said Susan Lovenburg who coordinates the Summit for California Forward. “Our state’s economy is made up of regional economies that often have distinct difference as well as many similarities. This is true of Ventura County and the meeting reflected that uniqueness.”
The Regional Forum process will continue around the state until early in June, when results will be consolidated into agenda items for the Summit. There are currently seven Signature Initiatives that have been agreed upon that will help increase job creation and improve the state’s ability to compete in a global economy.
The Summit process is being led by California Forward and the California Stewardship Network.