Note: Each speaker’s PowerPoint presentation is embedded in the text below. Scroll down for access.
On Tuesday, July 8th, over 100 community leaders gathered at the University Center on UCSC’s campus as SCCBC and UCSC hosted their second annual Partners in Economic Vitality luncheon. Carrying on the theme set at the 2013 event of looking at economic vitality through the collaborative lens of business, government and academia working together, this year’s program, titled “The Infrastructure for a Vibrant Future,” featured an expert panel discussion looking at core elements of our local infrastructure. Each panelist was charged with dissecting their focus area by providing the audience a view of where we are, where we need to be in 10-15 years, and the challenges that lie in the way of progress for that particular area of our local infrastructure. The following topics and experts were featured in the panel discussion:
Housing – Matthew Thompson, Principal, Thacher and Thompson Architects
Education/Workforce – George Blumenthal, Chancellor, UCSC
Broadband – Peggy Dolgenos, CEO, Cruzio
Water – Kim Adamson, General Manager, Soquel Creek Water District
Transportation – George Dondero, Executive Director, SCC Regional Transportation Commission
Each panelist was given up to ten (10) minutes to deliver their views, thoughts and insights on their particular area of focus. Following each talk, the presenter was asked at least one (1) question by a fellow panelist, giving the program a conversational feel. Here is a look into each one of the five (5) presentations that were given:
Chancellor Blumenthal discussed the role that UCSC plays in preparing people to enter the Santa Cruz County workforce. Through a diverse, innovative portfolio of programs and departments, UCSC ensures that much of its curriculum is geared toward the local job market that awaits students upon their graduation. Blumenthal was also quick to mention the important role Cabrillo College plays in readying our local workforce through extensive programs and offerings through both their Aptos and Watsonville campuses. He also prominently mentioned the connection UCSC and Cabrillo have through students that attend both institutions to achieve their academic goals.
Upon concluding his look at present day conditions, Chancellor Blumenthal quickly transitioned to his thoughts on what we as a community, and UCSC as an institution, must do to strengthen our efforts when it comes to educating our future Santa Cruz County workforce. He shared concerns about recent dips in the UC system enrollment rate and the feeling that this downturn will result in fewer workforce-ready California (and Santa Cruz County) residents in the coming years. His message was that we must address the needs our employers have, and ensure that up-and-coming students have the skills necessary to fill the positions that local employers have available.
Mr. Thompson stressed the fact that we have a major housing shortage facing us. Currently, our inventory continues to slip further and further behind our demand. As purchase prices increase, rental properties are being snatched up by the highest bidders leaving many in the community struggling to find affordable, suitable housing options. On the horizon is the challenge that younger generations are forming smaller household sizes. Currently, the average household in Santa Cruz weighs in at 2.5 persons per dwelling. If trends hold true, that average household size could dip in the coming years, thus leaving us with an ever greater housing shortfall.
Thompson urged public- and private-sector leaders to come together to develop a future vision/plan to mitigate the housing “crisis,” as he described it, that we are facing today. Starting with a true vision will allow us to identify what we need, where we need it and how to go about overcoming the challenges we will face to make our housing “vision” succeed.
Funding for transportation infrastructure projects was central to the talk delivered by Mr. Dondero. The presentation provided the audience with a look into how local transportation projects are currently funded. The current state of things finds us to be woefully underfunded based upon the needs outlined by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC). Their recently adopted 2014 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) calls for $2.8 billion in project spending over the next 22 years, with only $155 million of those funds discretionary to the RTC, meaning that most future funding is dedicated to specific transportation uses such as transit, roads, etc. Furthermore, Dondero said, the County realistically needs more than double the $2.8 billion to fortify the current, and future, transportation infrastructure deficiencies facing our community.
On the positive side, Mr. Dondero highlighted the all-inclusive nature of the recently adopted RTP, noting the emphasis placed on sustainability and “outside-the-box” approaches to improved movement of people and goods throughout the County. In closing, Dondero stressed the need for additional, local revenue sources for transportation-related projects.
Ms. Adamson’s PowerPoint – coming soon
We must break down real and perceived “silos” between water management agencies throughout the County in order to develop solutions that will better the community as a whole. This was the major theme of the water portion of the discussion led by Ms. Adamson. Armed with an interactive map projected on the large screen behind the panelists, Adamson broke down the physical and political regional water landscape for the audience. Moving from one area of the County to another, she discussed the particular issues facing different locales within our community.
Ms. Adamson concluded her talk by asking the audience to become as engaged as possible in the regional water conversation. She touted the importance for the community to have a keen, educated understanding of the complexity of our local water system, and the particular obstacles facing it. Her call for greater communication and collaboration amongst the eight (8) water management districts within the County was a key action point for audience members to take away from the talk.
Ms. Dolgenos closed the program out with a highly energized presentation about the need for Santa Cruz County to increase its capabilities when it comes to broadband service/build out. In keeping with the theme of her fellow panelists, she called for greater collaborative efforts to unfold between internet service providers in order to better Santa Cruz County as a whole. She stressed the importance broadband plays in retention and recruitment of business throughout the community. Making sure we have “enough internet” could be the difference between a local business staying here or looking to relocated to another area, according to Dolgenos.
Moving on, Dolgenos praised the leadership of County officials in their recent efforts to push for a forward-thinking broadband “master plan” for the County as a whole. Cooperation amongst the various service providers and public-sector leadership will be key to delivering the amount of internet needed by users countywide.
Partners in Economic Vitality will return in the summer of 2015.