Glenn Morris

Glenn Morris, president and CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, delivered the annual economic development reports to the Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday. 

When it comes to jobs in the city of Santa Maria, economic development leaders say the city is “holding even.”

In 2015, the number of people able to work in Santa Maria was at about 48,000. As of August 2016, that number grew to more than 49,000 people, according to a report submitted to the City Council on Tuesday night by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, which manages the city’s Economic Development Commission.

The chamber’s annual economic development report to the council also shows that the number of employed people in Santa Maria grew along with the available workforce.

“Our labor force grew, our population is growing,” Glenn Morris, said chamber president and CEO. “We absorbed that growth. We are holding even, essentially.”

According to the chamber’s annual report, Santa Maria’s unemployment rate is at 5.8 percent so far in 2016. That is down from 6 percent in 2015 and 7.2 percent in 2014.

Santa Maria’s unemployment rate is up a full percentage point over Santa Barbara County’s 4.8-percent overall unemployment rate. San Luis Obispo County’s unemployment rate is at 4.6 percent, according to the report.

“When I first got started in this business, communities thought if they got under 6 percent that was as good as you needed to get. We know that is not true anymore. We are below that number and we still know there is work to be done,” Morris said.

The Economic Development Commission (EDC) is a partnership between the city of Santa Maria, the Santa Maria Public Airport District and the chamber of commerce.

The EDC is staffed by the chamber of commerce but is led by a steering committee made up of representatives from the community and the commission’s founding partner agencies.

“There are people out there that want to work and we need to help them find jobs,” Morris said.

Attracting Santa Maria-style businesses

Along with supporting current local businesses, working on workforce development and advocating for business with local and state government, Morris said, attracting businesses to the area with targeted marketing efforts are among the EDC’s strategies.

The EDC is currently focused on attracting what Morris called, “Santa Maria-style businesses” to the region.

“These are the kinds of businesses we’ve already demonstrated will be successful in our community,” Morris said.

Morris described a Santa Maria-style business as one that is owner-operated, that produces a singular or small product range and has a skilled workforce. He said many of Santa Maria’s current industrial parks are occupied by the types of businesses he is referring to.

EDC focuses on priorities and opportunities

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“As we look to the next year, we see both opportunities and challenges ahead for our community’s economic vitality,” Morris said in the report submitted Tuesday.

Among the economic development challenges the region could face in the future include more local companies downsizing their labor forces.

“We anticipate having to deal with additional layoffs as key employers continue rightsizing their operations. Additional challenges that will need to be addressed include the need to replace commercial air service at the airport. And, in a good news/bad news way, we see continued constriction in industrial inventory,” Morris said.

According to the EDC, future opportunities are expected to come in the form of some large businesses in Santa Maria set to expand and other major development projects picking up momentum or set to begin.

Morris said projects like the Enos Ranch development have the power bring energy and awareness to Santa Maria that could be “transformational for the city.”

Also on Tuesday night, Morris briefed the council on the Santa Maria Valley Tourism Marketing District’s new plan to attract additional money into the local economy by telling people in targeted regions what a great place the Santa Maria Valley is to visit.

Unveiled last week, the marketing plan aims to bring people together with television, internet radio and other advertisements and a new website, Let’s Come Together.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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