The effort to create a commercial space hub at or near Vandenberg Air Force Base and a nonprofit organization’s plan to help the region recover from the pandemic and reinvent the area’s economy earned the support of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors this week.
Supervisors unanimously directed staff to continue working with REACH to draft a letter of support for the Vandenberg and REACH initiatives for commercial space and economic development to send to the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.
But beyond the letter and the direction for the staff to continue its participation in REACH’s efforts to promote economic vitality, the board did not authorize any specific legislative, public works or planning projects that would support the initiatives.
“I think the county has been wrestling for some time with what is our role in an economic strategy,” 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said, asking what the commercial space industry needs from local government.
Col. Anthony Mastalir’s presentation on the base’s effort to create a commercial space launch and support complex may have hinted at something supervisors can do — ease the regulatory environment.
“If we want to attract new businesses to Vandenberg and the Central Coast, we have to make it as easy as possible for these enterprises to be successful,” the 30th Space Wing commander said.
In response to 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino’s question about who Vandenberg is competing against for becoming a commercial and defense space base, Mastalir mentioned Alaska, Wallops Island in Virginia, Patrick Air Force Base and nearby Cape Canaveral in Florida.
He said Vandenberg’s advantage over those bases is good weather.
“What we don’t have is a lot of investment,” Mastalir said, adding Florida has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure to support launches.
Using a regional approach to bringing in state and federal dollars is one of the points REACH Vice President of Strategy Andrew Hackleman said is important in boosting economic development.
He said developing a comprehensive economic development strategy to draw federal and state investment and using the economic element of the county's general plan are ways supervisors can partner with REACH.
Hackleman also said leveraging regional assets and fostering job growth in the technology, agriculture technology, cleantech and aerospace and defense industries will be key to boosting the economic vitality of Vandenberg and the Central Coast in general.
REACH President and CEO Melissa James said one of the challenges to recovery and reinventing the local economy is that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the region has lost 40% of the jobs that pay $40,000 a year or less.
REACH’s goal is by 2030 to create 15,000 new “good-paying jobs,” which she defined as those paying in excess of $50,000 a year.
Referring to some of the sobering statistics James provided, 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said the county needs a specific road map to address poverty and create economic vitality.
“I definitely believe it is crucial to have some strategic directive, and have multiple strategic directives, to address what I view as the fundamental economic problem of our community … that over 50% of our jobs are under $26,000, [which] is something that should scare the living daylights out of anyone listening … that our level of poverty is overwhelming,” he said.
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