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Maybe you can remember when Santa Maria was a sleepy village on the plain, and everyone in town knew everyone else in town.

Santa Maria is now Santa Barbara County’s most heavily-populated city, a place where home prices are among the best in the region, and the hustle-and-bustle atmosphere that replaced the sleepy burg is one of the prices we pay to live in a socially, economically vibrant community.

Some of the old-timers may not appreciate that sort of progress. In fact, they won’t call it progress, because “progress” generally means moving on to bigger and better things. That’s to be expected.

But for the majority of Santa Marians, being the biggest — and we say the best — in Santa Barbara County is an important distinction, because it means this city is preparing for the future, and accommodating the young workers who will make it happen. As much as a few folks may want to stop that, it will not. It is inevitable.

That inevitability is why so many community leaders have been striving to attract new businesses that bring higher-paying jobs. Economic development has been a key phrase in recent years, and the effort is paying off.

Missouri-based A.T. Still University officials have announced a plan to open a satellite campus in the new Coast Hills Credit Union corporate headquarters, thanks to efforts by officials at the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and city leaders.

The school now offers physicians assistant programs in osteopathic medicine and dentistry at its campuses in Arizona and Missouri. The Santa Maria campus will be the university’s first in California.

University officials promise there will be more offerings in the future, but for now the opening setup suits city officials just fine.

Roses to officials at the university, local Chamber of Commerce and City Hall, and here’s why — the U.S. Department of Labor reports that the average pay range for physicians assistants in California is $108,000-$130,000 a year, depending on specialty. In this season of high school graduations, this is definitely a career worth looking into.

On a broader scale, there is a veritable army of local leaders in both the public and private sectors collaborating on a common mission — to build for the future, make the local economy essentially impervious to recession, and give local young people as many reasons as possible to live and work here, rather than heading off to greener financial pastures.

Unfortunately, some folks see “growth” as a bad word, something to be avoided. Southern California culture is partly to blame for such an attitude, in large part because so much beautiful land was converted to subdivisions filled with “ticky-tacky houses” as one song writer phrased it.

But to us, growth is an essential element to moving into the future, and making sure the social structure we build, and most of us enjoy, is productive in an economic sense.

Prosperity of that sort is what makes communities strong and sustainable. There is much truth to the idea of rising tides floating all boats. In that context, all ends of the economic spectrum benefit.

And that’s why so many of our civic leaders are seeking, and doing the legwork required to bring in new opportunities such as the A.T. Still University’s medical programs. Their efforts appear to be paying off.

So, because this is Saturday, a day for flowers and looking into the future, make it multiple bouquets for all those with the will to make sure our future is on solid economic ground.

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