Kristina Chavez-Wyatt is no stranger to the inner-workings of San Benito County. In this interview, the Hollister Free Lance asks the executive director of the San Benito County Business Council her views on the county’s economic outlook.
What are some recent economic developments in San Benito County you are most excited about?
Pending review and approvals for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for the county, a five-year playbook that aims to raise productivity, create wealth and increase prosperity for residents. More information can be found at: businessinsanbenito.com.
Where does the county stand in relation to technology and innovation? Is there any talk about expanding agriculture technology in the region?
San Benito County is behind on AgTech though it is positioned to be on the forefront to take advantage of programs in place in Salinas and Silicon Valley. There is also research and development by Seminis and local seed companies, food processing [innovation] by George Chiala Farms and B&R Farms, and an agriculture/biotech incubator under discussion at Teknova. The County Workforce Development Board is also working on new educational program offerings in agriculture, water and environmental technologies with local community colleges.
New construction has picked up in Hollister after the doldrums of the building moratorium and economic recession. What does this mean for the city?
With a growing resource base, the City of Hollister is now in position to leverage a multitude of opportunities in and surrounding the Hollister Airport and business parks, which will improve infrastructure and add and improve public services due to a growing general fund. The city is continuing to work on improving the downtown district, which is critical for supporting our quality of life making the city more appealing for private investment.
Overall, how are businesses doing in San Benito County? What is the outlook?
San Benito County businesses are stable and thriving. Again and again, the data shows the effects of the out-commuting phenomenon. Almost half of the county’s employed residents commute to jobs outside the county—primarily Santa Clara and Monterey counties. Income levels, housing prices, poverty levels, retail sales, traffic congestion, the jobs/housing balance, and other data confirm that Hollister, San Juan Bautista and the unincorporated areas are “bedroom communities” that would greatly benefit from more local job opportunities.
Projected growth in population, housing, employment, education, industrial output and farm output is expected to be very low-moderate, between 1–1.6 percent per year for the foreseeable future. With continued Silicon Valley influence, incomes and taxable sales may rise with inflation to as much as 2.5 percent per year. However, unless proactively addressed, the existing economic circumstances will not change.
What can be done to increase economic opportunity in the county?
The clear solution is to create more in-county jobs by taking advantage of ample shovel-ready industrial land and by actively recruiting food processing, manufacturing, biology and agriculture technologies, retail, healthcare and visitor serving industries. Active recruitment will shift the economy toward stronger employment and away from the forces favoring housing development and out-commuting. Tax revenues would likewise diversify. The three local jurisdictions and partner entities can affect the desired shift only if they invest together on staffing, promotion, broadband development, streamlined permitting, workforce skill development and expanded visitor capacity.
What are challenges businesses face in coming to the region? How do they combat those challenges?
Perhaps the biggest challenges are the local political uncertainties—infighting, legal challenges, NIMBYism—lack of a professional economic development director to assist in navigating the processes of government, key stakeholders and community engagement and the lack of a clear path, cost and timing estimates for development applications and permitting.
What does the new cannabis industry mean for the region?
Income projections for the jurisdictions have a wide range, but cannot be fully realized until the full tax and fee systems are in place next year. We will be bring in overdue business opportunities, continue to push out illegal operations that are harmful to the environment, the cultivation workers and our community via the perpetuated illegal drug black market. The hope is that we can invest the anticipated windfall income to support municipal services, improve our roads, bolster local law enforcement, our recreational and youth services as well as real economic and workforce development that will put our local commercial property owners in position to be less dependent on cannabis interests that are artificially inflating perceived real estate values.
We simply cannot be distracted by the current opportunities with this one industry and must act immediately to attract more options for and growing interest in high wage, career employment and discontinue working on such a short-sighted path.
Anything else you want to add?
BuOur home and our community are spectacular, ripe with opportunity and passionate interest in our collective future. I ask all community members to please, take a step away from social media, attend public meetings, participate on boards commissions, committees and contact our local officials and staff via telephone or meeting with them to air concerns, become informed and ask any questions before making conclusions. We have a spectacular community due to our central location in close proximity to the booming Silicon Valley, thriving Monterey Bay Area and rebounding Central Valley as well as the overwhelming generosity and vibrant spirit of our community members. Please join us in collaborating to tackle issues and grasp the tremendous opportunities that lie at our doorstep.