EDC Interim Executive Director Randy Starbuck (standing) ignites discussion between workshop attendees. Photos by Melissa Melton.
EDC Interim Executive Director Randy Starbuck (standing) ignites discussion between workshop attendees. Photos by Melissa Melton.

Representatives from more than 60 local nonprofits, businesses and government agencies gathered on Aug. 8 at San Juan Oaks Golf Club for a workshop put on by the Economic Development Corporation of San Benito County.  In March, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors allocated $45,000 to the EDC to support economic development.

EDC Interim Executive Director Randy Starbuck, who is also the CEO of his own consulting firm, spoke at the gathering about the importance of economic development and the progress the EDC has made toward revitalizing San Benito County’s economy. He also discussed his upcoming projects for the next two months.

“First is metrics development—how are we going to measure what we’re going to be doing?” Starbuck said. “We’re gonna bring the website back online . . . we’re going out and doing business retention and business attraction programs.”

He also shared some of the unique opportunities that have come to the county this year, such as a donation to improve broadband internet.

“There was somebody who just came from the FCC with a million and a half dollars to put in some more broadband in and around the city of Hollister through a company called GeoLinks,” he said.

Other opportunities included tourist growth from Discover San Benito and renovating workspaces in Hollister for commuters from other counties.

The workshop also highlighted the work of the five-year San Benito County Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). The plan, which was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in December 2017 and approved by the U.S. Economic Development Administration in February 2018, aims to “create a comprehensive and collaborative roadmap for region-wide transformation of our economy in order to increase the prosperity and well-being for all residents,” Starbuck said.

Chapters five and six of the plan were available to read as handouts at the tables during the workshop. The chapters discuss objectives and an action plan that includes expanding funding for economic development staff, campaigning for business retention/growth and attraction, nurturing collaboration between local government and nearby community colleges and universities, helping companies with infrastructure and permits, and implementing a tourism marketing plan.

Kristina Chavez Wyatt, executive director of the San Benito County Business Council and a principal author of the CEDS, said the business council’s primary objectives for 2018 and 2019 are supporting job creation, retention and growth for businesses; implementing the CEDS; attracting new businesses; and improving infrastructure, particularly involving roads and transportation.

EDC Chairman Aaron Johnston said that the CEDS could provide access to federal grants and that, if selected carefully, could help unlock and enhance local resources.

“While agriculture will always be a vital element of our economy, we are seeing opportunities in other sectors such as technology, education, tourism and manufacturing,” he said. “The EDC is exploring other potential target industries that are seeking locations such as ours that will not only bring quality employment opportunities for our residents, but will complement our community.”

Workshop attendees represented some of these sectors, with Gavilan College Superintendent and President Kathleen Rose promoting involvement of education. She spoke with BenitoLink about her plans to connect the community college with the EDC.

“We have been partners with Hollister for 100 years,” Rose said. “We definitely want to be part of the conversation on economic development, especially with the passage of Measure X for the development of Gavilan’s new campus in San Benito County.”

Celina Stotler, a board member with the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce and green business specialist with San Benito County Integrated Waste Management, hopes the latter agency will encourage the EDC to keep environmental concerns in mind as it works to attract and retain business.

“I think it’s important to talk about sustainable growth, and to bring in new businesses that are sustainable,” Stotler said. “I want to see how our role as the green business program can support businesses and employees to support those efforts.”