Regional Economic Summit recap: Spotlight on jobs, housing is key

Annual economic summit hosted by the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership highlights improving economy, challenges to job creation: housing, workforce development, collaboration

There's good news to report on the regional economy, according to Beacon Economics founder Chris Thornberg, keynote speaker at the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership's (MBEP) Regional Economic Summit 2017 hosted early this month at the Cocoanut Grove in Santa Cruz. Agricultural production values, local spending and commercial construction are up in the tri-county region.

But jobs in the Monterey Bay Region are closely knitted to housing, as affordability, supply and quality have a direct impact on an employer's ability to attract and retain workers. So while Thornberg sees 2 percent to 2.5 percent economic growth ahead for 2017 even with a weak first quarter, for labor markets to remain tight as wages put pressure on profits, “frothy” financial markets with low interest rates, weak exports, a rise in business investment and for California's growth slow due to its housing shortage. See slides from Thornberg's presentation and others from the event here.

Thornberg also addressed what he called the “Trump Factor,” anticipating positive impacts on infrastructure investment, mortgage reform, government efficiency and trade negotiations. He sees the negatives in interest rates, federal deficit, personal liabilities, deregulation of Wall Street, foreign policy and health care. “Ugly” impacts include looming trade wars, immigration, the environment, entitlements and revenge from the Left.

Adequate affordable housing is essential to attracting and retaining a strong regional workforce. Employer-funded direct aid programs that help employees with down payments are already in place at some of the region's top employers, including Looker, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Bay Federal Credit Union and Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, and it's a practice others may look to as an incentive to attract and retain employees, said MBEP Housing Program Manager Matt Huerta. "There is no one answer," he said, but advocacy, awareness and funding are imperative. Multiple stakeholders will need to utilize a range of housing types, from family rentals to temporary farmworker, higher-density, moderate-, low-income and tiny houses, to meet the goal of 12,000 new homes by 2023.

Flexibility and creativity are crucial if employers want to attract strong management talent. Leading a roundtable discussion on "The Hiring Challenge," Plantronics Vice President of Talent Management & Organizational Development Marguerite Kunze said employers must look at such options as offering higher education opportunities, onsite childcare, remote work, employee assisted home-buying programs and aggressively promoting the region's lifestyle benefits.

Larae Lindsey, community engagement coordinator for the Bright Futures Education Partnership, stressed building connections in her roundtable on "Getting Job Ready!: Career Coach & Internships." Engaging businesses, enhancing career options for high school youth and leveraging MBEP's convening power are among her solutions to getting students workforce-ready.

The Summit hosted nearly 300 attendees, including San Benito County Business Council Executive Director Kristina Chavez Wyatt, Tanimura & Antle VP Legal & General Counsel Wesley Van Camp and Silicon Valley Leadership Group VP Tech & Innovation Peter Leroe-Muñoz who participated in a breakout session on Creating an Ag-Tech Ecosystem. The breakout session was facilitated by John Hartnett, CEO of SVG Partners, a founding agent of the Salinas Valley Ag Tech movement in the City of Salinas. Critical to the formation of an Ag-Tech ecosystem are a vision and strategic plan, building community leadership that are willing to “stand up and be counted,” developing relationships (forced interactions) with local agricultural and technology leaders leading to public/private/academic partnerships, building a culture of entrepreneurship and providing accelerators for their success (investment, business planning), collaborating with the local education system to build a skilled labor force and talent for the future all while building momentum and a local government system that serves the local community. According to Hartnett, all of the components must aligned and be championed because as Thomas Edison once said, “visualization without execution is just hallucination.”

In 2016, MBEP launched their housing initiative to support an increase in the supply of all housing in the Monterey Bay Region. The initiative starts with a broad, regional coalition of individuals and organizations to advocate for the construction of all types of housing. To encourage development, they’ve joined forces with Housing Trust Silicon Valley to create the Monterey Bay Housing Trust: a $10 million housing trust fund that will assist with financing affordable rental and ownership projects that require flexible and unique lending models. And, they went one step further to showcase and promote regional creativity by providing unique and inspiring examples of employer sponsored housing. Read more about the MBEP’s regional housing initiatives here.

Explore all of the data behind the discussions held at the summit here.

Review the summaries of the breakout sessions below or download here .

– Portions courtesy of Santa Cruz Sentinel, Beacon Economics

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San Benito County Business Council

Established in 2002, the Business Council is a 501 C 6 non-profit organization comprised of more than 45 businesses, municipal, non-profit and community agencies, representing more than 2,500 employees in San Benito County and throughout the Monterey Bay region. The top 4 priority goals for 2021 identified by our member survey participants are as follows:

1. Retention, expansion, job creation and growth of existing businesses
2. EDC Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Implementation - New business attraction
3. Measure G Implementation, roads, transportation, decaying infrastructure
4. Building relations with elected officials and staff