Taking the lead amid pushback from members of the Hollister City Council, Teknova Chief Financial Officer, Richard Goozh told city council members Aug. 28 that city growth was inevitable due to proximity to Silicon Valley.
Goozh challenged Mayor Ignacio Velazquez’s claim that Hollister was "open for business" and asked why there aren't more businesses coming to the county when land prices here are 10 percent of the cost of land in other counties. He declared that more local jobs in the county would solve most of the problems, including the daily commuter traffic jams.
Hollister City Council then deliberated for several hours but opted to wait-and-see what City Manager Bill Avera might bring back to them in the way of a proposed program they might be able to vote on. See Benitolink's Aug. 28 meeting story.
Now, Goozh has opted to move forward on the topic of improved job opportunity in San Benito. He explained in an exclusive BenitoLink interview why he has formed the Independent Committee for San Benito County Job Growth. Goozh said that what is happening with the 400 Block in Hollister "will scare away serious business" and impede anyone from doing anything downtown. He encouraged individuals, county and city agencies to work together and present one message to businesses looking at the area.
Goozh said the committee will study historical causes for the lack of business expansion in the county. He invited anyone in the community to join the committee in order to develop an action plan that would hopefully jumpstart commercial development.
For as much grumbling that takes place in social media about the deplorable commute and lack of good paying local jobs, a total of 14 people took up Goozh’s invitation to join the committee. He hopes more residents will be able to take part.
Goozh spoke with BenitoLink Nov. 3 at Teknova to explain in-depth what he hopes the committee will accomplish. Teknova was established in 1996 and relocated to San Benito County in 2004. According to its website,Teknova is focused on the molecular biology research market. It has been hiring steadily since getting established in San Benito.
He explained he had been letting a number of ideas germinate for about six months prior to the Aug. 28 council meeting. He related how he was new to the county, having joined Teknova a year and a half ago. During that time, he settled in, married and had a son.
All the while, he was thinking about the various issues he was hearing about, most of which concerned population growth and the resulting traffic problems, as well as the changes downtown over the last few decades. He commented that it isn’t difficult to compare downtown Hollister to any other city that he refers to as “satellite communities of the Bay Area,” which he admitted might be an outsider’s point of view.
“Until recently, Hollister was outside of the Bay Area; now I think it’s a satellite to it and becoming incorporated,” he said as he showed a graph depicting population growth for Hollister and the county going back to 1880. He explained the graph showed about four to six percent annual growth until 1970. From 1970 to 2000 growth increased by nearly 70 percent.
“This is just showing population growth, which is directly correlated to housing,” he said. “This is cause for much discussion, but they’re natural elements of growth and change in a community. This is still, largely, a rural community when you look at the landscape. When you look at it from a populace point of view, it isn’t so much a rural or agricultural community anymore. That’s where you can get into a discussion about jobs.”
He said it was not just jobs, but his background in technology and entrepreneurship that drove him to seek out other individuals to work on a solution for the county’s lack of employment opportunities. He said he came to Teknova because he saw an opportunity to work with an innovative biotech company that had the potential to grow quickly. See BenitoLink article on Teknova’s growth in San Benito County.
Goozh insinuated that Teknova’s phenomenal 44 percent growth rate this past year is one of the county’s best kept secrets and recounted a San Francisco Business Times' article that listed the 100 companies that grew the most last year. Teknova should have been on the list, he said, adding that he will make it a point to remind the Times of the company’s prominence in the tech industry, as well as its location.
“I look at this from a tech perspective, and I’m thinking about agriculture, and then I sit here in this industrial park and look around. Until Monday of this week there were no new buildings in the last 10 or 15 years,” he said. “They just started clearing land Monday for a new building.”
Goozh commented how he has been looking at the decades-old business park located adjacent to the airport, wondering why it’s mostly vacant land. He said there are four potential business sectors for the area: industrial, agriculture, technology, and retail. He said when local politicians talk about jobs they lament that they could not attract a particular restaurant chain or retail outlet. He pointed out new retail stores only come to a community when population growth and income levels are appropriate for them. He said if there was one thing he could do to contribute to the community it is to focus on local jobs. Tech jobs, in particular.
He explained that he does not have a private agenda and that if the committee’s studies determine that the community does not want change, then that’s okay with him. He said he is just one voice and being that his background is in technology and finance, he leans in that direction. This line of thinking extends to the committee in which all members will act and speak as independent citizens and its objectives are intended to reflect the desires and needs of the community, not any single committee member, including himself.
In order to jumpstart job growth, the committee has four objectives:
- Analyze and understand the historical causes of slow growth
- Identify the current obstacles to growth
- Establish a plan to remove obstacles to growth
- Create a common voice and message to promote job growth
On the first objective, he said people most often point to two recessions and the building moratorium. He thinks, though, that while these may be valid reasons for slow housing and population growth, they are not necessarily explanations for slow job growth. He thinks when the committee gathers sufficient data other reasons will come to light.
As an example, he said the job gap between San Benito and Santa Clara Counties continues to widen, which he believes is because of the different types of jobs being created in each county. He theorizes that the gap can decrease if San Benito County were to attract more high-tech jobs.
“These are not the $10 or $12 entry-level retail jobs; they’re high tech or biotech, for sure, but they’re also industrial,” he said. “There are a lot of positions that will support this community, as well as the state and nation. I mention that because Teknova sends 95 percent of its products outside of the Bay Area. We’re serving the whole nation, so why can’t other companies produce things here?”
In addressing obstacles to growth, Goozh said if it’s determined the community, as a whole, does not want change, they will be on the wrong side of history, particularly when it comes to eliminating two to three hours of commuting each day. While he explained any number of large companies might work for the county, Amazon, which he has heard local’s discussing the possibility, and the company has been advertising for a new location, the county is not one of them.
He read an article about Amazon’s needs and the county can’t possibly meet them. But he also read a second article last week that could be very good news for the county. He said the article concerned the Trump Administration’s easing of the standards on commercial drones. See US News story on drones.
“Manufacturing drones would be an opportunity, but there’s going to have to be a lot of research, including three to six sites around the country in which the government and industry work together to do research on how drones affect air traffic,” he said. “Restrictions need to be loosened significantly so drones can be deployed for more commercial purposes.”
He pointed out how drones will need to be tested in cities and rural communities.
“We’ve got a pretty good situation here in that we’re a satellite to Silicon Valley, we have an airport with a great runway, and we’ve got a lot of inexpensive land,” he said. “Just maybe there is some other Silicon Valley influence already at our airport. I don’t think there could be any better site for rural testing than Hollister.” See BenitoLink story about rumors of Google co-founder and flying car.
Goozh said for this to happen he realizes it will take a long bureaucratic process and both high-tech and airport partnerships. He said when such an opportunity presents itself, the community must recognize it as such, and then do something about it.
“If that kind of initiative came to fruition in Hollister, it would be an entry point to so much more,” he said. “It would put Hollister on the high-tech map. Nobody knows about the few high tech and biotech companies that are here. The San Francisco Business Times didn’t know to look down here. You have to create this and it takes a lot of hard work.”
Goozh said BenitoLink was the first news outlet he has mentioned his idea about drones to and that he is so enthused about it that he is already attempting to set up meetings with people he knows in the drone community.
“I have the advantage of knowing a lot of people in the tech community, and if I don’t know the person, my friends know the right person, and pretty soon I can find the person at Google or Apple working on drones, and hopefully get a meeting with them,” he said. He went on to mention that a friend of his wife has worked on drones for 20 years, who he can discuss the possibilities with. “That idea may or may not be successful, but there are 10 more and we need to find them. You’ve got to go after 10 to win one. You win one like that and it makes a big difference.”
Meanwhile, he said the community will need to work with the various business and government entities in the county. He hopes to attract as many people to join the committee from those areas, as well as other business segments and the general public. The desire is to have as many members who are affiliated with different areas, but are not acting as representatives of them.
“Right now they’re not talking to one another and because they don’t work closely enough together, there is no cohesive message or plan for job growth,” he said.
He explained the committee’s last objective of creating a common voice and message is meant to conduct the study, make recommendations and establish an action plan. The committee has a limited shelf life in that it is not meant to act in perpetuity.
“The action plan isn’t meant to be enacted by this independent committee,” he explained. “It has to be implemented by the community. Hopefully, all the parts of the community will come together and agree that the plan of action is good, but the last step is going to be the hard one. How do you get them all to work together?”
He cautioned that if a business is thinking of making a move within the Bay Area, and if they think of Hollister, once they come to the city they don’t know who to talk to, and once they do, they get three different answers.
“There’s nobody to usher them through the process,” he said. “It’s complicated if you’re trying to move a business, but if you think people are going to do it all themselves without a straight-forward message, it’s not going to happen.”
He said the conflict over the 400 Block is symptomatic of the roadblocks for outside businesses considering the area.
“What’s happening with the 400 Block will scare away any serious person who wants to move a retail business to downtown Hollister for the next two years,” Goozh said. “It’s not just about the 400 Block. What’s happening with the 400 Block is as big an issue as the (building) moratorium or the great recession because it’s creating an impediment to anyone who would want to do something new downtown.”
For more information about the committee, contact Richard Goozh at [email protected]