Ryan Chartrand

Cal Poly students who fall in love with the Central Coast lifestyle may be getting a few more opportunities to stay in town after graduation, despite near-zero job growth in the last three years, according to growth statistics compiled by the UCSB Economic Forecast Project.

The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce is looking for ways to boost the growth of what Chairwoman Beth Marino terms “head-of-household jobs,” that is, jobs providing enough income to support a family. In doing so, it is working with a Cal Poly-based research partnership and looking to the examples set in other cities.

“We tend to think of towns as part of a domestic economy, as part of a contiguous whole, but you need to think of each little area, town, city, county, whatever, as sort of a foreign country and we need to do foreign trade with all the others,” said Cal Poly business law professor and local attorney Christopher Perello.

Rising fuel prices affect everything in the local economy that require shipping from the outside world – from the food in the supermarket to the gas burned on a daily commute. Before San Luis Obispo can provide more head-of-household jobs it may need to attract more industries that can cope with the unique conditions, Perello said.

Bringing in industry can be a bit of a challenge, though. With no discernable natural resources and high shipping costs, the Central Coast is a poor choice for large-scale manufacturing.

“Economically speaking, there’s no here, here. we don’t produce cars, planes or any of that here, so if we want those things we have to buy that from outside; but that means hat we need to have something that they want to buy from us,” he continued.

Marino said, “The city has been focused on retail development for awhile now; development of that sales tax base has been grown significantly. But what we haven’t done is focus on those primary, head-of-household jobs and what we’re seeing is a loss of the middle class, which is concerning.”

The Chamber of Commerce has some ideas on how to find just what they think the city needs. Working with the California Central Coast Research Partnership (C3RP), a Cal Poly organization, they want to bring in high-tech industries.

Aero-Mech Engineering is a local firm that competes with national firm Lockheed Martin. Founded by a Cal Poly graduate, with approximately 80 employees, the company recruits two thirds of its engineering workforce from Cal Poly, said General Manager Paul Kendrick.

“As far as the location, it’s very little extra cost to get good people. We go out of our way to look for the cream of the crop,” he said.

Kendrick added, “We get a lot of work out of students for halftime pay. If they work out well, we can hire them on full time after they graduate.”

Recently, James Dunning of C3RP accompanied a delegation from the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce on a trip to Boulder, Colo., a city in a similar economic position. In an approach designed to send the “we’re open for business” message, Boulder offers modest tax incentives to attract corporations such as IBM.

Dunning, project administrator for the soon-to-be-constructed Cal Poly Technology Park, sees a different incentive for the companies that will occupy the 20,000 to 45,000 square feet of space – the minds of Cal Poly students.

“One of the key ingredients for these high-tech companies (to attract them) is that they have access to our highly qualified labor pool and I think that’s where the connection with Cal Poly comes in is that there is very high quality labor coming out of graduates, undergraduates and masters students,” Dunning said.

Cal Poly, as well as the California Men’s Colony and Atascadero State Hospital, play an integral role in the local public sector economy, but state budget problems make future growth uncertain.

The opening of the technology park capitalizes on Cal Poly to directly provide private sector jobs. Dunning estimates up to 300 San Luis Obispo jobs being created over the life of the project.

Other technology jobs do already exist in the area. In addition to the employer databases kept by Cal Poly’s Career Services Department, Dunning has a database of 50 local high-tech companies already established in the region, broadly defined as ranging between Paso Robles and Santa Maria.

“It’s a good arrangement for both students and the companies,” Dunning said. “They get access to this labor pool and the students can actually work in the field and find long-term placement. It’s good for the economy in that that student is kept here taking part in it. The alternative to this type of arrangement is that they go to work for Lockheed (Martin) in Long Beach.”

While San Luis Obispo business leaders look to high technology to spur growth, there are resources available on campus to students in any field who have an objective in mind.

“It has been hard to do since the ’70s but it’s not impossible to stay in the area after school if that’s your goal. I’m one who did it. The key is to strategize to find the right fit,” Carole Moore, Career Services Program Coordinator said.

“We’ll help you do a customized job search for whatever it is you are looking for,” she continued. “The right strategy is to look for specific fits with a tailored focus in your resume and cover letter to the industry and the potential employers.”

Even though private sector employers in the county, such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the largest in the area, have engaged in layoffs and attrition in the last year, smaller companies continue to provide opportunities for students as part their business model.

“Networking gives you a solid basis,” Moore said.” There are a lot of kinds of ways to get involved, even if you’re already graduated; an internship is a good idea. Volunteer in the field you’re interested in and in the community overall. Even if you have to support yourself in another way temporarily, look for the career,” Moore advised.

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