For economic development, SLO County has 'only upsides,' state official says

Kish Rajan
Kish Rajan Courtesy of

Kish Rajan, California Gov. Jerry Brown's dynamic appointee to head the state Office of Business and Economic Development, is confident that San Luis Obispo County can develop as a hub of technology and innovation.

"I see only upsides here, and I see no reason why this can't be one of the more successful regions in the state," he said Wednesday at a meeting of The Tribune's Editorial Board.

Rajan, appointed to his post by the governor in 2012, plans to return to San Luis Obispo County to work with the Economic Vitality Corporation and Cal Poly. While he said it's premature to announce any specific projects here, among other roles, Rajan promotes various regions of California to business and industry leaders looking to locate in the state or expand here.

He also works with companies that contemplate leaving California.

For example, the Office of Business and Economic Development played a key role in mediating the famous dispute between the makers of Sriracha hot sauce and the city of Irwindale, which had filed a lawsuit ordering the business to do something about odors emanating from the plant. During the resulting hubbub, the governor of Texas tried to entice the business into setting up shop in his state. Among other steps, Rajan's office arranged for Irwindale city officials to tour the factory. The lawsuit was dropped, and the business remains in Irwindale.

In his visit to San Luis Obispo, Rajan applauded the area's advantages: Cal Poly; the region's "incredible landscapes"; and its travel and tourism industry, which helps draw attention to the region.

He doesn't believe some of the factors that have traditionally been seen as a disadvantage — notably the lack of a major airport — is a drawback today, given the ease of communicating via the Internet.

"The beauty of technology is it's not geographically based," he said.

Ragan did have a big piece of advice for the area: Forge a strong countywide identity.

Areas such as Orange County and San Diego County that pull together and "self-identify as a region" are most successful in attracting business and industry, he said.