Bis Buzz: Economic forecast firm hired

A group of business leaders has formed the Central Coast Economic Forecast, taking over seminars offered by the UCSB Economic Forecast group for the past 18 years.

Since economist Bill Watkins moved to Cal Lutheran University to head up its group last year, UCSB has been relying on a consulting group called Beacon Economics to keep the forecasts going in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. The university has decided to focus solely on Santa Barbara County because of declining revenues, according to a recent news release.

But local business leaders say having such forecasts is tantamount to survival these days, and they decided to hire Beacon to continue the forecasts for the county, according to Maggie Cox, the group’s past president and spokeswoman.

“Twenty years ago, there wasn’t a lot of aggregated data like this,” Cox said.

“It’s imperative especially to have a reliable source of information for planning and projecting.”

Terry Westrope, the group’s current president, added that the local forecast group understands “UCSB’s need to reduce costs and shift focus. The good news is that we are more than ready to fly on our own.”

Beacon has been hired to continue the forecast, scheduled to be presented on Nov. 3 at Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo. Sacramento political commentator John Myers will join Beacon analysts on the speaker dais in November. That forecast will be followed by a mid-year update in 2011.

Westrope said that the change from UCSB oversight to the local group will be smooth and largely undetectable.

“We want sponsors and other economic forecast fans to know that we are committed to providing excellent research and an engaging program. That’s what we’ve done for years and that’s what we will continue to do.”

— Melanie Cleveland

Transitions group buys High St. space

Transitions-Mental Health Association has bought the former Quaglino hardware store at 784 High St. in San Luis Obispo for its administration headquarters. 

By purchasing the building, Transitions achieves its long-time goal to stabilize its future costs, said Jill Bolster-White, its executive director.

“It will cost us less to pay mortgage for the office space than it cost to pay rent,” Bolster-White said. “This is a money-saving move that includes a great, visible location, and a wonderful opportunity for our organization.”

Transitions-Mental Health Association is a nonprofit that operates 27 programs at over 35 locations that help more than 2,000 people in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. It assists mentally ill adults, at-risk youths and homeless adults find housing, employment and life-skills support to live independently in the community.

An open house will be held in September. Go to www.t-mha.org for more information. 

— Melanie Cleveland