Like an unfinished tattoo, good economic news can make you squint as you study exactly what’s trying to be portrayed. Recently our county was ranked among the top 10 for job growth in the nation for millennial (young) workers. While delightful news, it also had people asking me what it indicated and what was possible.
What it indicates seems easy enough to extrapolate: Efforts made by many in our community to create a better climate for head-of-household job growth have begun to pay off and pay back.
Many were initially cynically about initiatives like the San Luis Obispo County/Economic Vitality Corp.’s economic development strategy and similar endeavors by some of our cities and chambers of commerce. And there are always people here who hate the word “growth” in any context. Add to that the often unsexy work of actually helping to make jobs happen (as opposed to simply saying “more jobs” a lot) and it’s really quite satisfying to surpass low and dreaded expectations.
But we have some amazing assets here, not the least of which are Cal Poly, Cuesta College, and scenic vistas that can stir the heart of even the most serious nihilists. For a long time, we’ve known that too much of our homegrown talent was simply squeezed out of town by lack of opportunities.
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When I taught at Cal Poly, I was frequently dazzled by the abilities and ambitions of the students and sort of sad that so many were doomed to careers spent in places where glorious sunsets are viewed through the windshield of a car while sitting in traffic.
Now we are seeing some truly smart and innovative local companies grow and hire, and just as importantly, we are seeing them commit to staying here, often having to make sacrifices to do so. Is this but a trend with an inevitable drift toward decline? It depends.
It depends on water and it depends on housing. There you have it, two terrible dilemmas that no amount of rhetoric or hand-wringing will resolve.
As is true throughout our state, our water problems aren’t going away (though the county Board of Supervisors sure has contorted itself into doing a lot of not much of anything) and the cost of housing won’t miraculously go down by harvesting all our lands into grape-flavored abodes.
If we want to see good economic news continue, if we want to see young people get jobs here and raise families here, if we want to keep growing our revenue streams so we can afford to keep this place special, then we are going to have to start calling on our better angels and start working together toward real solutions. Because right now quite a lot of our public meetings are prolonged exercises in buck-passing and blamestorming. (And I won’t even bring up the ideological posturing, but sheesh )
We are going to have to manage our groundwater supplies and we are going to have to commit to capital expenditures that stop all waste and bring in more water.
We are going to have to demand and support the construction of more workforce housing because currently the chances to buy a home near one’s work are between slim and sixhundred grand.
And yes, you guessed it: None of this comes easy, and none of this comes free. We will have to commit now to the future of our community or we will wilt into a place that could be any place — a rich retirement community with transient talent and entrenched orneriness. I remain hopeful that we won’t settle for that, especially now that things are increasingly going well in our local economy.
Many of the solutions to these two challenges are well-known but cannot be implemented until most everyone cares enough to understand the issues beyond knee-jerk no’s and singledigit salutes to change of any kind. Believe me, I have witnessed how much easier it is to do nothing but the pain is not only temporary.
Adam Hill represents the 3rd District on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and has helped lead the County/EVC economic development strategy.