Viewpoints

Want high-paying jobs in SLO County? Start thinking regionally

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is slated to close in 2025.
Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is slated to close in 2025. The Tribune

In its Jan. 27 editorial about how PG&E’s bankruptcy and the impending closure of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant will affect our region, The Tribune Editorial Board issued a succinct call for action: “Get moving on an economic recovery plan.”

We share The Tribune’s sense of urgency, and that’s exactly why we and dozens of others launched The Hourglass Project, a results-oriented economic development organization focused on creating high-quality jobs throughout the Central Coast Super Region, stretching from Vandenberg Air Force Base to Camp Roberts.

The Hourglass Project — so named because time is slipping by and we need to change course — was created to put our communities on a better path to a future. Led and funded primarily by the private sector, The Hourglass Project will work with government, education and nonprofit partners to increase head-of-household jobs across the Central Coast.

Repairing an underperforming economy

While Diablo’s planned closure and the loss of hundreds of head-of-household jobs is a galvanizing moment, the truth is that our local economy consistently underperforms and fails to provide sufficient opportunity for our residents. We are over-reliant on low-wage jobs, underemployment is nine times worse than the state average and we have a crippling affordability challenge caused by low wages and high home costs.

As a result, good companies are pulling up stakes, the middle class is being squeezed out and opportunities to build a life, a family and a career here on the Central Coast are dwindling. The current economic trends project a future in which our community becomes attractive mainly to visitors, wealthy retirees and students, leaving our children with severely limited prospects.

Yet in every challenge, there is opportunity. We see a new passion emerging from many communities across our region — a desire to crack open new possibilities for change now — not at some distant point in the future.

Community support for Hourglass

The Hourglass Project has generated enthusiastic support from a diverse cross-section of leaders from industry, education, government and nonprofits throughout the Central Coast. They all agree that our future can be different — if we approach our problems differently.

Right now, in each of our communities, many good people are working hard to solve these challenges, but the scale of these problems is larger than any one community can solve. We need to think and act holistically. Instead of competing for a bigger slice of the pie, we need to collaborate across all of our communities to create a bigger pie, one that better serves all residents.

Skeptics might rightly ask what makes our approach different from other economic development efforts.

First, we are defining the region in a way that reflects how people in our communities actually live their lives: Residents often wake up in one community, drive to work in another, and shop and play across several other communities. They do this broadly across 10 cities, numerous community services districts and two counties, stretching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County through San Luis Obispo County to Camp Roberts. This is the Central Coast Super Region.

Second, no existing entity is organized to address issues on this scope and scale. Nearly half a million people live in this Super Region, and we compete economically with national and global players.

Strengths to leverage

While our challenges are big, we also have grand opportunities. Consider the following areas, among others, where we have local expertise and talent, and the opportunity to leverage our strengths not only in our regional economy, but also in our national economy:

  • Tech Talent: Increasingly, our region is showing strengths in technological innovation, with Cal Poly producing world-class talent to help meet the nation’s needs for software development, cybersecurity and data science.
  • Water Security and Desalination: The desalination facility at Diablo Canyon Power Plant presents a rare opportunity to enhance our water security, which, in turn, can enable smart growth that balances jobs and housing, which are central to creating a stronger, more inclusive economy that works for all.
  • Aerospace/Defense: In Vandenberg Air Force Base, we have a commercial and military launchpad rivaled only by Cape Canaveral. With this asset, our advanced manufacturers and other firms are positioned to grow and expand in this nationally vital sector.
  • Renewable Energy: Our region has served as a major source of California’s power for decades. Although the shift away from nuclear power threatens a key jobs source in our region, offshore wind, wave and tidal technologies could put our region on the map as an innovator that could help California meet its ambitious renewable energy goals.
  • Decommissioning and Diablo’s Future: Diablo’s decommissioning is a multi-billion dollar project that needs to be shepherded thoughtfully to capture job opportunities, ensure sensible land use and repurpose facilities to foster innovation.
  • AgriTech:Food production is a national security issue, and our region is a major agricultural player as well as home to Cal Poly, the nation’s fifth-largest undergraduate program and vital producer of resourceful and innovative talent.

These, and many others to be discovered, are solid strengths that need to be cultivated on a regional scale. To start, we are going to:

  • Create a regional jobs playbook for action to foster job creation.
  • Work with partners to support business growth and expansion.
  • Drive policy solutions at the regional, state and federal levels.

We do not presume to have all the answers. Our intention is to draw on the Super Region’s imagination, talent and expertise to achieve results that create an economy that works better for all residents.

We invite you to join us in our pursuit of a renewed Central Coast as it could and should be. Connect with us at www.hourglassproject.org or via email at collaborate@hourglassproject.org.

Submitted by The Hourglass Project Founding Board: Ty Safreno, founder and CEO, Trust Automation, board chair; Ryan Caldwell, CEO, Wacker Wealth Partners; Chuck Davison, CEO, Visit SLO CAL; Gina Fitzpatrick, CEO, Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce; Ed Halpin, former chief nuclear officer and senior vice president generation, PG&E; Ermina Karim, former CEO, San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce; Derek Kirk, CEO, Atascadero Chamber of Commerce; Bob Linscheid, senior adviser for economic development, Cal Poly; Glenn Morris, CEO, Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce; Clint Pearce, CEO, Madonna Enterprises.

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