Dave Cross, Economic Development Director

Business Confidence Survey provides reasons to be optimistic

The EDC’s recently concluded Business Confidence Survey provides a good indication of how our local businesses are doing today. It confirms what we are seeing in regard to our local economy: the economy is growing slowly but steadily, businesses are improving, retail sales continue to improve, and many companies are looking to hire over the next 12 months.

It also provides an element of caution. While the vast majority of businesses have improved, a few have not. It also indicates that we need to continue training our workforce to meet our local needs.

In answer to the question, “How was business for your company compared to the prior year?” nearly 60% noted improvement. Less than 10% said business had gotten worse.

In response to the question, “How do you see your workforce over the next 12 months?” over 40% of the 240 responders said “Probably Hiring”.  That number is significant. The survey is a sample of about 10% of the number of businesses, so that means that a lot of businesses will be looking to hire.

So, if businesses are looking to hire, what industries are they in? Using filters that are available through the EDC, the survey shows “construction” as being the number one sector looking to hire, followed by “retail sales”, “financial and banks”, and then “manufacturing”. Those are the sectors that job seekers should take note of. Construction naturally increases as more projects are approved and started.

It is also notable that the construction industry indicates “lack of a trained work force” as being a major concern. This indicates that there should be greater opportunities to train people in construction related fields, such as building, roofing, electrical, plumbing and associated work.

Manufacturing was the second highest sector that noted “lack of a trained workforce” as a concern. Allan Hancock College has developed a curriculum geared specifically toward the needs of local manufacturers. Robert Mabry, Associate Professor of Machining and Manufacturing Technology and Project Director of the Central Coast Manufacturing Initiative (CCMI), leads this highly successful program.  Finding additional resources and funding to further expand this program would be extremely beneficial for our workforce and industry.

As far as the size of businesses who responded, the EDC’s filters show that those looking to hire are all sizes, from very small to over 100. In addition, the improved economy seems to be lifting all sized companies.

Very small businesses (1-10 employees), however, have some specific issues that disproportionately affect them. These include a lack of funding options. It is harder for a business this size to qualify for the loan they need to expand with the economy after surviving the recession. For example, a very small company may not have a financial track record over the last three to four years to qualify for the loan they need. But the fact that they survived and are ready to expand again says a lot about them! Now as the orders for their products increase, they need the capital to purchase stock materials, equipment and invest in manpower.

In the past, there was more local control from financial institutions to approve loans, and they were easier to qualify for. Changes have tightened up these controls, but it has the unintended consequence of affecting small businesses.

In the case of entrepreneurs and start-ups, traditional forms of funding are not as available today for them either. Before the housing bubble burst and the recession hit, using home equity as collateral for a business loan was very common. Today, that collateral is just not there.

Because American entrepreneurs are the most innovative in the world, they have embraced options around this, including crowd funding and recruiting angel investors.

According to the survey, another factor that impacts businesses, small and large, is overregulation. While we have little say in laws that impact employers and businesses that are imposed by the State or Federal Government, we DO have a say in local regulation. As an example, zoning laws which were developed 20 or more years ago can be updated to reflect new business models and changes in the way business is conducted. Most cities and counties are due a review of these ordinances. As many commercial brokers have realized, it is becoming harder to fit businesses into these narrowly defined ordinances, resulting in added difficulty in opening, expanding and growing businesses.

The City of Santa Maria’s Community Development Department has taken the initiative of working to find ways to make Conditional Use Permits easier to obtain through administrative approval and streamlining the process. This is welcome and commendable. Taking it a step further, there should also be time taken to review and update the zoning ordinances themselves, so that businesses are regulated based on the needs of today and not how they were before the turn of the century when the zoning laws were put into place.

Overall, the City of Santa Maria got high marks from businesses that responded to the survey. In answering the question, “Were you satisfied with the service provided by the City of Santa Maria? Over 45% were “very satisfied”, while 42% were “somewhat satisfied”, and only a small percentage, 12% were “not satisfied”.

While there is great cause for optimism, the majority of business that responded to the survey are keeping a watchful eye on the economy. In fact, “the economy” is the one overall concern that cuts across all sizes, sectors and types.

After previous recessions, the recovery was clear and obvious, and there was no need to keep looking over one’s shoulder. Today, while the economy continues to get stronger, there remains a residual element of uncertainty.

Thankfully, the element of uncertainty continues to get smaller, and optimism continues to climb.

The Business Confidence Survey is available at the Economic Development website, which can be accessed from the Chamber of Commerce page. Go to www.santamaria.com and click on “economic development” to reach the EDC’s website.

These events are usually held on the 4th Tuesday of each month at 7:30 am, however this can occasionally change for special events. There was no Manufacturers meeting in April to accommodate the Vandenberg Air Force base Small Business Outreach Event in Santa Maria.

So far in 2015, these successful tours included: Images Screen Printing, Lineage Logistics, a presentation by the Santa Maria valley Railroad, and an overview of the benefits of Employee Owned Businesses through Employee Owned Stock Ownership Plans (ESOP).

Next Tour:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 -7:30 a.m.

The new Santa Maria Police Department building

1111 W. Betteravia Road, Santa Maria

The new 70,000 square foot Police Department building is nearing completion. It promises to be a modern, state-of-the-art facility and will be the new headquarters for the Santa Maria Police Department. In addition to local law enforcement, the facility will also provide some economic development options. First, the new communication towers and equipment will make Santa Maria the hub for communications on the Central Coast. Agencies from all over the region will have the option of using Santa Maria’s modern equipment. Second, it closes the fiber loop within the City of Santa Maria and provides the potential for future business use. Third, it will have space to provide electronic storage and back-up capability for businesses to lease at a reasonable cost.

This tour is limited!

No cost, but you must RSVP to register@santamaria.com

Or call: (805) 925-2403 x812


Industry Appreciation Luncheon

Wednesday, July 8 – 11:30

Santa Maria Elks Lodge #1538

Vandenberg Air Force Base Outreach Event

The Vandenberg Air Force Base Small Business Outreach event in Santa Maria, held at the Santa Maria Fairpark on April 15, provided an opportunity for companies to learn how to do business with Vandenberg and the government. It also provided networking opportunities with government agencies and companies already tied in with Vandenberg.

This was the 4th year that the event was sponsored and hosted by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, and it has grown in size each year. The event had close to 400 attendees overall with 65 tables of vendors, agencies and VAFB procurement departments.

Business representatives, many from outside of the area, were provided informational presentations from agencies and small business experts. This included a briefings from Lt. Colonel Amy Harshner, 30th Contractors Squadron, and Tina Mercer Mirich, Director of Small Business Programs on Vandenberg. It also included information from Thomas Scheu from the Small Business Administration, Jeff Cuskey from the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, Frank Campo regarding services for Veterans, Lugdy Cueva, LMC Consulting Services, and William Osgood from CFR and Associates.

The outreach event also included a display table filled Convention Center, where 65 businesses and agencies displayed their products and services.

Veterans Academy

The Chamber and its Economic Development Department are proud to sponsor the Veterans Academy, connecting local Veterans, who have served to protect and defend our nation, with local employers.

Organized by Luciano Santini and Jean Nicolas from the Employment Development Department and hosted by Allan Hancock College, the academy helps Veterans to improve their job seeking skills and update their resume to land a job. The success rate is outstanding, with many local employers stepping up to the plate to provide employment for the men and women who have served.

Nearly 30 Veterans are attending the academy, which concludes on May 8 with an employer’s panel. They are provided with expert guidance throughout the 5 day event.

Other Economic Development Activities

The Chamber’s Economic Development Department works across the board with programs, agencies, brokers and representatives to attract new businesses, help existing businesses, provide information as requested, and coordinate with City Departments to promote economic development in the Santa Maria Valley. This mission continues on a day-to-day basis.

How the EDC can assist your business

The Chamber, through the Economic Development Department, provides zoning and city information, business start-up guidance, and help with overcoming hurdles and impasses.

Dave Cross, Economic Development Director

(805) 925-2403 ext 817

e-mail- edc@santamaria.com