SC Innovation Pays Off Again

ryan_coonertyWhile the headlines often focus on the negative, what is less apparent is that this global recession has once again proven that Santa Cruz is both resilient and innovative.  All-too-real economic challenges remain, but thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of the people in this community, we will emerge from the recession with a vibrant and sustainable local economy.

Here is just some of good economic news of late: Cruzio and Ecology Action are redesigning the Sentinel Building into a hub for sustainability and data processing. Cruzio also helped the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, a collection of local governments, submit a $46 million Federal Stimulus grant to bring 310 miles of fiber to Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito Counties.  Simultaneously, the tech community is partnering with the City to lobby for Google Fiber (visit networksantacruz.org to help).

The City has also been working hard to get as much of the stimulus funding as possible.  To date, we have received funding to keep five police officers on duty, repave miles of roads, install new lighting, and repair municipal infrastructure.  In the process, we have created and saved dozens of local jobs.  In the near future, the City, in collaboration with Ecology Action, will be launching a residential solar initiative, which will allow homeowners to finance installations that will reduce electric bills and carbon emissions as well as create hundreds of good green construction jobs.

Local tech companies, like Comcourse,are growing rapidly, while new ones, like 9proof and Clipsync, are launching products and services that serve a global audience from our downtown. Compass Rose just brought on a new vice president, while Intuvo just landed a second round of investment.

This kind of inventiveness is nothing new. We can look back on a history that saw the invention of the camera phone, the wetsuit and the wireless headset in Santa Cruz. Locals have also participated in the founding of organic farming, cutting edge food and wine, with companies like Odwalla, Bonny Doon Vineyards, and Newman’s Own Organics.

Our other major economic pillar, tourism, long bolstered by our beaches and the Boardwalk, continues to drive economic activity despite the national trends. We are working to expand the number and type of tourists who visit Santa Cruz, with new projects like the Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center, La Bahia and the Marriot. The addition of new high quality hotel stock at the re-opened Dream Inn and the new Pacific Blue Inn allows tourists to explore all that Santa Cruz has to offer, from mountain biking trails and surfing to the internationally renowned Cabrillo Music Festival and Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Just ask Sunset Magazine, the L.A. Times and the Boston Globe who all recently profiled our town as one of the best escapes in the West.

We have exciting new businesses on the west and east sides of town that allow people to live, work, eat and shop with a short walk or bike ride.

UCSC continues to break new ground and open up new avenues of research from adaptive optics to genomics to storage and digital media.  The City, working with the School of Engineering and the Division of Social Sciences, has opened the Project for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (PIE), a business incubator that places select student interns to work on specific projects with startups and agencies like NASA and NOAA. Wrapping up its second year, the project has helped more than 80 students strengthen their resumes and more than 20 have found employment.

Like the UCSC Business Plan Competition, which recently was featured in a Forbes article on student entrepreneurship, the PIE project is dedicated to encouraging student creativity, forming stronger links between the business community and the University.

Santa Cruz is a world-famous town, frequently cited as a model of smart growth, livability and innovation.  Drawing on these strengths we are effectively applying our environmental and cultural values to create a brighter economic future.

Ryan Coonerty is Santa Cruz Vice Mayor.

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