By: Sean Paroski
Ventura County CoLAB was invited to participate in the County of Ventura’s Economic Vitality Summit, allowing input into an Economic Strategic Plan to be prepared by the CEO’s Office in 2017. The purpose of the Summit was to evaluate the impact of the County government’s operations on the local economy as well as improve the County’s ability to work with the business and development communities.
The County organized a series of three stakeholder meetings to gather public input for development of the draft Strategic Plan. At these meetings, CoLAB highlighted the importance of agriculture to the local economy and emphasized the need to reduce the layers of regulation burdening farming and ranching operations. CoLAB also called for the Strategic Plan to consider core industries in the unincorporated county, including energy and mining that are important to the County economy. Proactively engaging the business community was an excellent step by the County to collect input from those directly affected by government regulations.
During the second stakeholder session, participants were polled on a variety of questions in order to gauge the priorities of the community. One question asked was whether the County should “continue to streamline regulatory framework/permitting process to make the County more ‘business friendly.” An overwhelming 98% of participants agreed.
95% of the stakeholders also agreed that the County should prioritize improvements in water infrastructure and 84% thought the County should “continue to capitalize on a strong agricultural sector by promoting growth of related business opportunities.”
CoLAB agrees with the vast majority of stakeholders that the County should streamline regulations, become more business friendly and prioritize improvements in water infrastructure. Agriculture is a key economic cluster in the County and contributes to our quality of life. Ensuring its continued viability should be a top priority.
While we agree with promoting the growth of businesses related to agriculture, sample opportunities identified were agri-tourism and “farm to table” movements. While the subject of promoting agri-tourism is popular, the rules and regulations in County ordinances largely discourage such operations. Permits for tasting rooms, retail sales facilities, commercial kitchens and bed and breakfast houses in the unincorporated County are difficult to impossible and expensive. Changing regulations in the Non-Coastal Zoning Ordinance would be critical to support such activities.
CoLAB also supports the vital role that the energy industry plays in Ventura County. The petroleum industry alone employs over 4,000 people in the County and contributes over $700 million in labor income to the local economy, according to the LAEDC Institute for Applied Economics 2015 study of the oil and gas industry in California. Energy generation and production is a vital component of the Ventura County economy. This sector provides high-paying jobs and financial support for the County government, and is essential in any countywide economic vitality effort.
We particularly support a suggestion that the County “recognize and highlight the business impact of new regulations.” CoLAB would like to see this continue to be a formal part of the County’s procedure when new regulations are considered.
CoLAB applauds the County effort to include a wide group of stakeholders in this important process that will ultimately help improve our local economy. We will continue to work with the County as part of the stakeholder group as they develop the 2017 Economic Vitality Strategic Plan to encourage a business-friendly and sensible regulatory environment that allows the local economy to thrive.