Innovations That Could Benefit Santa Barbara

Info Tech and Finance Industries Thrive on the South Coast

Matthew Stotts, a lecturer in UCSB’s Technology Management Program, recently wrote an excellent article, “How Startups Survive and Thrive,” regarding the maturing start-up industry in the Central Coast region. He observes that Santa Barbara reaps benefits from its position as a stable, growing environment for new businesses.

I could not agree more. In fact, I believe that in addition to encouraging start-ups, the region would benefit from encouraging established industries to create new opportunities to keep the economic engine humming.

For the last five years, Santa Barbara County has seen significant growth in the information technology, banking, and finance sectors. I believe business leaders, innovators, policy makers, and educators should drill down into established industries to ensure long-term success.

Here are three areas where Santa Barbara can enjoy success, aid the local economy, and further secure a high standard of living:

Technology and Digital Innovation. As Stotts notes, though the Central Coast may not be Silicon Valley in the Bay Area or Silicon Beach in Santa Monica, it is home to a dynamic group of start-ups that are putting the region on the digital innovation map. I find it promising that Mayor Helene Schneider, city officials, and leaders of local businesses are moving toward embracing the region as a digital hub. They met recently to discuss both the success factors of local companies and existing barriers (among them, the high cost of housing and a lack of access to industrial space for large companies).

As part of those efforts, the area must tout a desire to grow this field. Los Angeles County recently received a $250,000 U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant to help seed its bioscience industry. Santa Barbara should accelerate the pursuit of similar grants to support more technology industries and sectors.

Healthcare and Telehealth. A growing industry is evolving around telehealth, the harnessing of technologies to deliver and enhance health care, public health, and health education delivery and support. The interest in “wearables,” the Affordable Care Act, and other incentives are driving telehealth growth; the sector is projected to be worth more than $34 billion by 2020.

Santa Barbara is already home to InTouch, a cloud-based service provider that deploys enterprise-wide telehealth applications to companies. The city also maintains local proximity to UCSB’s engineering and science programs. At UCSB, the Translational Medicine Research Laboratories collaborates with researchers at the UC San Francisco Medical Center and other hospitals to use technology to help doctors better diagnose and treat patients. Santa Barbara should leverage this tremendous asset as we seek to draw new companies to the area.

Viniculture. Santa Barbara vintners should be credited with their contribution to the local economic engine — a whopping $1.7 billion in 2013, according to a recent report. But the same report notes that nearly half the grapes grown in Santa Barbara County are shipped out to be fermented, bottled, stored, and sold elsewhere, in part because the county “lacks adequate capacity in winemaking, bottling, and storage, often because of County regulation.” These restrictions cost the region a projected $1.2 billion of value, along with more than 2,200 jobs and nearly $26.8 million in state and local tax revenues. Let’s hope 2016 becomes the year that the Board of Supervisors takes action on the antiquated Winery Ordinance that limits local winemaking.

Investment in these and other industries of the future will stimulate steady growth and will also result in reliable, high-wage jobs that counteract Santa Barbara’s seasonal economy. Santa Barbara’s seasonal dependence on farming, hospitality, and retail jobs exacerbates an already challenging situation — wage stagnation — which is common not only among the majority of American workers, but even among college-educated workers.

Santa Barbara can combat wage stagnation by implementing strategies that expand apprenticeship programs and support the skills-based learning required in higher wage jobs. We must also expand the number of job seekers with advanced science, technical, math, and problem-solving skills. The new local MBA program offered by Pepperdine University Graziadio School in partnership with Westmont College will develop individuals to fill executive positions right here in Santa Barbara. We invite all Santa Barbara residents and employees to join Pepperdine Graziadio for a free open house on Friday, April 15, 4-6 p.m., at the Westmont Downtown location, 26 West Anapamu Street, 3rd floor in Santa Barbara. (To register, visit

Those who are lucky enough to live in this region know that it is a great place to live. Santa Barbara can embrace and enhance industries that provide additional employment consistency to complement a small but growing group of start-ups. Innovation in new and established industries will secure the future of Santa Barbara.

John Paglia, PhD, is associate dean of fully employed programs and associate professor of finance at Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management.


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