MORRO BAY — Business is the topic and the primary subject for chambers of commerce and that is true also for the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. Erica Crawford, Chamber CEO at the direction of the Chamber’s Board of Directors and Governmental Affairs Committee, has been examining all aspects of the business climate in Morro Bay and things are looking up.
The Chamber conducted a survey recently to assess the desires of the business community regarding the direction for business growth in the coming years. Some of this was accomplished one-on-one with a series of “Business Walks” where businesses were visited by Chamber and City representatives and comments taken on needed improvements in existing business corridors. This was followed up by business forums and workshops to identify and address the needs for the Embarcadero, Downtown, Quintana, and North Morro Bay economic centers. The Chamber Board also conducted a retreat to develop areas of focus for the upcoming year and met with City officials and the business community together to assess the pressing needs.
“It’s critical that the business community be communicating its needs and desires to elected leadership,” Crawford said. “We have worked very hard to get ourselves to the table for important discussions about the City’s future.”
Much work has been done by the City staff regarding the General Plan, Local Coastal Plan, and Zoning as well as the Wastewater Treatment Facility, but there are unfinished items still to be addressed, such as parking and circulation management, especially for the Embarcadero and Downtown and to ensure the long-term economic health of the community in relation to business revenues, taxes, local sales taxes, property taxes, and transient occupancy taxes. “Measure Q is an excellent example of how this link was codified by the voters in Morro Bay,” Crawford said, “shopping locally actually helps pave streets.” Measure Q is a half-cent sales tax that helps pave the city’s streets, pay police and fire, and keep our bay clean.
Growing business transaction rates and diversifying the industry mix in our economy is at the forefront of the Chamber’s mind. At a City Council Goals setting meeting, the Chamber advocated for focusing efforts on expediting permits, creating action around opportunity sites and vacant lots for new businesses in all four centers of town, and investing in the infrastructure that supports business growth. The desire is to cultivate a workforce that is both prepared for currently available jobs and new opportunities as the economy diversifies. The City Council kept economic and fiscal sustainability in its goals for the next two years and added housing and infrastructure improvement at the Goals meeting in April.
The Chamber is working in conjunction with regional efforts such as the Hourglass Project that is a coalition of business and civic leaders that have come together to form a region-wide economic development action tank to create high-quality jobs in the Central Coast region from Vandenburg Air Force Base to Camp Roberts.
“The largest number of jobs here are in hospitality, retail and food service,” Crawford explained, “and these are entrepreneurial in nature.”
The Chamber is working with Cuesta College for direction for students who do not advance to a four-year school to have certificate programs in place to assist these individuals into solid, good-paying jobs. Learning a trade is an excellent next step for many. Morro Bay High School has also entered the mix with the new Jwing Maker Space, a STEAM initiative.
The City has identified potential development sites. These are highlighted on city maps in the council-adopted Economic Development Strategic Plan and Downtown Waterfront Strategic Plan. A renewal of the North Morro Bay corridor that is zoned Neighborhood Commercial is also on their minds with a desire to get Caltrans to put up signage along that strip indicating the beach and other visitor sites. Also, on the radar are decisions regarding the Bank of America site, open lots in town, the Centennial Plaza Project and Power Plant land. There is much opportunity, but the key will be “growth that fits our community, not growth for growth’s sake,” Crawford said.
The Chamber and the City are working together to identify expedited pathways through the permitting process, but so much of Morro Bay is in the Coastal Zone that Coastal Commission oversight will always be a part of larger projects or projects that change uses. Still, clearer pathways and process are important to advance business development that fits our community.
The outlook for good business development in keeping with community desires is creating a “New Day in the Bay!”