Bonnie Lipscomb of Santa Cruz EDO on New Business, Housing, and What Matters to Local Entrepreneurs
Those of us who live and work in Santa Cruz are here for a reason. When you ask a resident why they moved to our small city by the sea, the answer is rarely as simple as, “for a job.” That’s not to say that people don’t come here for job opportunities, but more often than not, those of us who set down roots do so with intention. We choose Santa Cruz in pursuit of a highly desirable, and increasingly rare, lifestyle defined by pre-work surf sessions, lunchtime forest hikes, daily cultural events, and an inclusive community that encourages creative expression and practices acceptance.
Bonnie Lipscomb sees this everyday in her work as Economic Development Director for the City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Office (Santa Cruz EDO). In fact, it’s why the office worked with local marketing agency Cosmic to design choosesantacruz.com, a more approachable, lifestyle-focused website, that has become a model for other economic development departments looking to increase accessibility and engagement. “One thing we realized about Santa Cruz is just focusing on local government and those traditional issues isn’t something that resonates a lot with the business community and entrepreneurs here,” says Lipscomb, “so that concept of reaching out to people from a quality-of-life perspective has been the mechanism we’ve used for everything.”
EDO’s passionate 14-person team is dedicated to helping business owners and entrepreneurs find professional success here in Santa Cruz. This means connecting them with the resources they need to make their dreams happen, from finding the best place to lay the foundation for their storefront or office space to creating a viable, long-term business strategy. “Ultimately, we‘re advocates for those who want to start and grow a business in Santa Cruz,” says Lipscomb. “We’re their champions. We help them navigate those areas where others haven’t gone before so they can succeed.”
How Santa Cruz EDO can help your business thrive
Whether you’re an established company with a full-time team of employees or you’ve yet to file for your legal business name, EDO has the knowledge and connections to help. Their resources page includes an overview of all the steps you need to launch your business, including local resources like the SBDC, mentoring workshops, a free business analytics tool, financing options, and more.
One especially invaluable service provided by EDO is the 1-on-1 support for entrepreneurs looking to start their business or expand their current space. Recognizing the importance of having a single point of contact for businesses within City Hall, Lipscomb created the new position of Business Liaison held by Rebecca Unitt.
Unitt was instrumental in helping Humble Sea navigate the permitting process for opening their Westside community-focused brewery. Together, Lipscomb and Unitt are also currently working with Looker to ensure the successful tech company can accommodate its rapidly growing team within the walls of the Rittenhouse building downtown. This involves working with the Planning & Community Development Department to creatively incorporate office space into ground floor real estate on Pacific Avenue, without making that stretch of sidewalk feel inaccessible to the public. The new office will be discreetly tucked between two retail shops, maintaining Pacific Avenue's bustling, open-door atmosphere while also ensuring more Santa Cruz residents can work where they live.
“We’re looking at being able to adapt the spaces so they actually work for our community,” says Lipscomb, “and creating that modification for Looker really works long-term for all of downtown. We want it to be a vibrant downtown well into the future, and how you do that is to have a healthy mix of restaurants, coffee shops, brick and mortar stores, tech companies, and residential. We need to adapt to achieve this.”
New jobs require new housing
A large part of this adaptation is the creation of new housing because without enough places to live, Santa Cruz is capped at the number of workers it can support. This translates into EDO-led affordable housing mixed-use developments like the Tannery Arts Center, Pacific Station Metro Project, and the controversial downtown library project. Within the next 10 years, EDO also plans to support the creation of up to 900 residential units downtown. Currently, there are three major projects in planning review that are collectively about 600 units. Two of the projects are on Front Street and will open up to the river walk. “It’s really expanding the boundaries of downtown,” says Lipscomb.
Lipscomb is especially excited about the Santa Cruz-specific AB-411 bill introduced by Assembly Member Mark Stone in February of this year. The bill will release $16 million in frozen capital bonds for the creation of affordable housing. “We’re really excited about the potential for our community,” says Lipscomb. “The cost of entry for those emerging into the working world, particularly in tech, is really hard because everyone wants to live here, so having housing opportunities that allow people to actually live and work in the community is really important.”
Keeping the future bright for downtown Santa Cruz
Beyond housing, EDO actively nurtures a healthy mix of industries that reflect the wide variety of innovators and visionaries drawn to Santa Cruz. To Lipscomb, it’s about cultivating a diverse community of individuals that includes scientists, teachers, programmers, manual laborers, restaurant workers, engineers, and artists living and working side by side.
“What’s important to the Santa Cruz Economic Development Office is creating a vibrant city, supporting new and existing businesses, and having a focus on all industries, from tech to local sports and the arts, because quality of life is what brings people here,” says Lipscomb. “We’re also working to build a better network of career opportunities to attract new workers to our small town. We take a holistic view to all new development because the ultimate goal is to create a thriving, vibrant community for the future.”
For more information on the City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Office and to find resources to start or grow your business, visit choosesantacruz.com.
Molly Ressler is a writer and content marketing consultant based in Santa Cruz. Find more of her work at mollyressler.com.
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