How Workbench is Housing Our Community, From Tech Employees to the Service Sector

By Molly Ressler

The Santa Cruz tech scene is growing, attracting more talent from outside the area and giving residents more job opportunities on this side of the hill. It’s an exciting time for our county, but there are, of course, challenges that come with this growth spurt. One of the biggest and most controversial of these is housing. The question is, how can we welcome a growing tech community without pushing out the many other residents who contribute to a diversified, sustainable economy and to the vibrant, colorful culture that defines us?

This big question drives the many innovative projects happening at Workbench, a concept to completion building studio located downtown behind the popular Pericos Taqueria. Just as Pericos attracts and serves everyone from lawyers and bankers to college undergrads and construction workers, Workbench hopes that their projects will benefit all types of people in our community.  

From concept to community   

Jamileh Cannon and Tim Gordin met on a construction site in San Francisco. As the architect and construction superintendent, respectively, the two had to work closely together throughout the project. Fortunately, they clicked both professionally and personally, and in 2016, they made the joint decision to start their own company on our side of the hill. By combining their skills, the couple opened a one-of-a-kind full concept to completion building studio, offering development, design, and construction all under one roof. This model significantly speeds up the construction process and lowers costs, making housing attainable for a larger slice of our community.

Workbench manages both commercial and residential developments, but with every project, their primary goal is to cultivate a sense of community. Their 'dwellings at Soquel' project, for example, has 15 units (25% classified as affordable housing), a kid-friendly bike path around the perimeter, and pedestrian access to nearby shops and restaurants.

“Creating community is the biggest thing,” says Gordin, “and that means housing, jobs, gathering places, and helping other businesses thrive.”

The ‘dwellings at Soquel’ aims to provide housing and community.

The ‘dwellings at Soquel’ aims to provide housing and community.

It takes all types of housing

Workbench always aims to include affordable housing in their developments so that Santa Cruz doesn’t lose the very people who make this community such a desirable place to live. “It takes all types of housing,” says Cannon. “It takes big apartment complexes, it takes townhouses, it takes single family homes, senior housing ... It’s basic economic supply and demand – if you build more housing the basic cost of housing goes down.”

Not everyone in Santa Cruz agrees, but Workbench believes strongly that we have to change our relationship to new developments or more long-term residents will be pushed out.

“Santa Cruz will have this great tech scene but the only people who can afford to live here will be the CEOs of those companies,” warns Cannon. “The rest of the people will have to commute and spend four hours in their car a day. That’s the one extreme of what happens if we don’t build housing here and if we don’t invest in our local economy in a way that creates monetary and placemaking value. All of this extends down to the service industry and teachers, young professionals, college students … We have to ask ourselves, who’s going to carry on this community?”

Creating jobs on this side of the hill

Workbench is playing no small role in ensuring there are people across income brackets to ‘carry on this community.’ The studio currently employs 14 Santa Cruz residents, in addition to providing work for approximately 60 other companies (all with their own employees and subcontractors) at any given time. “Any given construction job will have somewhere between 10 and 30 subcontractors on it,” says Cannon. “That means 10-30 companies that employ their own people who can now work here in Santa Cruz instead of driving over the hill or down south. That’s all part of the community ecosystem we’re working to build.”

Cannon and Gordin are also excited by all the jobs being created here by local tech companies. The entrepreneurial spirit is, in fact, what the couple loves best about living and working here in Santa Cruz.

“I was really surprised to find this awesome entrepreneurial culture in Santa Cruz,” says Cannon. “There’s a lot of open growth and excitement that comes with that. It makes me feel like what we’re doing is welcomed in the community.”

To learn more about Workbench, check out their website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Did you miss the June Santa Cruz Works Spotlight Breakfast hosted by Workbench? Check out our writeup and photos here.

Get invited to the next Santa Cruz Works Breakfast (or host your own) by becoming a member.

Molly Ressler is a writer and content marketing consultant based in Santa Cruz. Find more of her work at

Molly Ressler