Kate Roberts: Joining Forces

Kate Roberts, who joined the Santa Cruz Works board of directors in July, seems to embody the organization’s powerful new direction.

At her day job as president of the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP), Roberts is working on some of the issues that lie at the core of SCW’s mission.

“There's a lot of synergy,” Roberts says about her new position. “A lot of the employers and partners that are involved in the board at Santa Cruz Works—let’s say we’re all kept up at night by these same issues.”

The most obvious of these synergies is probably MBEP’s Workforce Pipeline initiative, which serves local students and local companies.

“We want to make sure that we are giving opportunities for students who already live here in the region, so they’re not going to go through sticker shock when they move here,” Roberts says. “And we’re trying to help them get the skills they need in order to work for employers that are already in the region.”

While MBEP targets all of the region’s major industries, this definitely includes the tech sector that Santa Cruz Works is focused on. Through MBEP, students can find a tool that allows them to post resumes and connect with local companies offering paid and unpaid internships.

“This allows them to try different things out,” Roberts says. “If they think they might want to do something, they can test it. And employers are able to tap into the pipeline of local talent here.”

Another MBEP initiative that aligns with SCW’s work is its effort to expand access to broadband Internet service throughout the three counties it serves.

Roberts points out that MBEP manages towards a triple bottom line: economy, environment and equity. “Equity comes into play in a lot of the work we do, and that is especially true when it comes to broadband— making sure that everyone in the region has access.

“Believe it or not there are still pockets in Watsonville where you cannot get access to the Internet at all. If we left it up to the big ISPs, we’d only have have gigabyte speed in Pebble Beach, Santa Cruz and Monterey. They’re not interested in putting any sort of infrastructure in low income areas.”

MBEP works with the Central Coast Broadband Coalition to advocate on behalf of underserved communities such as Gonzales, in southern Monterey County.

It was this particular initiative that immediately attracted Roberts to her current position when MBEP founder and former SCW board president Bud Colligan approached her about it.

For 10 years, from 1998 to 2008, Roberts served as senior manager for strategic partnerships at the Cisco Networking Academy—which was about expanding broadband Internet service to the world’s most underserved countries.

“I don’t think there could be a job that is better matched for my skillset,” Robert says, apparently still delighted by the coincidence, four years into her tenure.

The Central Coast’s Central Problem

Another initiative that Roberts oversees isn’t directly linked to the Santa Cruz Works project, but profoundly affects all SCW members, and that is housing.

“It seems that any problem we confront in this region, we end up talking about housing,“ Roberts says.

In this arena, MBEP has been extraordinarily effective. Like many successful campaigns, this one is a three-legged stool. Leg number one is funding. MBEP created the Monterey Bay Housing Trust, which is making $12 million available to build affordable housing in the region. It works as a very-low cost loan pool, and is leveraged by a four-to-one matching grant from the Silicon Valley Housing Trust.

“We set out to raise $2 million here in the region, and they matched that with $8 million. But we completely blew it out of the water, because people totally got the leverage. So now we have over $12 million available to do that work.”

The second leg of MPEP‘s housing initiative is about advocacy and policy. Roberts says she and her colleagues have been showing up at city council meetings, county supervisors meetings, and other board meetings to connect with influencers throughout the region. MBEP commissioned a study that looked into things like whether fees are calculated by the square foot or by the unit, rules around ADU production, and density bonuses for developers.

“There are just some things that are proven tools in the toolbox, and actually work.” Roberts says. “We put together a white paper on ‘nine things you can do to improve housing production in your jurisdiction.’ We took it on the road and presented it something like 40 times to different entities, and they actually applied it.”

The third leg of the housing initiative is employer-sponsored housing, something that has been common in the agriculture industry, and is now being taken up elsewhere. For example, MBEP is working with the Monterey Peninsula School District, which wants to be able to offer affordable housing to help attract and retain teachers.

“I get excited witnessing the successes,” Roberts says. “It’s inspiring to see that if we chip away at it and chip away at, it this is a problem where we can actually have a big impact.”


Synergy Multiplies

Roberts arrives at Santa Cruz Works through the merger that saw Doug Erickson and his New Tech Meetup join SCW, where Erickson was named executive director.

“Doug had been a fan of MBEP since it was formed. He served for three years on our broadband ubiquity committee,” Roberts says. “We love Doug, and see him as such a tremendous asset to our community. I loved the idea of merging the two entities and creating one focused group that is all about tech in Santa Cruz.

“So this all makes total sense to me. I spent 25 years in high tech. I get tech. So if I can be helpful, I’m in. I’m all in.”