With a number of local businesses temporarily shutting down or feeling the loss of revenue as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the Santa Cruz County government is seeking community help in brainstorming ways to improve the local economy.
Frank Dillon, the county’s community development director, said Supervisors Manuel Ruiz and Bruce Bracker asked his department to begin an economic recovery strategy that would help local businesses survive the pandemic and continue moving forward.
The current plan, Dillon said during a special meeting of the board of supervisors on July 15, is to create a 12-person think tank to represent the principal industries in Santa Cruz County.
“We were thinking it might be useful to, instead of trying to establish a committee… maybe to identify representatives from those industries and send them questions,” Dillon said, adding that the 12 members would work with the county over a four-week period.
The members, he said, so far include representatives from the three local governments, two chambers of commerce, port authority, board of realtors, tourism sector, wine-makers, ranchers and downtown merchants.
Supervisor Rudy Molera added that it was important to include the education sector, considering that local schools have also struggled to adapt to closures and implement distance-learning options.
Dillon said that the main questions county officials would ask the representatives included what is needed to support local businesses over the next six months; what each industry needs in order to grow over the next year; and where each industry wants to be three years from now.
Ruiz suggested publishing the survey on social media to engage with other community members as well.
The idea, he said, is to gather more information to come up with a plan for existing businesses to deal with the crisis, while also attracting others to invest in the community.
“The economy, so far, has been propped up by the federal government giving a stimulus check… and also the addition of $600 that the federal government has put into people’s pockets every week,” Bracker said. “But those programs are at the risk of coming to an end and, at that point, it’s really going to change our sales tax.”
The board agreed to Dillon’s suggestion of working with an independent consultant, who will be in charge of facilitating the communication between the county, 12-member think tank and the general public, as well as summarize the conclusions gathered from the collaboration.
As of Monday morning, Dillon confirmed that county officials were evaluating proposals from different consultants in order to begin the outreach effort.
“The date for distribution of survey questions is to be determined, but should be relatively soon after review of consultant proposals and selection,” he said in an email, adding that the means of distributions are also yet to be determined. “We are still in the early process.”