Dubroff: Lack of workforce housing driving companies away

By Henry Dubroff   /   Friday, January 18th, 2019  / Pacific Coast Business Times

First it was Dallas. Then South Florida. Now it’s Atlanta.

Just as California’s top officials are beginning to think longer term about solutions to the state’s housing affordability crisis, companies are again picking up stakes and leaving the South Coast.

In recent days, the Business Times has reported that BioIQ, a promising medical data company in the field of diabetes treatment and control is moving to Georgia following the exodus of Be Green Packaging to Atlanta.

Housing is the ultimate driver for these departures, classic examples of why it is so hard to build a company anywhere in the tri-county region.

There just isn’t enough opportunity for home ownership to attract and retain workers in the $100,000 salary range.

And those are precisely the employees you need to build out the middle ranks of a business that’s growing past the research and innovation phase into product ramp-up and customer service.

Not every company is going to leave the South Coast.

Firms like MindBody and Inogen have solved the housing affordability problem, at least for now, by standing up large operations in places like Texas and Colorado.

Yardi Systems has found a solution just an hour’s drive away where it has set up a large facility in Oxnard’s RiverPark area that’s attracting staff who can live, work and play in the same neighborhood at a relatively affordable price.

Others have found ways to operate with staff scattered across the country who show up in Goleta or Camarillo once a month to connect with their teams.

In his inaugural address and at a subsequent roundtable discussion on housing in San Jose, Gov. Gavin Newsom has adopted a carrot and stick approach to the housing crisis.

He has indicated he wants to reward cities that ease the rules to put affordable housing closer to where jobs and public transportation are close by.

According to California Forward, he wants to provide some $750 million as a one-time jolt to local governments to get new projects started faster. Some of the money will be held out to make sure that cities actually deliver on their housing promises.

As California Forward said in a recent report: “Housing is a local responsibility, but parochial choices are jeopardizing the California Dream. Newsom is making it clear that we share a responsibility – as do the state and local governments – to enable the dream for others.”

Will wealthy enclaves with no-growth politics embrace the Newsom vision of more, dense housing and jobs clustered around areas with access to public transportation? I still have a hard time imagining how Santa Barbara or Ventura will permit lots of new dwellings in their downtowns, though that would be a welcome development.

It seems to me more likely that Oxnard, Simi Valley and Santa Maria will be able to benefit most from the Newsom initiatives, which still need approval by the Legislature. Oxnard and Simi Valley have lots of mass transit access, particularly via their Metrolink stops.

With Santa Maria reimagining its own Town Center, a transit center combined with a big dollop of housing might be a transformational development.

Thousand Oaks is probably farthest along with the recently adopted changes to its plan for Thousand Oaks Boulevard. And San Luis Obispo has already moved a step forward with the approval of two major housing developments.

The housing affordability crisis is real and it needs to be addressed. But there are some other inherent limits to building an enterprise on the Central Coast. We do not have a medical school and major teaching hospital, which puts a cap on some research efforts.

If you need access to a large international airport or a global supply chain, LAX is just too far away and too hard to get to. If you need to connect with major offices of large retailers and restaurant chains, you may not be able to get there with a direct flight.

But all of these issues pale in comparison to the lack of affordable housing for skilled workers who are college graduates and are likely the sons and daughters of people who are already living here.

• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com