to fix local economy
VENTURA - Business and government leaders met here Thursday in an effort to formulate a plan to "jump start" a lagging economy, with most executives complaining that government interference is hindering progress.
For the most part, the 2½-hour round-table discussion between the newly created Council on Economic Vitality revolved around regulations which business leaders said have resulted in statewide layoffs and forced companies to move out of state.
The mood of the group, which is attempting to forge an agenda for a spring economic summit, though optimistic, was nevertheless a mood that business concerns are of paramount importance and progress must not be thwarted by a chaotic government bureaucracy.
Simi Valley Councilwoman Judy Mikels underscored the point. "Business is the backbone of the county," she said.
Ventura County Chief Administrative Officer Richard Wittenberg echoed Mikels. "Retention and recruitment of business is crucial to Ventura County," he said.
Many complained that a recently enacted county regulation, known as Rule 210, requiring businesses to carpool, is vague and too hard and expensive to comply with.
"Rule 210 is the best example of bad regulation," said Robert Paulger, Oxnard's Procter & Gamble Paper Products Co. spokesman. "Apparently, we are capable of handling a $150 million expansion, but apparently we are not capable of complying with Rule 210."
He said the county rejected the company's carpooling plan, and Paulger intends to respond to the county that the company is unable to meet county demands.
Paulger added that if it was not for county and city backing, the plant would not have moved ahead to double its production and increase its labor force by more than 200.
Lance Winslow, owner of the Thousand Oaks-based Car Wash Guys, said wastewater regulations almost put him out of business. "Why should we have rule after rule?" he complained.
"No one even tells you the rules," he added, using a chess analogy where a beginner is pitted against a master. "Check mate, you lose."
Simi Valley businesswoman Klara Katersky said the Board of Supervisors and the county's 10 cities give no visible direction to developers whether their services are needed.
"There's no clear message in Ventura County: Do we want growth or no growth?" she asked. "(Developers) never know where it stands."
But William McAleer, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Ventura County National Bank, expressed optimism and said the county's economic woes, despite the county's unemployment rate last year topping 7 percent, are more psychological than real.
Citing the bank's informal survey of more than 300 county firms, he said, "Things aren't as bad as they look. People's perceptions are that problems are still here.
"There is a positive movement," he added, reading a list of county economic indicators that showed most business sectors, except retail, grew or were steady last year. "The county is not in that bad of shape."
Wittenberg jokingly interrupted the bank executive's speech, and asked whether he was reporting 5-year-old figures.
Nevertheless, whether psychological or real, times are tough. So sluggish is the nation's and the county's economy that Supervisor Maggie Erickson Kildee, 3rd District, formed the council to focus on identifying steps local government might take to help stimulate the county's economy.
The council is expected to meet again here Feb. 20 and continue its efforts to formulate an agenda for the county's first economic summit to be held in April or May.
Reprinted from Camarillo Daily.