Letter from our Executive Director

Dear Santa Cruz Works community,

Today marks one year for me as the Executive Director of Santa Cruz Works. Since June of 2016, I have witnessed and been part of a surge in activity in the tech sector here in Santa Cruz County.   Many local organizations - UCSC, the Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup, Santa Cruz Tech Beat, and the City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Office, not to mention our own Santa Cruz Works, have worked to build the visibility of our sector, increase its vibrancy, and address its problems. I have worked closely with Mohamed Abousalem at the UCSC Office of Research to develop our new accelerator program to maximize its impact on technology transfer at the university and on our local ecosystem of entrepreneurs. UCSC's immense support for our work - and for other local technology entrepreneurship programs - will prove critically important in the long term. At the same time, the last year has seen companies like Looker and Amazon grow their local workforce at an amazing pace, building even more opportunities for local tech workers to not drive over the hill for their livelihoods. Overall, the last year feels like one of rapid transformation for our local tech sector, that brings new challenges and new opportunities.  

When I joined SCW a year ago, I embarked on a mission to   hear from our members what challenges they were facing and how SCW could help address them. The biggest problem I heard mentioned at first was that companies had a hard time reaching local, qualified engineers in particular. As the demand for these workers has increased locally and in the Valley, the conversation has shifted towards how local educational institutions can help train local workers for the skills in demand at our local tech companies.  

Santa Cruz is also seeing a surge of homegrown technology startups who want to keep their companies in the County and create jobs here - because they live here, they love this place, and they want their companies to be based on our local culture of scrappiness, free-thinking-ness, and collaboration - not the culture over the hill. Enterprises like Buoy Labs, Onewheel, and Inboard are making their mark here and around the world. But they, and newer enterprises just getting started like the ones currently enrolled in Santa Cruz Accelerates, face less access to capital and the resources they need to be successful. As qualified tech workers become more and more scarce in the region due to increased demand, wages have risen, and small startups have an increasingly difficult time attracting the best workers because they cannot compete in wages. 

In the larger context of the County (and the State), a housing crisis has taken hold. A recent article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel noted that the median price of homes in the County rose to $875,000 in May. Starter homes and single-occupant dwellings almost do not exist in the County, leaving nowhere viable for tech workers to live, as noted in a recent Chamber of Commerce article. As the article noted, we are effected by the crisis, and part of it, and our sector has the opportunity to enter the conversation about solutions.  

There are other challenges our local tech sector is facing right now, but I see these three - talent, capital, and infrastructure - as the most critical. SCW is an organization made up of local technology companies. We exist to promote and build the sector. As such, we would love to hear your ideas for how our sector can engage with these issues collectively, and what role SCW should have. Please feel free to reach out to me at heather@santacruzworks.org

Sincerely,
Heather