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With an economy in recession, SLO County creates economic czar position 

Between 2016 and the start of 2020, San Luis Obispo County added about 12,000 jobs to its local economy. It took just four months of the coronavirus to wipe out all of those gains and more.

SLO County lost a total of 23,000 local jobs between February and June, according to BW Research data, and unemployment soared to as high as 14 percent in April.

click to enlarge NEW JOB The SLO County Board of Supervisors is creating a new position dedicated to economic recovery efforts. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • NEW JOB The SLO County Board of Supervisors is creating a new position dedicated to economic recovery efforts.

Those statistics were among many that local business leaders shared with the SLO County Board of Supervisors during a sobering Sept. 22 presentation on the state of the economy.

"We had a steady state of job growth [since 2016] and, of course, a big tank," explained Melissa James, CEO of REACH, an organization spearheading economic planning and development on the Central Coast.

While 7,600 jobs returned to the county by July, officials still expect a long, rocky road to full recovery. SLO County is hoping that a new economic director position can help facilitate the recovery.

At the Sept. 22 meeting, SLO County supervisors approved the creation of a new staff position dedicated to economic recovery, whose salary will be funded by state monies allocated to address impacts of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant closure.

Supervisors agreed that the economic czar should be of a senior level and report directly to the chief county administrative officer.

"This position needs to be a high-level position," 1st District Supervisor John Peschong said at the meeting. "I do believe it needs to be somebody who can go to talk to the city managers and work with them."

The official will work closely with businesses, chambers of commerce, and advocacy groups, like REACH and the tourism agency Visit SLO CAL, to foster economic development in the region.

REACH recently announced an initiative to stimulate 15,000 new local jobs with $50,000 or higher salaries by 2030.

"I'm very, very excited about REACH's proposal and the direction they want to go," Peschong said. "These are very turbulent times right now. We have to be able to find people jobs. This is about keeping families together and keeping people out of poverty." Δ

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