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011018 Lompoc economic vitality forum

Jeremy Ball, the vice chair of the Lompoc Economic Development Committee, talks to attendees during Wednesday morning's Economic Vitality Forum at the Dick DeWees Community and Senior Center.

Dozens of members of Lompoc’s business community converged on the Dick DeWees Community and Senior Center on Wednesday morning for a brainstorming session on how to improve Lompoc’s economy and increase access in the city to higher-paying jobs.

The event was the second Lompoc Valley Economic Vitality Forum put on by the city’s Economic Development Committee (EDC). About 60 active and retired professionals, representing a wide range of industries, participated in the event, which was a follow-up to 2015's first Economic Vitality Forum and an education summit that took place last year.

The participants were split into separate groups during the event, which lasted about 2½ hours, and explored a range of topics at each table before concluding with a large group discussion among everyone. Among the issues discussed were challenges in building and retaining a qualified workforce, ways to close local gaps within industries, ways that local stakeholders can help industries grow and what Lompoc will look like five years from now.

Clayton Turner, a Lompoc-based real estate agent, said he enjoyed taking part in the morning workshop and believes that it could lead to positive change in the community.

“Anytime you can get a meeting of minds from different perspectives throughout the community, it’s always worth it,” he said. “And that’s the point of it — to just bring people together with different ideas and highlight some weaknesses and some strengths, and then push forward with resolutions that will hopefully make things better.”

The attendees brought a diverse set of viewpoints to many of the issues addressed.

For example, one woman said she didn’t foresee Lompoc improving at all over the next five years unless the city underwent a comprehensive change in leadership. Another woman said she was optimistic about Lompoc’s potential for growth and suggested that the food and wine industries could be significant economic drivers for the city in the near future.

In other discussions, several speakers shared ways in which their respective industries offer education and other resources for employees to build on their skills. These included Lompoc Unified School District board member Dick Barrett talking about different job preparation programs offered by LUSD, and a local health care professional who detailed some of the partnerships that Lompoc Valley Medical Center has with LUSD, including an on-site job shadow program with Lompoc High School’s Health and Wellness Careers Academy.

Chelsea Cochran, a member of the EDC, was one of the primary organizers of the event, along with fellow member Jeremy Ball, who facilitated much of the discussion, and Jasmine McGinty, a development programs specialist with the city’s Economic Development Division. Cochran said she considered the gathering to be a success.

“The feedback has already been very positive,” she said shortly after the forum concluded.

Cochran said the EDC plans to use the comments and suggestions made at Wednesday’s forum to help guide the organization in its next strategic planning session, which is tentatively scheduled to take place within the next few months. She said that the information gathered, along with data from last year’s education summit, will be used to “help us refocus on what our goals are going to be for the next two-year cycle.”

“They may be completely new goals that are coming out of these events, and they may just be altered versions where we found a very specific area of focus to direct our attention to,” she said.

While some of the comments focused on long-term matters, Turner said he felt like some of the suggestions could lead to short-term improvements.

“There were issues brought up that can be immediately fixed,” he said. “Some will take longer, but as long as this continues to go, and there continues to be community support, I absolutely think there’s no reason that it can’t get better.”

Although the last forum of this kind was held in 2015, McGinty said it could be become an annual occurrence, or at least take place once every two years.

“This is only our second (event), so we’re still kind of getting the gist of things,” she said.

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Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.