Progress is being made on a collaborative effort to make the Central Coast a better place to live.

You may be thinking, what? This is already a great place to live. The weather’s near-perfect, we don’t really have the sort of terrain that lends itself to hundreds of square miles of wildfires. We have beaches.

Sounds like paradise, and to many Central Coast residents it’s all of that and more. But that’s the visible tip of a large iceberg. Too many Central Coast residents live below, at or near the poverty level. Too many have jobs that do not pay for life’s basic necessities. There are problems lurking on the horizon that could make life much more complicated for this latter group.

Into this fray marches the Central Coast Coalition of Chambers, which is not a new Harry Potter movie, but a group of 13 Central Coast Chambers of Commerce working on the Hourglass Project, the goal of which is to come up with an all-inclusive strategy that will solve some of this region’s major economic problems.

This is quite a departure for these organizations, whose primary focus for years has been aggressive self-interest, finding ways to strengthen the economies of their own cities, too often by luring businesses away from neighboring communities. That may work on a limited scale, but it doesn’t address the larger issue, which is the fact that we are all in this together.

Or as one official at a meeting this week said, “This is about being friends with each other, and not spending our time stabbing everybody in the back.”

The hoped-for outcome of the Hourglass Project is to get the chambers, individual businesses and government officials in all the cities and towns along the Central Coast to cooperate, supporting and capitalizing on individual strengths, instead of competing and being critical of neighbors.

That is a tall order. Competition has been the core mission of every Chamber of Commerce we’ve encountered. Maybe it is because that happens to be the American way.

But this Hourglass Project may be different. The coalition’s success is critical to the future of everyone living here, from the Santa Ynez Valley to the upper end of San Luis Obispo County.

Here are some of the issues the coalition must address and resolve, as outlined during the gathering in Shell Beach: More lower-paying jobs than the national average, underemployment eight times worse than the California average, a combined cost of living more than 30 percent above the national average, and a middle class that is slowly, but surely disappearing.

Resolving those issues faces significant challenges, some of which are approaching: A possible economic downturn, automation that is a direct threat to about one-third of the jobs here in the next decade, the Diablo Canyon Power Plant shutting down by 2025, eliminating 1,500 head-of-household-type jobs and 1,700 contractor positions.

If those jobs are allowed to disappear without suitable replacements, families will have to move out of economic necessity. While some may like the notion of fewer people to deal with, the fact is their exit carves tax revenues out of the local equation.

The chambers aren’t the only stakeholders in this project. Allan Hancock College will play a pivotal role, if the college can make more connections allowing the granting of four-year degrees. That part is absolutely essential.

Such coalitions have worked miracles elsewhere, and they can work here as well. The key is a comprehensive, common effort.

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