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Q&A: Kate Roberts on MBEP’s Regional Economic Summit in April (and more)

By Sara Isenberg
Founder, Publisher, Editor-in-Chief, Santa Cruz Tech Beat

March 10, 2016 — Santa Cruz, CA

(Photo above: The MBEP team hams it up outside of their Santa Cruz office at NextSpace. Left to right, Kyle McWilliam-Lopez, Jodi Nunes, Kate Roberts, Justen Time, Andy Ellison. Contributed)

MBEP (Monterey Bay Economic Partnership) is gearing up for their Second Annual Regional Economic Summit, coming up Tuesday April 26, 2016. Here’s the scoop about what’s new and what’s coming up, directly from MBEP President, Kate Roberts.

SCTB: You’ve been the MBEP President since September 2015. What has changed at MBEP since then?

KR: Well, lots! I guess the biggest change is that we’ve added 2 new employees, Jodi Nunes and Kyle McWilliam-Lopez who joined MBEP in January and are already adding a lot of value. We also have two interns, Andy Ellison and Justen Time (yes, that’s his real name). We have so many things that we want to do, it’s great to have the organizational capacity to do them now. We’ve also grown our membership — we now have over 50 members from all parts of the region, a diversity of sectors and industries. We also opened a new office in downtown Santa Cruz to complement our existing presence in Marina.

SCTB: What is MBEP’s primary goal? What are your three biggest challenges in accomplishing MBEP’s goals in our tri-county region?

KR: Our primary goal is creating a thriving and vibrant region for all residents. This is a big goal! So we break it down into chunks and priorities. The challenge is to focus on a few things and do those well. There are so many things we could be doing, but we are a “mean and lean” organization so we have to thoughtfully consider where we invest our resources. Another challenge is the large geography of the region…it means a lot of travel. Finally, both a challenge and opportunity is getting people talking and sharing ideas across sectors and geographies. But this has also been an incredibly rewarding part of our work — making connections and bringing people together to implement solutions that make our community better.

SCTB: The three counties in MBEP’s region are rather diverse. What’s behind uniting them into one MBEP organization?

KR: Actually, they share more similarities than differences. There are already many regional organizations like the Central California Alliance for Health, UCSC, CSUMB, our media market, the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, as well as many business sectors like agriculture, tourism and marine science that are quite integrated across the region. And the challenges we face, like housing, transportation, workforce development, equity and keeping our environment clean and beautiful are also shared by all three counties. A great resource for comprehensive tri-county data is our website where we aggregate and visualize lots of data to help people make informed decisions.

SCTB: What is your new staff focused on?

KR: As an organization we are focused on 2 primary initiatives: Workforce Development and Building a Tech Ecosystem, and Kyle is our Program Manager for both of these. Some recent accomplishments include launching the first regional internship website, www.mbinterns.org, in partnership with the SCCBC, UCSC, Cabrillo College and the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County. MBEP is responsible for managing the site. Just since the launch a few weeks ago, we already have 75 internship postings and over 160 registered users. Over the next month we will begin to do more outreach to students throughout the region. Our workforce initiative is also supporting Digital NEST to open a second location in Salinas.

As for the Building a Tech Ecosystem initiative, we’ve been supporting the work of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) to amplify their efforts. We are advocating to get “dig once” policies implemented by municipalities across the region. And we are using our role as convener to bring together partners to support Tech and AgTech Meetups throughout the region, including the upcoming launch of the AgTech Meetup in Salinas. Be sure to check it out: March 15 at CSUMB Downtown Salinas Center (aka the former Steinbeck Center).

Jodi is focused on a 3rd initiative that we are considering: workforce housing. We are in the discovery stage to assess what MBEP could do to help bring desperately needed new housing to the region. The cost of housing is now the biggest contributor statewide to an increase in poverty among families — often crowding out other important and necessary expenses like food, child care, health care, and transportation. There are several organizations already working in this space, and we are collaborating with many of them to identify the gaps and opportunities where MBEP could add value. Jodi also manages all our marketing efforts: our bi-weekly newsletter “The Regional Report”, our website and events.

SCTB: Speaking of events, MBEP’s Second Annual Regional Economic Summit is coming up on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Who should attend and why? Tell us more.

KR: Some of your readers may have attended our State of the Region event in November which was very well received. At our upcoming Second Annual Regional Economic Summit (April 26 at the Hyatt Regency Monterey), we will look at the economic outlook, a regional economic development strategy, and highlight exemplars of regional excellence. Anyone that wants to be inspired and learn more about innovative businesses and services transforming the Monterey Bay region should attend. Experts in the fields of technology, data, agriculture, marine science, wellness, economic policy and more will showcase the collaborative and innovative approaches being taken across the region. You can check out the full agenda on our website, and register now for early-bird pricing which ends March 25.

SCTB: Not that you need more but is anything else coming up in 2016?

KR: Besides the new housing initiative I mentioned, we’ve got a full plate! Look for our Second State of the Region Conference in the Fall. We are exploring new revenue streams such as Federal and State grants and private foundation funding that would enable us to expand our impact. This month, we actually received our first grant ever from the Morgan Family Foundation. Becky and Jim Morgan created the California Stewardship Network, a group of 13 regional organizations in CA focused on the triple bottom line: economy, equity and environment. We represent the Monterey Bay Region at the California Stewardship Network and CA Forward.

SCTB: That’s great! Anything else you’d like to share with SCTB readers?

KR: 2016 is shaping up to be an exciting year for MBEP. We will continue to partner with other like-minded organizations, companies and civic groups to inform and educate our membership and the broader community on critical issues around broadband, housing, economic development, living wage jobs, the environment, health care, workforce and the environment in our region. Stay tuned — we are just getting started!

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