PASO Chamber focuses on economic development

“We are going to be the next big thing.”

Dozens of Paso Robles business leaders gathered at Adelaida Vineyards and Winery for the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce Business Leader Summit on May 31. It was a sign of the Chamber’s direction as a true stakeholder in the future of commerce in Paso Robles, bringing elected officials, city managers, business owners, school board members, and other community leaders together to talk about what is next for El Paso de Robles.
The Chamber’s new Director of Economic Development Josh Cross emceed the event, and Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin gave the keynote speech — unpacking a trunkful of optimism and pointed obligation to the citizens — to both business and residential communities — about the future of Paso Robles.
He summed up the current cycle of Paso Robles concisely, “We are at the beginning of Paso Robles,” before taking a quick look back at the past 30 years.
“We were leaking millions of dollars in sales tax because we had a retail base in tatters,” Martin said. “People had to leave town if they had to do any significant shopping … that was Paso in 1986.”
In 1991, a time when Martin also presided as Mayor, Paso Robles completed a “massive” economic analysis of the retail base, and identified the niches where retailers were missing, and “we started filling them in,” according to Martin.
“Paso Robles was going to be the retail hub of the North County,” Martin said of the attitude of the leaders at that time, but it was not an easy sell.
“In 1991, there was great consternation about what would happen to Paso Robles as it grew, would we lose our quality of life?” Martin said, “but we all had different ideas of what quality of life was.”
Martin and the council penned a definition that carried into his keynote speech three decades away.
“Quality of life is defined as a place where a great majority of people can live, work, and shop,” Martin said. “If we do those three things, we will always have our quality of life in Paso Robles.”
Much is said about the power of intention, and Martin’s testimony adds to the metaphysical lore.
“We look around today, and see that Paso Robles is the retail hub of the North County,” Martin informed. “We have multiple levels of shopping, opportunities for people to buy goods and services that we never had before. We see a community whose quality of life has not diminished, but has improved.”
Nearly 30 years later, and Martin has a new vision to offer Paso Robles, but the same mantra.
“We are at a crossroads in Paso Robles,” Martin said. “Are we going to become … gentrified — with very expensive housing, very expensive shopping, and we become a retirement community where everyone else needs to go find a place to live in the hills. Or are we going to continue that philosophy of being a balanced community where a great majority of the people can live, work, and shop?”
Martin advocated for tourism, but warned against putting all Paso Robles’ eggs in one basket.
“During the great recession, but for tourism, we would have suffered mightily,” Martin said. “Tourism accounts for roughly 50 percent of City revenue, when you take into account transient occupancy tax and sales tax generated by visitors. We are blessed by that fact, but the problem is, it is a monolithic industry. So goes tourism, so goes Paso Robles. Diversify … that is what we need in Paso Robles if we are going to proceed with the vision of being a place where people can live, work, and shop. We need employment opportunities in sectors other than tourism so that over the years, Paso Robles will have a resilient economic base — to provide head of household jobs, goods and services, and things that cities are expected to provide for citizens and maintain a high quality of life. That is why this meeting is so important, and why all of you are so important.”
Martin expressed the importance of the Chamber of Commerce’s role in economic development.
“It is so important to Paso Robles, and we are relying on the Chamber of Commerce to spread the word about Paso Robles — to spread the story that we are the retail hub of the North County, and we will be the economic development hub of this county — not just for tourism, but other industrial sectors: light manufacturing, tech, things that come in and provide diversity of jobs and a bigger employment base so people can afford to buy new homes in Paso Robles.”
Likely recalling the consternation of the community 30 years ago, Martin recognized the possibility of fear in pioneering a new direction for the community.
“Being at the beginning of Paso Robles can be a little scary,” Martin said. “It can be fun, but it can be scary. Now is the time to be very careful how we plan our residential development, our roads, our infrastructure, our sewer and water, to maintain that quality of life and give those who live here the confidence that the quality of life will not be compromised.”
Steadying the ship, Martin readied the leadership crew for the next phase of the summit to answer questions about the future of Paso.
“This is our time,” Martin said. “The city of Paso Robles has always been a wonderful place to live, but it has been a community that is catching up, technologically, economically, but we are now primed like no time in the past to proceed forward down this trail. Never have we been so prepared to take advantage of the change.”
With a fire in his belly, an excitement shared verbally to PASO Magazine by other members of the City Council, Martin urged the summit to pay attention to the big picture … and get ready.
“We are going to be the next big thing,” Martin said. “If we don’t look 10 to 20 years down the road and declare what we are going to be, we are going to be swept away by change. Surf the wave or get run over by the wave.”
Martin was not only inviting the members of the summit, but to the entire community of Paso Robles to join in the vision of what Paso Robles will become.
“As the Chamber comes together with different committees, work projects, and opportunities,” Martin said, “get involved with your expertise, your excitement, and your passion about the ‘beginning of Paso Robles’ to the table, because without that, we will fail. We are depending on you for that.”