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Budding Business Community Thrives

While unemployment remains high, there are entrepreneurs doing unique work in the Watsonville.

Unemployment in Watsonville hovers around 25 percent in the winter months and residents are reminded regularly of the , city budget issues and need for new jobs.

While economic woes seem to continually plague Watsonville, there actually is a booming community of small, innovative businesses that have chosen to make a home in the city because of its ready workforce, business-friendly attitude and inexpensive rent.

“We have this economy that’s much more complex than most people realized, and it’s growing," said Kurt Overmeyer, the economic development director for the city.

A year ago,  on the north side of town, past the airport. The Norwegian company perhaps best-known for its fish oil supplements is not one you would expect to find in Watsonville, but since the new building opened, company's local workforce has grown from 125 to 145 people.

, which operates a manufacturing facility in the Strawberry Business Park, had under 100 employees and were manufacturing in San Jose when they outgrew their space. The company found Watsonville because mountain bikers told them they need to be in Santa Cruz County. With a loan from the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency, established themselves in Watsonville.

"Now they’re one of the largest companies in town," Overmeyer said. In 2010, Fox has about 400 employees, according to data published by the city.

Recently, the company grew so large, Fox relocated its administrative team to Scotts Valley. Overmeyer explained that there is so little industrial space in the city that is flexible and ready to move into that companies like Fox actually can't find the room they need here.

There is under 1 percent vacancy industrial buildings in Watsonville. Also, about 40 percent is functionally obsolete. That includes empty cooler space for agriculture industry, fridges and packing sheds that were never built to be production-based industrial space, according to Overmeyer.

The city's Redevelopment Agency has assisted with some of the space issues in the past, such as lending money so buildings can be refurbished to fit the needs of a company. As a result, Overmeyer and the city are left with fewer tools at their disposal when it comes to supporting business in Watsonville.

There are some solutions, Overmeyer said. There has progress toward realizing the , which would add state-of-the-art industrial space to the city. Advocating for changes at the state level to benefit local business is another avenue.

“We have this sort of community of entrepreneurs in that area," Overmeyer said. "As a city, it’s important to support those entremrepures… the next Steve Wozniak and  could be out there working on their project."

Overmeyer and the city operate a website devoted to drawing business to Watsonville. Grow in Watsonville consolidates information about obtaining a business license, available properties in the city and demographics of the Pajaro Valley to assist potential businesses that may want to relocate in the area. Overmeyer said he gets hundreds of inquiries a year.

“To me, there’s no better way of keeping kids of away from gangs than the promise of a good job," Overmeyer said. “...The only way this stays a wonderful place is if people who live here can work here and they can grow here."

Of course, it's not all international companies with hundreds of employees. There are several small companies are a unique part of the Watsonville landscape: a telescope producer, a shoe designer, a recumbent bike company, a pizza oven maker among them.

“All of these things are going on right here in Watsonville and it’s really remarkable," Overmeyer said. “... We do have a cool business community."

In the coming days, Watsonville Patch will profile some of these unexpected Watsonvile businesses, starting with Tuedsay's piece about . Wednesday, we .

David H. Perez March 20, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Wonderful article, Jennifer. Hearing this type of information makes me think things are not so bad around here after all. Our highest priority should be growing the business community, as this will have a positive ripple effect on unemployment, poverty, gang violence and crime in general if people can get jobs.
Anthony DeJesus Sandoval March 20, 2012 at 10:24 PM
I am a contractor designer for the local telescope company. It is very hard even with all the technical background i have. I had a meeting with Kurt Overmeyer about my ideas on development and resource needs of Watsonviile. As a local born and raised myself i know how it is to struggle to get out there with limited resources and funding to do anything productive. I am 100% for centers like the 2nd street place, technical help for the community. Hopefully going to be joining them soon.
Jennifer Squires March 20, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Watsonville also is producing kids who can not only do these jobs we're talking about, but may be the one who want to start their own companies. Programs like Watsonville TEC, the Ivy League Tour and others (search for the names on Patch if you're not familiar) are helping kids learn computer skills and get connected with good colleges. Also, even if locals aren't filling all of the positions, these companies create need support service industries around them, which creates more job opportunities in the community.
Anthony DeJesus Sandoval March 21, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Jennifer, yes and no at the same time. Through my 10 years of engineering experience I won't say the resources available locally are "up to par" technically. There is useful and unuseful things that need to be learned. From what I have seen in people.that have taken the local classes "training, certification" they teach just what's needed to do a technicians job, by modules, how they plug in together, not how they physically work.
Debbie Diersch March 30, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Really great article - I love seeing the kinds of new businesses being founded in Watsonville. A question I have is why can't the old, run-down buildings all over Watsonville be renovated to support the needs of new companies? It sounds as though Kurt Overmeyer is saying that can't be done, instead, we must put new buildings on land that is currently not developed. Am I understanding that correctly?

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