Watsonville business owners need skilled workers, tax incentives and help getting the word out about their products and services, but overall, they're experiencing small economic improvements, the annual Business Walk survey revealed Wednesday.
Teams comprised of city staff, business leaders and community volunteers went door-to-door to dozens of Watsonville businesses to gauge local economics.
"I get a feeling things are frequently more postive than they were last year," said Kurt Overmeyer, the city's economic development director.
Some highlights included:
- Nordic Naturals, one of the cities largest employers with 162 on staff, is looking to expand its warehouse space and has added a new division, Steve Bennett of Second Harvest Food Bank shared.
- A dialysis center is doing well, Dana Sales of David Lyng Real Estate reported. He acknowledged that's something that was good for business but bad for the health of Pajaro Valley residents.
- Some refrigeration businesses in town reported that they lacked skilled workers.
- Smaller businesses asked for some of the tax breaks that larger companies receive.
- La Rosa Tortilla Factory purchased another piece of land in Watsonville's food packing district to expand its production but has hit roadblocks at the planning level. The company employs 110 people, Watsonville Fire Chief Mark Bisbee said.
"Most everybody's hanging tough," Bisbee said. "It's looking a little better than last year."
That appears to fit with the trend of new, small businesses opening in the city—especially restaurants like Props, Yogurtland and Nacho Mama's.
City Councilman Lowell Hurst also said the industrial companies he met with seemed positive. But some Business Walk participants reported that small shops, especially in the Freedom Boulevard corridor, struggled to attract customers. That area was impacted by a lengthy road construction project in 2011 that wrapped up earlier this year.
The city will use the survey findings to provide assistance to troubled businesses and improve policies.
Susan Quintana of Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Inc and a new ambassador for the Pajaro Chamber of Commerce, said she joined in on the walk to learn about businesses outside of the downtown area, where she has worked for the past eight years.
"It's really nice to know what happens in Watsonville and how it's progressing," she said.
The Business Walk is put on by the city and the Chamber of Commerce. A full report of the survey findings will be published later this fall.