Hotels, Tap Rooms, and Workforce Development budding in Wine Country… Business Community gathers to discuss growth and opportunity

The upcoming State of the North County event, set for August 28, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Paso Robles Inn, will give attendees a solid picture of the current economic successes and challenges of the region, told by those in the know, including the mayors of Paso Robles and Atascadero and two keynote speakers who are experts in the field of workforce development. 

Now in its fourth year, the event is hosted jointly by the Paso Robles, Atascadero and Templeton chambers of commerce.

This year, local workforce development will serve as one of the event’s central themes, according to Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gina Fitzpatrick. 

“We’ve decided to focus on workforce development because we know that’s the number one challenge we hear from our business community,” Fitzpatrick said. “And it’s also the one area where we’d like to offer solutions, first and foremost.” 

The Speakers

Keynote speakers will be Josh Williams of BW Research and workforce development consultant David Shinder. 

BW Research has conducted statistical work for the SLO County Workforce Development Board and will present insights at the State of the North County event, said Josh Cross, director of economic development for the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce. 

“[Williams] will be speaking on the state of the workforce in the North County,” Cross said. “He has taken statistical data using our zip codes to determine which industries have the greatest number of employees, which industries pay the most, which industries pay the least.” 

Williams is a regular on the lecture circuit, speaking about applied research methods after serving for more than six years as a director of research for a west coast firm where he supervised more than 200 research projects. He later went on to co-found BW Research where he is responsible for the firm’s economic and workforce research and customer and community research. 

Shinder is a regular on the lecture circuit with more than three decades of experience in the field of workforce development, helping workforce development boards, community colleges, career centers, organized labor, private businesses and nonprofits, among others, to reach their workforce development goals.

Cross suggested bringing Shinder to speak at the State of the North County event after hearing him speak at a conference and said that he’ll speak on “how to find employees in a low-employment economy.” 

“All of the communities across the state and even the nation right now are having this problem of workforce shortage and … trying to find solutions,” Cross said. 

The Locations

After taking place at the Springhill Suites hotel in Atascadero for the past three years, the event will be moving to the Paso Robles Inn. A rotating location in future years will bring the event closer to home for some attendees for sharing convenience.

“We’ll go back and forth going forward,” Fitzpatrick said. 

The Future

Although it faces challenges with workforce development, Fitzpatrick was optimistic about the economic future of the North County overall. 

“The North County is very open to business — we have more opportunity for growth here than in some other areas,” she said. “And the reason why is because we have developable land available to us, both Atascadero and Paso Robles have City Councils that are advocates for strong economies and supporting efforts that can help accentuate what we currently have, so on the business retention side of things we’re able to work with businesses that are looking to expand. So we have City government that is willing and able to find ways to make that a manageable process for [businesses].” 

Fitzpatrick also pointed to the booming tourism industry, the bountiful rainfall season for agriculture, and the craft food and beverage industry as bright spots in the local economy, along with more local partnerships and cooperation between the local chambers. 

“The [chambers of commerce] are now working together in a way that we haven’t in the past,” she said. “We’re working as more of a team … [and] that has opened doors of opportunity … for us to share resources and become strong as a whole.”

The Building

Some of the exciting news covered at the State of the North County event will include the recent building boom in Atascadero. Atascadero Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Emily Reneau painted a sunny picture of the current economy in Atascadero, mentioning several commercial and residential developments that are currently in the works. 

“We are seeing [residential and commercial developments] under construction which is exciting for the El Camino Corridor as well as a diverse representation of companies investing and putting their trust in us as well — SLO Do Co., The Habit, an urgent care service,” Reneau said in an email to Colony Magazine. “The list goes on for the great group of small and mid-size businesses making their home with us.”

Reneau said that she believes that it’s the business-friendly climate that’s led to the business boom in Atascadero along with a partnership between the Chamber and the City that recently produced the city’s first co-working space where tenants are already asking to have the services expanded. 

“Those are all signs of positive changes for our economic climate,” she said. 

The Workforce

The main topic to be discussed at the State of the North County event will be workforce development and Reneau said that the lack of workforce housing and development is one of the main challenges facing the Atascadero business community. 

“For Atascadero, I personally believe that our biggest economic challenge is ensuring that our business owners and employees are able to operate, work and live so they can support their families and enjoy all of the benefits our community has to offer,” she said. “We all share in the necessary success of our schools, our infrastructure and maintaining our sense of community. We need to support housing initiatives and thankfully Atascadero has projects in the pipeline that will come online and should provide some stability in our workforce.” 

Reneau called for a continuation of the business-friendly attitude that has brought these new businesses to Atascadero. 

“Our City and our Chamber need to continue to be approachable so that there is an interest and curiosity in investing in opportunities that Atascadero can provide based on our location, resources and proximity in the county,” she said. “We need to be understood as a place to grow a business, a place to live or commute from and mostly as a safe place to live and be a valued member of our community.”

Reneau encouraged people to visit downtown Atascadero to see all of the new things that are happening and encouraged business owners to reach out to the chamber with any questions or comments. Visit the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce at 6907 El Camino Real, Suite A or atascaderochamber.org for more information and for a calendar listing of upcoming Chamber events. 

“I would like to encourage long-time residents and those from other towns who haven’t been downtown in a while to make it your mission to do so,” she said. “Just take a walk during one of our Art, Wine and Brews events downtown (set for August 9) and you will be delighted by all the fun places that have opened up these past couple of years and our cornerstones that have held us together. There is lots of activity happening in our downtown. In fact, there are micro-communities happening in our downtown. In fact, there are micro-communities happening in the coffee shops, restaurants, breweries and wine bars. These businesses have attracted new Atascadero fans!”

The State of the North County is open to the public. Tickets are $45 for chamber members and $65 for non-members.

To register for SONC, go to pasorobleschamber.com