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Diversity and equity among the top priorities in SLO’s strategic economic development plan

One of the new businesses in town is Corazón Café on Higuera Street. It just opened about a month ago.
Posted at 5:32 PM, Jun 21, 2023

The City of San Luis Obispo is attractive for many reasons.

“I like the community. I like people to have the time and consideration to help people out,” said Michael Salas, who lives in San Luis Obispo.

According to the city, San Luis Obispo has a total population of 47,328, with 25,498 of those being workers, and is home to 3,846 businesses.

“It's a lot of small businesses, but there's a lot of tech, especially large manufacturing, professional services,” explained Lee Johnson, the City of San Luis Obispo’s economic development manager. “There's also a lot of government employees because we are the county seat […] Cal Poly creates a lot of jobs.”

A 'county seat' is the city or town that houses the county government office buildings.

The median yearly income is listed at $78,213 while household expenses average $76,244 per year, according to the city's website. The top three expenses are housing, transportation and food.

“We've been able to increase the average salary in the last 10 years from about $40,000 to about $60,000,” said Johnson. “You have to focus on getting the right types of businesses, the right types of jobs — supporting knowledge, innovation.”

Every five years, the City of San Luis Obispo reviews its Economic Development Strategic Plan, which is meant to ensure the city's "relevance and competitiveness in a rapidly changing environment" by working toward prioritized, pre-defined goals, according to the city's website.

The top five guiding principles of the 2023 plan are economic resilience, equitable and inclusive economic development, sustainable economic development, holistic approach, and regional collaboration.

“Supporting businesses and then promoting and placemaking and then also supporting employers and employees,” added Johnson.

For Downtown SLO — a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization that serves to promote an economically vibrant downtown area — resilience is a big theme.

“Whether it's surviving a pandemic or dealing with 100-year floods or social justice issues, or just the changing market of retail, brick-and-mortar, and more people working and shopping online,” said Bettina Swigger, the CEO of Downtown SLO.

Swigger said the organization looked forward to supporting the plan's diversity and inclusion goals by guiding business owners and making the area welcoming.

There are many for-lease and for-sale signs up in the downtown area.

“You have to have new businesses coming in," added Johnson. "A lot of that is communication about what can the city do to help them, getting them connected to the right resources."

Matt Cross recently closed his business on Broad Street.

“We had the Broad Street Public House for about five years, and, you know, when you think you survive the pandemic, you realize maybe you didn't, but it's tough,” said Cross.

Just as things come to an end, new ones come along.

“We've seen 33 new businesses open downtown over the last fiscal year,” said Swigger.

One of those spots is Corazón Café on Higuera Street. It just opened about a month ago.

Co-owner Pedro Arias said he wanted a piece of his heart, a piece of his hometown in Mexico, to live and thrive in San Luis Obispo.

Both Arias and his co-owner Crescencio Hernandez worked in different restaurants around downtown. They started a successful side gig selling tacos for events which allowed them to save up to open their own Mexican fusion coffee shop.

Some of their best sellers include the horchata latte and chilaquiles.

The Economic Development Strategic Plan, which was led by TIP Strategies, an Austin-based economic development consulting company, also included responses from surveyed community members. The company received 982 responses and engaged with stakeholders virtually and in person.

Community members surveyed in the report said the city’s top strengths were location, natural amenities and quality of life, while things to be worked on include the cost of living, diversity and industry diversification.

“It should have more jobs open,” recommended Salas, the San Luis Obispo resident.

Arias said rent can be pricey, but the community has been very welcoming. He added that he would like to see more diversity.

“I like how they are kind of spreading out and creating little districts kind of over by the railroad center and out by Marigold Center and the SLO Public Market,” said Cross.

Several ideas are in the works.

“The vitality of downtown or increasing cultural activities, public art and supporting businesses, more outreach,” said Johnson.

The plan is still a draft, so residents have an opportunity to provide feedback by Monday, June 26, 2023, at noon. After that, the plan will be presented to city council on July 18, 2023, for final approval.

You can view the draft plan in PDF format here.