Finding a job during the recession has been difficult for many local job seekers, especially with a peak loss of more than 30,000 jobs in Ventura County. The job market is slowly improving. The most recent Ventura County unemployment rate was 9.7 percent in April, the lowest in two years. However, to significantly reverse the loss of jobs and to prosper as a region, the Ventura County community needs to work together to attract and retain businesses. Business growth means job growth and more opportunities for our workforce. Other geographic areas in California have invested in major campaigns to brand and market the advantages of doing business in their regions. We need to be just as aggressive by building and promoting a regional identity for the county that is designed to attract and retain job-creating businesses. Fortunately, the process of building a county presence has begun. To help support business and job growth, the Workforce Investment Board of Ventura County has allocated American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds for development of the "Ventura County Grows Business" regional strategy and outreach plan. In the past year, the WIB initiative has engaged all 10 county cities, the county, economic development professionals and business partners to collaborate on a shared Ventura County platform from which to communicate with businesses. After much research and planning, the community now has a collective, marketable identity. This is a first for our area. During the initial phase of the VCGB project, research confirmed that Ventura County is a well-kept secret in the business world. Employers located outside of the county thought of our area as a scenic pass-through between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, not realizing that the county has become a hotbed of growth for small businesses in multiple industry sectors. When asked to describe the ideal environment for growing a competitive business, out-of-county employers listed access to markets, good infrastructure, cost-competitive real estate, skilled workforce, diverse economic base, regional infrastructure, financial stability and quality of life. When these same employers were told that they had described the attributes of Ventura County, they expressed both surprise and possible interest in business expansion in the region. In-county employers said that they already know what out-of-county businesses are just beginning to learn. Ventura County offers the kind of business environment that motivates employers to stay here. The VCGB strategic messaging has two major components: "Grow Your Business, Live Your Life" to attract business expansion and "The Best Decision You Ever Made" to engage local employers and share information about no-cost and low-cost resources to help businesses thrive and grow. Both messages present a value-based proposition, support the individuality of the county's cities, and also combine city strengths for a stronger regional identity. Since November, outreach has been under way through business publications, press coverage, radio, direct mail, print and online advertising, including a new website (http://www.venturacountygrowsbusiness.com) and Facebook page, as well as presentations to business, government and community groups. This is just the beginning of what must become an ongoing, communitywide effort to retain and grow businesses and jobs in Ventura County. With federal resources ending this month, we urge our partners to continue to drive and fund the outreach effort. For more information about the "perks" of our region, please visit http://www.venturacountygrowsbusiness.com and Facebook. Think about what appeals to you, and then share your enthusiasm with family, friends and colleagues. You will be helping to spread the word about why it's great to live, work and do business in Ventura County.
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