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Escondido hears update on Innovate 78 movement

ESCONDIDO — Name recognition gives a big edge in attracting business and commerce to a region.

Slowly the Innovate 78 brand is gaining traction around the state and especially throughout San Diego County.

Last week, the Escondido City Council approved a memorandum of understanding with Carlsbad, Vista, Oceanside, San Marcos and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation to become the contract administrator for the next two years.

Michelle Geller, management analyst in the Escondido city manager’s office, said the MOU is more of a formality and Escondido’s role is part of the plan to rotate between the five cities’ administrator duties. Carlsbad held the post when Innovate 78 launched two years ago.

The contract, meanwhile, is for $125,000 between the five cities with each contributing an additional $13,000 per year. According to Geller, Escondido has set aside $40,000 for the next year.

“We promote the region as a great place to do business,” Geller said. “It’s our core value. We are home to leading companies … and we are a world-class tourist destination.”

Matt Sanford, director of SD Regional Economic Development Corporation, updated the council on the progress of the EDC’s efforts to attract and cultivate business and industry along the Highway 78 corridor.

Sanford said the EDC, and the Innovate 78 name, is expanding business, retention and attraction efforts. In addition, talent attraction is a focal point, especially since forecasts through 2050 project the county’s population rising by 1 million people.

He also touched on efforts with industry and university alignments, including California State University San Marcos and Palomar College.

“We want to make sure employers have the right capacities,” Sanford said. “To make sure all those people coming here are coming for the right reasons.”

As for the branding efforts, Sanford reported it has taken time, but using the EDC’s resources has made an impact. Geller said the Innovate 78 name has spread statewide, noting at a conference in San Francisco.

The Innovate 78 website launched about 13 months ago and has steadily increased its traffic, Sanford said. The site highlights major companies and industries in each city, while directing prospective businesses through the advantages of North County.

It also includes video content, relevant information about each city such as schools, attractions and population. Sanford said social media campaigns are growing and the EDC, through site selectors, follows up with site contractors to push the corridor.

He said companies have found sites in Escondido through the website plus going through the county, which then turned them to the EDC and Innovate 78. Sanford said a company from the Midwest is also looking to relocate to the region as a result of the online efforts.

As for the site selectors, Sanford said a January tour given to eight people was a success.

“Everybody was blown away. They had no idea this was here,” he added. “That type of exposure is not going to pay off today or tomorrow, but as they work with clients, they will remember that. We are following up with all those site selectors.”

Sanford said talent acquisition would also focus on universities in the county and in Los Angeles including UCLA, USC, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, Cal Tech and Chapman College.

Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, along with the council, has championed Innovate 78 since its inception and applauded Geller and Sanford for their work.

“We have engaged with the San Diego EDC, making visits, identifying clusters and need,” Abed said. “If you want to grow, we are here to help you. We have improved a lot of things. I believe it’s a model for the country.”

Councilwoman Olga Diaz raised concerns about the city’s budget and if it could afford the $38,000 price tag. Mitchell said it is recommended for the next budget and is cost effective for the city.

“It gives us leveraging, but a consulting contract also gives us information,” he said. “We can call the regional EDC and are getting leads. It is cost effective even more so than hiring staff. Per dollar, it’s a good investment.”

Councilman Ed Gallo, meanwhile, was concise in his support for the venture.

“Escondido was the first city to jump on it,” he said. “Without economic development, you’re dying. If you don’t grow, you’re dead.”