DenMat: A leap in the right direction

DenMat’s relocation from Santa Maria to Lompoc is one of the best pieces of news Lompoc has received in quite awhile. The dental products firm employs about 350 people and outgrew its facilities in Santa Maria. It has plans to expand after it completes its relocation to a West Central Avenue location.

Current plans call for its Santa Maria employees to commute to their jobs in Lompoc; ideally, those employees will frequent some local businesses. If, over time, some employees move to Lompoc, or look for other employment closer to home in Santa Maria, creating job opportunities for Lompoc residents, Lompoc gains either way. As new jobs are added, Lompoc gains even more.

DenMat’s relocation is giving Lompoc something it badly needs: new employers and the potential for employment for Lompoc residents. It may take time for the relocation of DenMat to help lower the city’s unemployment rate of 15 percent — nearly the highest in Santa Barbara County —but it’s a step in the right direction that will pay off over time.

“This is the largest single-employer gain since the Space Shuttle. It’s going to put a bunch of folks in Lompoc every day.” — Mayor John Linn

Congratulations, and thanks, to all who were involved in bringing this new employer to our city.

The news of DenMat’s relocation ought to cause City Council members to think more about the possibility of attracting new employers into the city as it continues its months-long discussion of the General Plan update and changes to zoning.

Up to now, it seems much of the zoning discussion is focused on helping property owners avoid improving or updating their buildings to current building standards, with much discussion on “repurposing” buildings by writing codes that will exempt them from improvement. That’s looking inward to satisfy present property owners who have, apparently, not been able to do what they want to do for, apparently, a very long time.

But DenMat’s entry into the city could serve as a wake-up call to spend more time looking outward, envisioning what could be and who and what could add to our city’s floundering economy. And what our floundering economy needs is employers and industry that pay more than minimum wage and offer more than part-time jobs.

DenMat’s decision to move to Lompoc because its facility in Santa Maria could no longer handle its needs is another indicator that attempting to move zoning codes and ordinances forward into the past to please those already here isn’t a winning long-term strategy for a city with a stagnant economy.

Looking inward, a sort of navel gazing, is one piece of the puzzle illustrating a strategic vision for Lompoc’s future, but looking outward to identify opportunities, industries and employers that mesh with what we now have and will contribute to a vibrant economic base and quality of life is equally, if not more, important to determining what the final puzzle looks like. While council members work to please property owners already here, perhaps they can envision pleasing more employers, like DenMat, who aren’t here but could be if we create opportunities and invite them to our city.

And now that the City Council has finally added some teeth to our code enforcement and nuisance abatement policies, perhaps we can begin to clean up our most blighted areas of the city and welcome DenMat employees to a city that’s looking forward to the future and not simply intent on recreating the past.

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