By Haddon Libby
When it comes to starting a business, the Coachella Valley does not have a competitive edge over many other places throughout the Southwest. As a result, our area has to develop its own opportunities as state taxes and a lack of skilled workers serve as impediments to the growth of quality, higher paying jobs.
Over the last week, there were two events that highlighted the efforts being made by local people – “Slow Money” and “Pitch the Angels”.
Last Monday, Slow Money made their first appearance in the Coachella Valley. Held at ShareKitchen, Slow Money is a group that looks to bring local food to local people by bringing local investors and entrepreneurs together.
At present, food made locally is shipped other places where it is packaged and shipped back to us. We then pay more and have no idea where our food is coming from. The Slow Money discussion was a first step in changing this.
Involved in the discussion were local foragers for Whole Foods Market and local entrepreneurs like Sky Island Organics, food distributor SOL (acronym for Sustainable, Organic & Local), North Shore Living Herbs, Truelicious, Brandini, Que Mami Organics, Sage Mountain Farms, Just Me Sweets, Farmer’s Markets, ShareKitchen and local angel investors.
The general feeling was that local producers struggle when competing with mega firms and farms. Mega producers typically produce a lower quality product while hurting local economic systems as consumers often buy the lowest cost product over healthier, higher quality and more expensive product. Farmers in the room felt that consumers need to make a conscious effort to buy local whenever possible in order to help support the local economy.
A few days earlier on Earth Day, CVEP (Coachella Valley Economic Partnership) hosted “Pitch the Angels” at the UCR Palm Desert campus. Modeled after the popular television show “Shark Tank”, four start-up businesses presented their ideas to a panel of angel investors. The angels were Mike Napoli of Tech Coast Angels, E. Ted Daniels, Entrepreneur and Business Coach, and yours truly, co-founder of ShareKitchen and investment banker.
Presenters included Marlene Bradley, founder of Footsie Wraps which is a women’s sock that ties above the ankle creating a bow on each foot. Bradley has sold more than 5,000 units and is in a number of stores in California. Her challenge is quickly scaling her business before a large company appropriates her idea.
Also presenting was Gideon Cohn and Gidco Turfroot – installer of subsurface irrigation systems. Given the drought affecting California, his company should benefit as companies and water agencies look for ways to reduce water usage.
Other presenters included John Manning and his prototype bathroom assistant for the handicapped and Brad Tinkhams’ window coating system that heats homes.
Both events highlighted the fact that outside the city of Palm Springs, there is virtually no local governmental support for start-up and small businesses. Given that the Coachella Valley has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation with many jobs being poorly paid, government needs to provide some support for those trying to improve the job base.
The obvious choice is the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG). This group could lead the charge and get others in government focused on improving the job base. Instead, CVAG is focused on building a valley-wide bike path with no programs in support of business development.
Others who we need to urge to help in small business development are the Riverside Board of Supervisors and our representative, John Benoit; our State Assemblymen, Chad Mayes and Eduardo Garcia; State Senator Jeff Stone, US House Representative Raul Ruiz and soon-to-be retiring US State Senator and valley resident, Barbara Boxer.
Next time that you see an elected leader, ask them to help out in the creation of good paying jobs in the Coachella Valley.