As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering effects on economies everywhere, we’ll be taking a closer look at the movers and shakers, the growth of industries, and what’s really driving the Santa Cruz County economy. I’ll be spotlighting some of the biggest areas for opportunity, updates on local development and all things underpinning the regional business scene, each Wednesday.
Santa Cruz County tests out digital wallet in mobile app
As part of its efforts to improve access to government services, the county introduced a digital wallet component to the My Santa Cruz County mobile app. MySCCounty+, available in both Android and Apple app stores, integrates existing mobile app services (such as voter registration, reporting code violations and restaurant inspection lookups) with new digital wallet functionality, which allows residents to purchase and store permits.
To start, the digital wallet has been rolled out for the county’s recreational vehicle permitting program. Depending on how that performs, the county will add additional services, according to county spokesman Jason Hoppin. HUBML, a San Diego-based tech company, is providing the blockchain-based digital wallet, a partnership approved earlier this year.
The update follows a national trend as more governments look to improve online access to services. In a release this week, HUMBL CEO Brian Foote said Santa Cruz County’s rollout marked what’s believed to be the first digital wallet in any major county government in the U.S.
“Municipal governments can now interact more seamlessly with their constituents through digital wallets, verified profiles and improved transactional databases using our modular application,” said Foote.
State officials increase law enforcement to crack down on retail theft
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced ramped-up efforts to combat organized retail crime in the state as the holiday shopping season begins. The California Highway Patrol will increase its presence in key retail districts in Southern California, the Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento. The state’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force also will be increasing its enforcement efforts.
The move comes as retail theft continues to make national headlines, particularly in San Francisco, where a number of national retailers have blamed rampant theft for their departures from the city.
Earlier this year, Newsom announced that he was sending more than $267 million to 55 cities and counties to increase arrests and prosecutions for organized retail crime. Santa Cruz County wasn’t a focus for this funding, but neighboring Santa Clara and San Mateo counties were, as was the city of Salinas in Monterey County.
Organized retail crime differs from shoplifting. The National Retail Federation, the largest retail trade association, defines it as “the large-scale theft of retail merchandise with the intent to resell the items for financial gain.” As CNBC reported last month, retailers are lobbying Congress to crack down by signing the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act.
So far, this hasn’t been a major issue locally, since these crimes tend to focus on bigger stores with higher-end merchandise such as Apple stores. Such incidents have happened in Monterey and throughout the Bay Area, however. And while not specific to retail, local cannabis business owners are sounding the alarm in light of several burglaries they believe are being carried out by an organized group.
ICYMI: Major downtown Santa Cruz rental housing projects near completion
The first residents of one of the new downtown housing construction projects could begin moving in as soon as February. The Cedar Street Family Apartments, an affordable housing complex, also includes two ground-floor retail spaces, which have yet to be leased. Read Wallace Baine’s full piece here.
Ch-ch-changes: Openings, closings and other developments
Ristorante Italiano closes, Cafe Mare transitions: Two longtime Santa Cruz Italian restaurants are making big changes. Ristorante Italiano in Branciforte Plaza on Soquel Avenue has closed. Cafe Mare’s last day under current ownership was this past weekend; the owners of Sugo Italian Pasta Bar, former employees of Cafe Mare, will take over. Read more from Lily Belli here.
Pajaronian closing Watsonville office: The Pajaronian newspaper is closing its office on Brennan Street this week. Reporters and advertising employees will continue to work in the field, but operations will be consolidated with the company’s other Santa Cruz County publications (including Good Times) at its office in downtown Santa Cruz. Publisher and owner Dan Pulcrano said the closure follows an unsuccessful bid in 2021 to purchase the Porter Building in downtown Watsonville. Pajaro Valley Arts purchased the building in August 2022 thanks in part to a $1 million donation from what the arts organization said was an angel donor.
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Looking at the numbers
210: That’s where Scotts Valley-based Paystand ranked on this year’s Deloitte Technology Fast 500, an annual listing of the 500 fastest-growing companies in North America. The digital payments company experienced growth of 671% from 2019 to 2022. Also on the list at 160 was Placer.ai, a location analytics company headquartered in Los Altos but with offices in Santa Cruz.
90: That’s the anniversary that Seabright bar Brady’s Yacht Club is marking next month. The Seabright Avenue location opened on Dec. 6, 1933, the day after Prohibition ended.
Save the date
Thursday, Nov. 30: The Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce will hold a ribbon-cutting for Moon Kissed, located at 1360 Pacific Ave., from 5 to 7 p.m. Formerly Serpent’s Kiss, the store moved from its location near the clock tower in September. Moon Kissed specializes in crystals, candles, tarot decks, jewelry and more.
Thursday, Nov. 30: Jazzercise Santa Cruz marks one year at its brick-and-mortar fitness studio in the Capitola Mall with a holiday open house from 4 to 7 p.m. More info here.
Wednesday, Dec. 6: AI Horizons Part 2 will bring industry luminaries together at the Cocoanut Grove in Santa Cruz to talk about this rapidly developing technology. Details here.