Why South Coast Is Attracting Hundreds Of Tech Companies

Sep 29, 2017

The South Coast is home to hundreds of technology businesses -- from startups to long-established companies. They’re clustered along Highway 101 in what’s called the “101 Tech Corridor.”

Apeel Sciences is an agricultural tech company in Goleta. Its scientists use a coating they create to spray on fruits and vegetables to extend the shelf-life of produce.

“Our research is focused on pulling out molecules from plant waste and applying them back on fresh produce to protect those commodities from desiccation and spoilage,” said Carlos Hernandez, who is a product engineer at Apeel.

The company has about 65 employees and was established five-and-a-half years ago by its CEO, James Rogers.

“The essence of the startup company is that it’s a neverending puzzle and you’re just constantly fitting the pieces together. And the reward for solving the last puzzle is you get a bigger puzzle. And I really enjoy that,” he said.

Apeel is one of many companies along the 101 Tech Corridor.

“It’s an ecosystem. We have lots of different kinds of tech companies with a highly skilled employee base that benefits the region,” said Mike Panesis, the executive director of California Lutheran University’s Center for Entrepreneurship in Thousand Oaks, which promotes business development in the region.

He has seen many tech companies thrive.

“There’s Semtech in Camarillo that’s a semiconductor company. Haas Automation in Oxnard that makes manufacturing equipment. Lynda.com in Carpinteria...education technology. Active Life Scientific, a medical device company that tests bone strength. They’re in Santa Barbara,” Panesis said.

He says the biotechnology company Amgen has played a major role in the tech landscape of the region after it was established in Thousand Oaks in 1980.

“High tech companies, biotech companies, want to be out in a place where it’s quiet and they do their research. They may be away from prying eyes of the establishment community. I would think that Thousand Oaks back then would have been a great place to get going,” Panesis said.

And, UC Santa Barbara – with its heavy scientific research – has helped Santa Barbara County develop into a tech hub. Many of its professors and graduates started their own tech companies in the region.

Rogers, who earned his PhD in materials engineering at UCSB, says it was important for Apeel to be located in the Santa Barbara area because of the availability of fresh produce year-round and so he could hire great scientific minds from UCSB.

“We have a tremendous number and level of quality students coming out of the university with training in physical sciences who now have a connection to the area and would love to have a reason to stay here, and we like to be that reason.”

Panesis says it’s also the lifestyle that attracts tech businesses to the South Coast.

“There’s the fact that we live in such a beautiful area where people want to live,” he said.

That’s the case for Rogers.

“When I walk out the door to my car, I’m on vacation. I’m not going ‘Oh man, I just need to make it three months before I get to take this vacation.' The walk to my car is a vacation. It’s so beautiful here. I think that just let’s you stay fresh. Just makes for a happy, healthier workforce. And I don’t think you can overstate how important that is,” he said.

Panesis says he expects the future of tech on the South Coast to be even brighter.

“I think that this region is well-positioned to be a thought leader and a business leader when it comes to tech companies. We’re only going to become more influential than we are now,” he said.

The Amgen Foundation supports KCLU’s coverage of science and technology stories. CLU is the parent of KCLU Radio.