SANTA CRUZ -- Dozens of public and private sector leaders gathered Monday at UC Santa Cruz to hear scenarios for the local economy to prosper.
The discussion was organized by the Santa Cruz County Business Council after a trip to learn from Boulder, Colo.
"Likely there will be a center for game design," said Art Ramirez, UCSC engineering dean. "It could be Santa Cruz."
Ramirez contended game design could break away from the trend for local tech startups to be acquired and move jobs over the hill.
"Game designers want to be here because of the recreational assets," Ramirez said.
Serious game design is a "high-value add," he said, noting it can be accomplished by just a few people, which means less environmental impact, and is being used in diplomacy, military training and online education.
UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal agreed game design is a UCSC strength along with bioinformatics. Cancer genome researchers recently won a $3.5 million federal grant.
Former Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty, speaking as co-founder of Nextspace Co-vorking and co-author of "The Rise of the Naked Economy," proposed to capitalize on ag and organics.
"We're at the intersection of food and technology," he said. "We could grow the TED of Food."
Jess Brown of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau noted Driscoll's, the berry company based in Watsonville, expanded to operate worldwide and hires people with doctorates to do research.
Carmen Herrera-Mansir of El Pajaro Community Development said 60 entrepreneurs are on a waitlist to use the new community kitchen in Watsonville, due to open in mid-July.
Santa Cruz Mayor Hilary Bryant, a UCSC alum, proposed Santa Cruz as the capital of outdoor recreation.
She cited wetsuit pioneer O'Neill, NHS, the skateboard company with a red-dot logo known worldwide, and three of the best surfboard shapers, Bob Pearson, Doug Haut and Johnny Rice, plus mountain biking, disc golf, golf, tennis, basketball (Warriors), surfing, sailing and kayaking.
She noted Santa Cruz was home to PrivacyChoice, a startup acquired in May by web security firm AntiVirus Guard, and is home to Looker Data Science, where founder Lloyd Tabb is hiring software talent.
Charles Canfield of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk cited regulatory challenges.
"The Warriors took three months," he said. "My projects take forever."
He wanted to rebuild La Bahia, an aging 100-room complex on Beach Street, but the Coastal Commission voted 6-4 against it.
"You'd think we were building the Empire State Building," Canfield said.
"Solve problems in advance for new business," urged Len Losik of Failure Analysis in Capitola.
Other needs are broadband for faster Internet and county collaboration to solve traffic congestion.
Business Council President Bob Murphy said the next step is dialogue between business and government to "identify goals we can work on together."
Margaret Rosas of TechRaising said, "We have an opportunity to level up. How do we take it to the next level?"
Follow Sentinel reporter Jondi Gumz at Twitter.com/jondigumz