Fireside Chat with Hilary Bryant – CEO Surf Challenge

Photo by Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz Sentinel
Santa Cruz, California Vice Mayor Hilary Bryant heads out to the waves with a backpack of water-sealed copies of ‘Kindred’ on Monday April 23.

Most Santa Cruzans that know of Hilary Bryant know that she has a love of being outdoors– especially surfing. In the past, she was known to have one-on-one surf lessons as well as being spotted on West Cliff with her surfboard hanging off the side of her beach cruiser. But in this most recent term of being Mayor of Santa Cruz, Hilary Bryant has had one heck of a year. With all the tragedies that happened in Santa Cruz, it’s finally time to start a new conversation– and she’s doing it her way.

Transcribed here is the informal chat I had with Hilary about the CEO Surf Challenge while sitting in the Atrium of the Museum of Art and History.

Esther: I know this event came out of Civinomicon 2013 (A civic engagement conference that happened from Nov 15-17 in the Cruzio Internet Building located in Downtown Santa Cruz). But how did this event actually come together?

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Hilary: It was actually a suggestion of a gentleman by the name of Bud Colligan who runs South Swell Ventures. It was after we had a great breakout session with the local economy group. We had just been discussing about the ideas that had come out of the group and he mentioned that he’d seen that I  often do for charity events things like donate a day with the mayor, or a surf lesson with the mayor. And he said, “Have you ever thought of doing this for the CEOs of Silicon Valley?” And it just had never crossed my mind to go beyond the Santa Cruz community with it. And his thought at the time was kind of just to bring them over just to have a conversation about, not just is it a great place to surf, but as being a great place to do business.

Esther: What did you want to come out of the CEO Surf Challenge?

Hilary: In the moment when we created it, it wasn’t really an event that we had really thought through. Or something that I thought people would have any interest in. Now, part of what I hope to have happen is really a casual way to have a conversation with people from the Silicon Valley about all the things that are happening in Santa Cruz– not just the outdoor recreation front, but in terms of technology and the entrepreneurial community, but also that it’s a great place to live, it’s a great place to do business. Even if it doesn’t bring companies over here, it changes that conversation about how people perceive Santa Cruz. I think there’s a lot of misconception about it, especially in the Silicon Valley. I think a lot of times, people say there’s not a lot of follow through in why people live and work in our community. They think they have this perception of the university and a bunch of kids who are partying and not getting things done. They really take the old messages that used to perhaps come out of Santa Cruz more and that’s become all that Santa Cruz is about. This is an opportunity to, not ‘rebrand’ ourself, because that’s looking at a much bigger thing, but just to start a new, fresh conversation. And it’s been interesting to see the feedback that I’ve gotten about the event. And in part, it’s not, in my mind, the intent to just recruit CEOs and make it just focused on trying to bring companies here. It’s really about trying to start that conversation. So going forward, one of the biggest concerns I have about this community is how many people drive over the hill to work every day. And when those people go over the hill to work, they’re not spending time in Santa Cruz, they’re spending time in their car rather than being in our community doing all the great things that you can in our community and spending money in our community. It really is a great detriment to our tax base to have everybody commuting over the hill for jobs.

Esther: A fresh conversation is exactly what we need. How do you expect bringing together the CEOs will actually do this?

Hilary: Even the one person that we have that has interest so far is somebody who is familiar with Santa Cruz, has thought about bringing her company to Santa Cruz, and wants to know more about what’s happening here. That’s perfect! If we get one of those compensations out of this event, then the event is a success. Honestly, that to me is a win already. If someone thought, “Well maybe this might be a place to explore, and here’s an opportunity.” I envision not just leaders in local government, but local business leaders to be there too. And at the same time we’ll do it in a fun way so people can see some of the reasons a lot of us really like being here.

Esther: How have you seen the community come together with this event?

Hilary: It’s been surprising to me the response that I’ve received so far. But there are a lot of local business owners that have volunteered services or to be a part of it in very unexpected ways– not just from the tourism industry, but from a a variety of different types of businesses. And I think part of the reason that people have been wanting to be involved is not about the event per se, but about the opportunity to change the conversation. Just to say that there’s a reaon why we’re so committed to this community and there’s a reason why we have our businesses here. There’s a real struggle at some level to businesses go to the point and then people say, “Well if you want that business to go any more, you’ll have to go over the hill.” That’s a conversation that we should have very honestly within this community of how can we have that not always be the case. What can we do better to keep those businesses from going over the hill? Or when people are looking for employment, does it always have to be, “Do I have to get on the Google Bus or the Apple Bus?” Are there companies here that I can look at for not the same salary level, but still have all the great things about being in Santa Cruz?”

– End of Conversation – 

Sponsors for this event (so far) include:

Hotel Paradox
Dream Inn


Event info page:

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