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Business looks good in North County

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North County is headed into a solid year, despite all of the doom and gloom economic predictions for the San Diego County area. We are seeing record spending in transportation, hotel construction, commercial building, industrial development and even new housing.

The North County Transportation District just completed its latest mass transit project, the Sprinter. The $480 million light-rail train system runs between Oceanside and Escondido. The 22-mile line connects commuters along the state Route 78 corridor to the Coaster and Breeze bus routes. Poseidon Resources Corp. is working to build a $300 million desalination plant in Carlsbad. NRG Energy, owners of the Encinas Power Station, has proposed plans to build a modern power plant on the site of an old, oil-burning one. The goal is to produce an environmentally safer plant that will allow for the redevelopment of the beachfront site.

The Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa, a 700-room resort and timeshare facility with ocean views, recently opened its doors. Legoland California is spending $20 million on a new attraction that features its first dark ride, which debuted March 10, and a 40,000-square-foot aquarium that will open later this year. Two new Hilton Hotel Corp. hotels also recently opened in Carlsbad, adjacent to McClellan-Palomar Airport.

Also in Carlsbad, 24 Hour Fitness opened a new corporate facility. The Olympic Resort Hotel was purchased by Pacific Health Clubs and is undergoing a total renovation that will include banquet facilities, new hotel rooms and a 100,000-square-foot health club.

Thanks to a $198 million bond measure passed by voters in November 2006, a new Carlsbad high school will begin construction. Two million feet of commercial, retail and industrial space is currently under way, and a major multimillion-dollar remodel of the Carlsbad Village will begin this year. Oceanside, Vista, Encinitas, San Marcos and Escondido also are experiencing a surge in building and job growth. All of this is great news for the community.

When the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce first banded together in 1923, it represented a population of around 1,500 people. By 1926, the chamber had a membership of nearly 25 percent of the community. This was nearly 30 years before the area would become incorporated as a city. From the beginning, people who lived and worked in Carlsbad have taken an active role in its growth and well being by focusing on traditional chamber of commerce concerns: smart business, residential development and the promotion and protection of commerce. The enduring commitment that the Carlsbad community has demonstrated was born from both desire and necessity. The area is one of the most desirable destinations on earth and it lures people and business interests from around the world.

At the same time, the cost of doing business and living in the community has grown. Today, the Carlsbad Chamber has a membership of more than 1,600 businesses, large and small, that employ more than 65,000 people. The chamber speaks for and to its members on a daily basis and has designed a wide variety of business programs to help stimulate economic growth. The chamber's annual Business Expo allows businesses to network and learn about services within the community. This is one of several business referral services that help members promote their products and services to other members and local residents. In a community filled with small businesses, these kinds of programs prove essential to survival. The chamber also puts on the largest one-day street faire in the nation. The Carlsbad Village Street Faire takes place each year on the first Sunday in November and May.

The chamber has become a conduit of information of sorts for the city of Carlsbad. During its recent finance and goal-setting workshop, the Carlsbad City Council heard numerous reports from its senior staff about several major projects that will move forward this year. Car Country Carlsbad will soon begin public hearings for the expansion of Hoehn Motors, which wants to build a luxury auto sales area for Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Land Rover on the west side of Interstate 5, next to the wastewater treatment facility.

The county of San Diego is planning to begin the process of extending the runway at McClellan-Palomar Airport by 1,200 feet to better accommodate future jet service. In addition, the city is about to embark on a multiyear update of the master plan, which may deal with the rapid rise in the number of homes 5,000 square feet and larger being built in the Carlsbad area. The city also is moving forward on the Ponto Beachfront Village Vision Plan, which encompasses about 50 mostly vacant acres at the southern end of Carlsbad. The plan envisions a mix of resorts, hotels, condominiums, shops, restaurants, a park and trails.

The chamber works closely with businesses, government agencies and the city to create, develop and maintain cutting edge polices and practices that encourage pro-business legislation and action. The chamber accepts its role of promoting corporate citizenship to develop mutually beneficial, interactive and trusting relationships between a business enterprise and its many stakeholders -- including employees, customers, communities, suppliers and nonprofit organizations -- through the implementation of the company's thoughtful business strategies and operating practices. The chamber serves as conduit among these many parties to assure that the community at large benefits from the presence of the businesses in the area.

Owen is president and CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.

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