Santa Cruz becomes the place Silicon Valley wants to be

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Sticking out like a surfboard in a cubicle farm, Santa Cruz has risen to the top of Silicon Valley’s hot spots for 2014. It’s a top 5 tech mecca for the coming year, according to Silicon Valley Business Journal, and the only one of the bunch with local culture that rises above strip malls, fast food and bad haircuts.

According to author Lauren Hepler

Hippie beach enclave no more? A gaggle of politicians, entrepreneurs and deep-pocketed investors want to diversify from Santa Cruz County’s $500-million-a-year reliance on summer tourism.

Look for Surf City startups like co-working company NextSpace and business intelligence firm Looker to spur more entrepreneurial activity as politicians push for better broadband and increased telecommuting to Silicon Valley proper.

In recent years, Santa Cruz has radically transformed its market positioning and image: it’s now a young, cool and techie Silicon Valley beach town, not a 1960s vintage work-free drug zone. A counter-culture underside still simmers, but Santa Cruz is showing a 21st century cleantech face to the world, and the world is noticing.

Supervisor Zach Friend, mayor Hillary Bryant and venture capitalist Bud Colligan distinguished themselves as local leaders this year, and can rightly take bows for Santa Cruz’s high tech makeover. But they are building on a campaign of disruption and geek activism that began in 2007, and many can take credit for it.

With no slight meant to anyone’s passion, action and success, I’d like call out for special honors Margaret Rosas, who breathed life into SantaCruzGeeks and made technology social; Jeremy Neuner and Ryan Coonerty, who launched a commercial real estate revolution – NextSpace – at the nadir of a global crash; and Peter Koht, who was so good at disrupting city government from the inside that the Knight Foundation gave him the cash to do it on a national scale. Young entrepreneurs, like Sol Lipman, Shane Pearlman and Sean Tario didn’t bother to think outside of the box, they just ignored it. With forums to build on like Sara isenberg’s Santa Cruz Tech Beat, the New Tech Meetup and Civinomics, this new community will thrive.

Thank you for 2014!

And a h/t to Sara for tipping me off on this story – good luck in the New Year.

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