Martha Wescoat-Andes, Chico’s economic development manager, works to make conditions just right for budding entrepreneurs
Martha Wescoat-Andes, Chico’s economic development manager, works to make conditions just right for budding entrepreneurs Martha Wescoat-Andes has a vision for Chico. It’s not fully formed; it’s more like an outline, or the bullet-point pages in her PowerPoint presentations on economic development. But it’s vivid.
In her mind’s eye, Chico is a hotbed for cutting-edge businesses. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists make the city their home, drawn by the unique charms of downtown, the beauty of Bidwell Park and the friendliness of the people, both on the street and in City Hall.
They set up businesses consistent with Chico’s priorities—sustainable businesses in every sense of the word. They draw talented, trained employees from Chico State and Butte College. The balance of attractive wages and affordable housing keeps these professionals in town, reducing commutes and increasing patronage of local shops and restaurants.
Don’t confuse this boom with unchecked growth and development. Chico still has its open space—it’s just making better use of land inside the Greenline.
Sounds good in theory, right? Of course—Wescoat-Andes spent more than two decades in academia before taking a job in municipal government, as Chico’s economic development/redevelopment manager.
But this is no abstraction or intellectual exercise. She and other city staffers are actively creating a strategy to nurture the growth of commerce and implement some changes as they go. As Chico grapples with issues related to long-term planning (i.e. the general plan), she’s bringing those efforts front and center.
“I just think as part of the discussion, we need to have the economy of Chico and its impact on the quality of life be there as well,” said Wescoat-Andes, seated at the small, round conference table in her top-floor office at City Hall.
“We’ve talked with each councilmember, and each is concerned with the economy of Chico. … There’s a tremendous amount of consensus to have more opportunities for a young and middle-aged middle class in Chico, to raise the bar and the sense of opportunity here. I anticipate the common ground is not just council alignment but community alignment.”
Wescoat-Andes has experience galvanizing support. As vice president of administration at Butte College, she spearheaded the successful Measure A bond that has funded a series of new buildings.
“I like public-sector initiatives that are ambitious,” she said, which is one of the main reasons why, after 13 years at the college, she accepted her new job in June. She has a bachelor’s degree in government from Smith College and an M.B.A. in strategic planning from Columbia; “this position joins the two.”
It also focuses her attention on where she has the most personal attachment.
Five years into a job at UC Davis overseeing budgeting, planning and city issues, she met a Chico man at a wedding. Theirs was a medium-distance relationship for three years until she took the VP post at Butte.
She and Steve Andes, a teacher at Marigold Elementary, have three children. Will, their 12-year-old son, was born prematurely on the one-year anniversary of their wedding; he lost his hearing but now, thanks to a cochlear implant, is a mainstream student at Marsh. Gillian is a fourth-grader at Marigold, and her sister, Sydney, is a first-grader at McManus.
Her impetus to increase opportunities in Chico is clear.
“This is more than a college town, more than a nice place to retire,” Wescoat-Andes said. “It’s a great place for people to live, play and work.”
Sounds like a catchy description.