Towards the end of the annual State of the City luncheon for Solvang, longtime business owner Bent Olsen asked the new Mayor of Solvang Ryan Toussaint if he would bring back a live Christmas tree for the next holiday season.

“This was the busiest year I can remember, perhaps because Solvang was named one of the most Christmassy towns in the country, so why didn’t we have a live tree in the park,” Olsen asked. 

Olsen is known for his large gingerbread houses he makes at Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery, with one on display every year at Hotel Corque in Solvang. 

Olsen said he would contribute the first $1,000 towards purchasing a live tree for the next season, and Toussaint said he would match that contribution. 

Quickly Kenny Esko Lama NewYork who owns Esko Esko, a souvenir shop on Alisal Road said he would donate $3,000 towards a live tree. 

“I think that was the fastest fundraising we’ve ever had,” said Tracy Farhad, executive director of the Solvang Conference and Visitor’s Bureau. 

More than 170 people from city leaders, staff members, business owners and residents together to hear about the state of Solvang’s finances, projects and plans for the upcoming year at the annual luncheon. 

To start the lunch Pacific Coast Business Times founder and CEO Henry Dubroff talked about the business community on the Central Coast and how unique Solvang is in which it relies heavily on tourism. 

“The Central Coast recently had three companies go public and made a significant capital to grow their companies. It’s remarkable that the tri-counties (Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo) are rivaling markets in New York,” Dubroff said. 

He then introduced Raiza Giorgi, publisher of the Santa Ynez Valley Star. Giorgi started the Star in February 2016 and has turned a monthly publication into a bi-monthly one. She talked about the importance of local news, the road that led her to create a print newspaper in a digital world, and the way she uses the best of both worlds to communicate.

“Local news drives conversation and brings community together. You can’t get the stories that matter to our local community on national news,” Giorgi said. 

She added that advertising in local media also drives community engagement with local business, and by advertising in a local market it increases revenue typically three times, and adding digital it increases return on investment five times. 

“Advertising once and expecting results isn’t realistic. It takes a consumer 10 times at a minimum of seeing an ad to recall it,” Giorgi said. 

Giorgi said effective ad campaigns are ones that offer a ‘call to action’ to get the consumer to their website or bring in a coupon. 

After Giorgi’s speech Toussaint gave a report on the City of Solvang departments and upcoming projects and issues to address. Well 22 is also being brought online which will enhance the access for groundwater for Solvang. There is also a plan for upgrading the city’s Wastewater Treatment plant. 

“We are looking into combining the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) and the Planning Commission which might be happening soon,” he said. 

Interim City Manager Rick Haydon said that he is grateful to be in Solvang helping during the process of finding a new city manager since Brad Vidro retired in December. 

“I’ve worked for a lot of cities, and very few have the unique situation like Solvang where most of the general fund revenue comes from tourism,” he said. 

For the 2017-18 year Solvang reported a total revenue of $17.3 million, a general fund revenue of $8.8 million. 

He showed how the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) has been on a steady incline and making almost half ot he budget for the general fund, with a bit of a plateau last year due to the disasters. 

“We had a lot of firefighters staying in our hotels, which we are happy to have them, but the state doesn’t pay TOT on their rooms. Also with Highway 101 shut down for quite a while that hurt business, but there is a bit of a spike just after it reopened,” Haydon said. 

Haydon praised the efforts of Tracy Farhad along with her team at the SCVB and said he thought they were one of the best CVBs he’s worked with. Also with Beard’s efforts at the Chamber which is keeping Solvang a strong community. 

Going over sector by sector, restaurants had the most sales tax, followed bu general retail and then construction. 

“Areas of revenue leakage and where I can see room for improvement include auto sales and service like gas stations, appliance sales and maintenance businesses,” Haydon said. 

Toussaint then closed the luncheon by talking about new projects like a shade structure going up in Solvang Park, updating of the tennis courts and addition of pickle ball courts at Hans Christian Andersen Park, and the bathrooms in the Solvang Veteran’s Memorial hall being updated. 

“I want to say a huge thank you and if we can applaud our former Mayor Jim Richardson and Councilwoman Joan Jamieson for their combined service of more than 20 years,” Toussaint said. 

The room burst into applause as Richardson and Jamieson stood up and waved.