With the population in the heavily growing Santa Clarita Valley expected to increase by 100 percent in 20 years, many business leaders in the community fear that local highways will not be able to absorb that growth.

Santa Clarita business advocate Connie Worden-Roberts is known locally as the area's "road warrior" for her efforts in improving Santa Clarita's highway accessibility. As such, she started her own business, the Transportation Management Association, to help with those efforts and to employ local residents. She also serves on various Santa Clarita transportation committees to help get better infrastructure installed to serve businesses and residents.

In her role as co-chairwoman of the SCV Transportation Alliance, Worden-Roberts has advocated for the building of a $245 million, six-lane cross-valley connector, which will travel from State Route 14 over to State Route 126.

The building of the connector is complete except for construction of a $30 million bridge that will being at Golden Valley Road, cross over the top of Soledad Canyon Road and end on the Newhall portion of the road. The connector will be complete by early 2009.

The connector, Worden-Roberts said, will ease traffic flow for people traveling from the neighboring Antelope Valley and the eastern portion of the SCV to the industrial centers west of Interstate 5.

To that end, Worden-Roberts also advocates for improvements to the I-5. The number of trucks using that highway monthly has doubled from 500,000 to 1 million.

The interstate, she said, needs additional truck and carpool lanes on both sides of the highway. Those improvements are vital to accommodate the fast-growing Valley, which is adding a new industrial center located off Hasley Canyon Road that is expected to bring an additional 80,000 jobs to the area. It is approximately 15 percent complete and will take 15-20 years to reach full capacity. A future 21,000-home development in Newhall Ranch, which will start development next year, is expected to bring 60,000 new residents to the Valley.

Worden-Roberts sat down with the Business Journal to talk about the area's growing pains and the state of business in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Q: How will the new industrial center on Hasley Canyon Road help retain jobs in the area?

A:

A little more than 50 percent of the Santa Clarita Valley work force, still goes south to the Los Angeles area for employment. It's a huge issue to us. I would so much rather see them stay up here, which is why I'm happy about the development of the new industrial center. It could provide up to 80,000 jobs. So if more people could stay up here, if (area developer) Newhall/Lennar could find Fortune 500 companies that pay a good salary, we can keep our people up here instead of seeing them go south every day and that would improve their quality of life. They could spend more time with their families. The cross-valley connector will help ease traffic.

Q: Does the area's lack of roads play a part in the fact that more than half of the workforce goes south to work or does it just make it harder for them to leave?

A:

I think it makes it harder for them to leave. We have pretty good infrastructure. We have adequate parks. We have very good police and sheriff service. I think we're the safest city in California. Our schools are good. The shopping is good and getting better. The (Valencia) Town Center is looking to expand with 60 new stores and I think four or five new restaurants. They have adequate space in the land area and they've centered themselves in such a way that they take advantage of our main thoroughfares so they're in the center of the roadways that run through our Valley. As we grow, we'll attract more people to shop local. Currently, there's a lot of leakage people who would rather have more opportunities to go to a greater number of shops and go over the hill to shop. We must balance housing and jobs. I see it as being formidable but doable.

Q: A lot of people are under the impression that the industrial centers in Santa Clarita are at capacity. Is this correct?

A:

That's incorrect. The new industrial center on Hasley Canyon Road is already getting a lot of good corporations that are located up there. There are a number of good firms that have relocated up there or located up there initially.

Q: What kind of businesses is the center attracting so far?

A:

Companies like Ultraviolet Devices, Inc.: they manufacture ultraviolet devices, but they have markets all over the world. And there are other companies there where their market area is indeed worldwide. So it will attract other high-tech industries primarily. There can be some manufacturers too. It would be clean manufacturing. It couldn't be with big smoke stacks or something like that. They could bring in product and turn it into something.

Q: What companies are there now?

A:

Pharmavite, Del West Engineering, Remo Drums, Chocolates a la Carte. There are some office buildings too. The continuous development of this area means you'll have a good workforce. We'll have more high-tech, more high-paying jobs so the opportunity to make a livable wage will grow exponentially.

Q: What kinds of problems are those businesses going to be looking at? Will infrastructure problems be one of their biggest challenges?

A:

I think the location won't be a problem at all. A company that manufactures products that need to be shipped by truck will be very concerned about the availability of lanes and capability of delivery time. If they get stuck on the I-5 or if it takes them eight hours to deliver something that should only take them two hours, certainly that will be a practical matter. The other thing about it is you have to be concerned about employees. If you have one of those companies that is moving from, say, Kansas to here and you brought a few of your employees with you, there is the issue of salaries how much you pay will determine the quality or availability of employees for you. They may have difficulty getting people to move here. And maybe when the folks come out here and look at the home prices in Valencia, they may say it's too much money. Not long ago, just before the market dropped some, the average price in the Valencia area, in fact the whole Santa Clarita Valley, was $600,000. Now it's less than that. But that might still be sticker-shock to someone from the Midwest.

Q: What is the role of the Valencia Transportation Center in helping businesses?

A:

Although I chair the transportation committee for both the chamber of commerce and the industrial center, my business is called Transportation Management Association. My business is a separate entity from VIA and the chamber of commerce. It's a 501(c)(3) corporation. I've always been kind of a business entrepreneur. I have a couple of board members who assist me. The reason I formed TMA is to find local jobs for people who would otherwise go over the hill. My tenants are all people who, if they weren't here, would otherwise be in the San Fernando Valley. As we grow, they grow. K-9 has three offices with 40 employees. A business with women engineers who deal with road issues has five offices here. The Gateway Coalition petitions for roads. Someone just left but for a good reason. Their company is expanding and they outgrew their space.

Q: How did you get the road warrior title?

A:

I think it's because everywhere I go to speak, I'm speaking about roads we need, roads we need to improve, roads that hopefully we will see built to accommodate growth here in the Valley.

Q: How is the business climate now in the SCV?

A:

I think it's very positive right now. I think there's a little fear of it becoming a little bit worse. But right now it's very positive.

SNAPSHOT - Connie Worden-Roberts
Titles: President of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, 2002; President of the Valencia Industrial Center, 1999; Four-time Santa Clarita Valley Woman of the Year award recipient; President of the Transportation Management Center; Member of the VIA and SCV Chamber of Commerce board of directors; Former board member of the Hart Union High School District and former director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Santa Clarita Valley; Director, SCV Congress of Republicans; Chairwoman of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce's Transportation Committee; Fifth District Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich's appointee to the North County Transportation Coalition; and co-chairwoman of the SCV Transportation Alliance.
Born: Minnesota
Little-Known Fact: Worden-Roberts is a relative of former Lancaster Mayor Frank Roberts by marriage.
Personal: Son, Leon, and grandson, Jake, 7
Favorite Saying: "I get depressed when I don't have a lot to do."