Originally published in the North Coast Journal.

The piquant aroma of fresh garlic bread and marinara greeted those who went to the Orick Community Center last Saturday to hear just what this Ryan Sundberg, candidate for Humboldt County Supervisor from the Fifth District, was all about. And while diners scarfed down cake and spaghetti, Sundberg, who speaks softy yet confidently, talked with them one by one, the same theme surfacing in each conversation. Jobs.

The topic touched home for many who were there, especially Orick residents who just recently lost their mill and survive, barely, on the whim of curious tourists. They were concerned over the lack of good-paying jobs and the notorious “brain drain” — talented residents leaving for “greener” pastures — and they were frustrated with the obstacles that blocked the way. Sundberg agreed.

“You either have to get lucky,” Sundberg said of those wanting to stay in the county, “or you have to have a family member that has a business.”

For Sundberg, jobs are a top priority, and he believes the county could host many businesses that pay well, including Internet-based entrepreneurial gigs or green-oriented core industries, if it weren’t for three barriers: lack of broadband access in many areas of the county, an underutilized and expensive shipping infrastructure, and expensive ground transportation for goods.

“In my opinion, Humboldt County is not business-friendly right now,” he said. “Businesses out there are scared to death about what could happen to Humboldt County.”

It’s not to say that Sundberg wants to open the floodgates of development without any concern about the consequences. But he does want growth. He wants local talent to be able to stay local. He wants to see broadband reach communities as far as Orleans and Hoopa. He wants there to be more affordable housing available to those who need it. And he believes in a balanced approach to addressing these issues, one that allows for growth but not at the expense of the environment.

“A steady amount of growth — smart growth — is fine by me,” he said.

His pro-business-and-growth position on issues has earned him substantial financial backing from business bigwigs in the community. However, he asserted that he was nobody’s lackey and is supported by a “broad spectrum” of the community, including environmentalists.

“If you only listen to one circle of people,” he said, “you probably only get half the story.”

As Sundberg made his rounds, a man feasting at one of tables called him over: “I want talk about the mill closing.”