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Vista's longtime Economic Development Director Kevin Ham is retiring after 21 years at the city.
Vista's Economic Development Director Kevin Ham is retiring after 21 years at the city. Photo courtesy of the City of Vista/The Coast News graphic
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Vista’s longtime economic director retiring, honored with award

VISTA — A regional economic development group recently honored Vista’s Economic Development Director Kevin Ham, who is retiring at the end of the month, with an award in his namesake.

Erik Bruvold, CEO of San Diego North Economic Development Council, announced the inaugural “Kevin Ham Impact Award” during the organization’s third annual awards luncheon on Thursday at the Seabird Resort in Oceanside.

The yearly honor will be awarded to “an individual, public or private sector who catalyzes positive change in North County by bringing people together to do ‘big things.'”

“This award is designed to draw attention to and celebrate people in the economic development sphere in North County who are getting things done,” Bruvold said. “We wanted to have this as an opportunity to call attention to those successes, to celebrate them and make sure that people know about them.” 

Ham, who leaves his position with the city after 21 years, said that he was “honored and humbled” by the award. 

“I think that at the end of our careers we all hope that we’ve had an impact on those that we work with, so to have an award be named for oneself that is the impact award is quite humbling,” Ham said.

In addition to spotlighting several North County businesses and programs, including Alila Marea Resort in Encinitas and the Escondido Grand Avenue Project, the group also honored health care providers Tri-City Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, Palomar Health and Scripps Health for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bruvold, who presented the award to Ham at Thursday’s event, said that no one was more deserving of the honor than Ham, whom he called North County’s “dean of economic development.”

Bruvold credited Ham with helping advance the growth of the Vista Business Park and revitalizing the city’s downtown area, among other accomplishments. 

“(Ham) was instrumental in a whole variety of ways in advancing the Vista Business Park and that’s been a key employment area in all of North County, with around 8 million square feet of industrial space,” Bruvold said. “Kevin really understood the importance of the business park and leaned into seeing it succeed.” 

Vista City Manager Patrick Johnson echoed Bruvold’s sentiments, noting the progress of the Vista Business Park was largely due to Ham’s hands-on approach in building close relationships between the city and small business owners that make up the sector. 

“If you look at the vacancy rate in the Business Park, it’s in the 4th percentile rate, with commercial vacancies under 15%, and overall health of Vista businesses has been really strong even coming out of the pandemic,” Johnson said. “More than anything it’s just the relationship he has with the business community, he really partners with them and just doesn’t settle with businesses coming to Vista but he continues that partnership…his networking has just been huge and that’s allowed him to make a big mark in the business community.” 

Both Johnson and Bruvold also praised the retiring development director for his work in transforming the city’s downtown area. 

“Downtown was a pretty challenged neighborhood at one time…what Kevin was able to do was keep investment interests alive and to help business owners continue to see the value in upgrading their properties and to invest in their properties,” Bruvold said. “Now what you have in downtown Vista is a critical mass that is self-sustaining and has a life of its own, and that’s a testament to him being able to pivot and navigate those changes in a positive way.” 

In addition to the growth of both the downtown corridor and the business park, Ham said that he’s proud that his office was able to facilitate the creation of Innovate78, an economic partnership between the cities of Vista, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Escondido and San Marcos.

The initiative aims to reduce competition over attracting new businesses between individual cities and has played a pivotal role in spurring business creation and incubation in the entire region, Ham said. 

“Kevin exemplifies entrepreneurship,” Bruvold said. “One of his great skillsets is his ability to think outside the box and to make sure that he doesn’t get too bogged down in process and bureaucracy, and that’s allowed him to really thrive and succeed in what he does.”

But just as important as his entrepreneurial character, Bruvold said it was Ham’s ability to bring about collaboration and partnership that had an impact on the region and made him deserving of Thursday’s award. 

“We wanted to establish this award to recognize somebody whose value was in bringing people together, who saw collaboration as key…it’s really been that notion of collaboration and cooperation that’s had an impact on North County,” Bruvold said. 

Prior to his appointment as the city’s development director in 2001, Ham worked in both the public and private sectors at various levels. After working for the State of California for several years, he co-founded an electronic equipment maintenance business that still operates in Kearny Mesa.

Ham later served as the executive director for the Coronado Transportation Management Association and subsequently was Coronado’s director of economic development.

While retirement for him is “bittersweet,” Ham said that he looks forward to continuing to do some consulting work in the public sector, volunteering locally, traveling Europe and becoming fluent in Spanish. 

Noting his deep professional friendships in Vista and beyond, Ham said that he hopes that he leaves a legacy of unity, positivity and a people-oriented approach to economic development.

Correction: Ham’s electronic equipment maintenance business is still operating in Kearny Mesa, not Poway.