Economy About San Luis Obispo, CA

San Luis Obispo, colloquially known as SLO, is a city on California’s Central Coast. With a population of around 47,000, it is the county seat of San Luis Obispo County. The economy of San Luis Obispo is diverse, with major industries including tourism, education, agriculture, manufacturing, and government services. This article will provide an in-depth look at the various facets of the local economy in SLO.

Major Industries and Employers


Tourism is a huge part of the economy in San Luis Obispo. The city’s idyllic climate, natural beauty, historic downtown, and proximity to attractions like Hearst Castle draw visitors from around the world. Some key facts about tourism in SLO:

  • In 2018, travelers spent $450 million in SLO County, generating around $27 million in local tax revenue.
  • Tourism supports over 5,000 jobs in the county.
  • Popular visitor activities include wine tasting, hiking, biking, shopping downtown, visiting museums and galleries, and enjoying the beaches.
  • Iconic local attractions include Bubblegum Alley, the historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, and the scenic Madonna Inn.

Major employers in the tourism industry include hotels, restaurants, tour companies, transportation services, wineries, retail shops, and entertainment venues. Tourism brings outside dollars into the local economy and helps support small businesses throughout SLO.

California Polytechnic State University

California Polytechnic State University, known as Cal Poly, is a major employer and economic driver in San Luis Obispo. With over 22,000 students, Cal Poly has a huge influence on the city.

  • Cal Poly contributes over $2.3 billion annually to the regional economy and supports more than 9,000 local jobs.
  • The university is the largest employer in SLO County, with over 3,200 faculty and staff.
  • Cal Poly draws students, faculty, and visitors from around the state, nation and world. Their spending supports local businesses.
  • University research, innovation and entrepreneurship lead to new companies and job creation. Over 100 Cal Poly-affiliated startups have launched in SLO.

Cal Poly adds thousands of educated, talented graduates to the workforce every year. It also partners with the city and community on projects that benefit SLO residents.


Agriculture has deep roots in San Luis Obispo County. Some key facts:

  • Agriculture generates over $700 million for the county annually. Wine grapes are the top commodity, followed by strawberries, vegetables, nursery products, and cattle.
  • The county has over 1,300 farms, covering over 270,000 acres.
  • Top agricultural products include wine grapes, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and more. SLO County is one of the nation’s leading producers of many crops.
  • Major employers include fruit and vegetable growers, vineyards and wineries, ranches, nurseries, and supporting industries like equipment suppliers and processing facilities.

Agriculture provides thousands of local jobs. Farming and ranching maintain open space and scenic beauty that attracts visitors. SLO’s farmers markets, agritourism activities, and award-winning wines all stem from the strong ag sector.


Manufacturing employs around 5,000 people in SLO County. Major manufacturing industries include:

  • Aerospace and defense contractors like Excelis, MindFlow and REACH. These firms leverage engineering talent from Cal Poly and proximity to Vandenberg Air Force Base.
  • Food product manufacturing. Companies like Tap It and Tolosa Winery produce beverages, sauces, and other foods.
  • Specialty manufacturing. Firms like Granite Stairworks, Aqua Glass, and Vonfrm craft stone, glass, furniture and more.
  • Value-added agricultural processing. Companies convert local crops into packaged foods, juices, oils and other products.

Manufacturing provides stable, skilled jobs that support the middle class. Custom manufacturers rely on SLO’s culture of craftsmanship and innovation. Large employers like Amazon, Applied Medical and other out-of-town firms have opened manufacturing sites locally.


As the county seat, San Luis Obispo has a major government employment center.

  • The city itself employs around 350 people. Police, firefighters, planners, and other city staff provide services to residents.
  • San Luis Obispo County employs around 2,600 in jobs ranging from administration to public health, roads, libraries, parks and more.
  • The California Men’s Colony prison is a large state employer north of the city, with over 1,300 staff.
  • Federal employers include the Social Security Administration call center, Border Patrol, and U.S. Postal Service.

Government jobs offer good wages and benefits. Income and sales taxes from government workers and contracting help fund city and county services. Policymakers also help shape a business climate that supports private employers.

Small Business Profile

Small businesses are the backbone of San Luis Obispo’s economy. Here are a few fast facts:

  • There are over 5,000 small businesses in the city of SLO. Most have fewer than 10 employees.
  • Retail shops, restaurants, professional services like attorneys and architects, healthcare providers, trades like construction and auto repair, and other service businesses are common.
  • Iconic local brands include Bubblegum Alley, Splash Cafe, Petra Restaurant, SLO Donut Company, Pony Expresso, and more.
  • The downtown business district, home to shops, eateries and services, is a tourist destination. Outdoor events like Thursday Night Farmers Market also attract visitors.
  • Technology firms and startups have blossomed in recent years, supported by Cal Poly talent and resources like the Cal Poly HotHouse incubator.

Small businesses create local flavor and provide most of the city’s jobs. The SLO Chamber of Commerce, Downtown SLO Association, and other groups support small business growth.

Real Estate and Development

San Luis Obispo’s real estate market is limited by geography. With the ocean to the west and hills surrounding the valley, buildable land is scarce.

  • Housing is expensive, with a median home price around $765,000 as of late 2023. Rents are also high for the area, averaging around $2,200 per month.
  • High costs are partly driven by limited housing supply and high demand from students, tourists and affluent second homeowners.
  • Most new construction is infill development and higher-density housing like apartment buildings. Single family homes are increasingly out of reach for middle-class buyers.
  • Commercial and retail space is also limited downtown, with low vacancy rates and high rents. New mixed-use village developments help add capacity.
  • The Avila Ranch project will add hundreds of homes, retail shops and amenities on the south edge of the city. Other major developments are planned along the Highway 101 corridor.

Managing growth sustainably is an economic priority, as demand continues rising faster than inventory. However, housing shortages may hinder future workforce recruitment.

Infrastructure and Transportation

As a small city, San Luis Obispo has lower infrastructure costs compared to larger metro areas. However, the city still invests heavily to maintain a high quality of life.

  • Recent projects include multimillion dollar upgrades to the water treatment plant, reservoirs and distribution systems to ensure a safe, reliable water supply.
  • The city operates the San Luis Obispo Regional Airport, providing direct flights to several major hubs. Expanded air service helps connect SLO to business markets.
  • Voters approved measures to repair streets and improve bike lanes and pedestrian facilities. The SLO Transit bus system provides over 3 million rides annually.
  • High-speed fiber optic broadband is widely available via Charter Spectrum, helping support modern businesses and remote work.

Good infrastructure is vital for tourism, agriculture, and other pillars of the economy. Careful infrastructure planning also makes SLO attractive for business investment and expansion.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

While the economic outlook is strong overall, San Luis Obispo faces some challenges to sustainable, inclusive growth.

Housing affordability – Rising housing costs make it harder for working families and lower-income residents to live in SLO. Tackling this will require creative solutions to add density and affordable inventory.

Diversifying the economy – Adding professional services, manufacturing, technology and other sectors will make SLO more resilient to downturns in any one industry. Supporting innovation and entrepreneurs is key.

Infrastructure funding – Keeping up with maintenance and expansion needs for roads, utilities, broadband and other systems will require adequate funding and strategic investments.

Income inequality – Prosperity in SLO is not evenly shared, with a wide gap between top earners and lower-wage workers. Policies to support workforce training and development can help close this gap.

Sustainable growth – As the city grows, maintaining “SLO life” quality will mean thoughtful planning around land use, environmental protection, mobility and resource management.

By leveraging its many assets – beautiful natural setting, university, vibrant downtown and more – San Luis Obispo can build on its strong economic foundation. With smart, inclusive policies, the city can continue thriving and providing opportunity into the future. The decades ahead look bright for SLO’s economy and community.

Check Our Blogs

No posts


Monday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Tuesday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Wednesday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Thursday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Friday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Saturday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Sunday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Contact Us.

Get Solutions For All Fencing Services

Every day from

9:00 — 5:00

Call to ask any question

+1 (805) 429-4294


  • Take US-101 N 10 miles. Exit LOVR, turn left. Drive 3 miles, turn right on Prefumo Canyon. After 2 miles turn left to Squire Canyon. 300 Squire Canyon is on the right after 0.3 miles.
  • Take Monterey to Santa Rosa. Get on US-101 N, then CA-1 N toward Morro Bay. Exit Prefumo Canyon, turn right. Turn right to Squire Canyon. 300 Squire Canyon is on the right.
  • Head west on Monterey. Turn right Santa Rosa. Left on CA-1 N. Take Price Canyon exit to Prefumo Canyon. Turn right then left to Squire Canyon. 300 Squire Canyon on the right just past Dahlia Court.