Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | August 16, 2011

Morgan Hill: It’s closer than you think

“You’re from Morgan Hill and Gilroy; do you consider yourselves part of the Bay Area?” That’s the query that I, along with several other South County folks, heard from a Los Altos man at an event held by an agency that serves communities in Santa Clara County. The question was prompted by the perception that South County is so far away from “real” Bay Area communities that it’s reasonable to exclude us, even though we’re within a Bay Area county.

USGS map of the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area showing population density

During my 15 years here, I’ve learned that most people who don’t live in South County — Morgan Hill, specifically, because that’s where I live — think that we’re much farther away from the more densely populated parts of the Bay Area regions than we really are.

People who don’t hesitate to drive into San Francisco from the East Bay for dinner or to Napa from the Peninsula for a day of wine tasting are frequently stunned that I commute from Morgan Hill to San Jose for work. One co-worker asked, “Why would you live down there?” with note of incredulity in her voice. I admit that I try to avoid rush-hour driving whenever possible, but that’s not a matter of distance, but of road capacity.

We have a friend who used to live on the Peninsula and now lives in the East Bay and works in Silicon Valley, neither inconsequential commutes. He jokes that our Morgan Hill home is so far south that he has to make sure his passport is current before he visits. And when he does make the trek, he’s surprised that the drive was shorter than expected.

Google Maps predicts that the 21-mile drive from San Jose’s 101-880 interchange to Morgan Hill’s 101-Cochrane interchange will take 22 minutes. That’s slightly less time and distance than the drive from the same San Jose spot to San Carlos’ 101-Holly interchange or Hayward’s 880-92 interchange (both 23 miles, 24 minutes) or Pleasanton’s 680-Bernal interchange (24 miles, 26 minutes). Yet, somehow, it’s Morgan Hill residents who hear the “it’s so faaaar” whine from Bay Area folks who live north of the 101-85 interchange in south San Jose.

I help run the Morgan Hill Library Foundation’s annual crossword puzzle and sudoku tournament, Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest. We attract puzzlers from all over the Bay Area who are always charmed by our community once they get here, and we hear anecdotes about attendees returning to Morgan Hill when it’s not Puzzle Fest time to explore the area or revisit restaurants they discovered during our event.

While I’m thrilled that Puzzle Fest draws people to Morgan Hill, I wonder: How many people are avoiding South County due to their misimpression of how far away it is?

This is why I think a Bay Area-focused marketing campaign is in order. Let’s correct the mistaken idea that a passport and multiple bathroom stops are required to visit South County. How about a catchphrase along the lines of “Morgan Hill, it’s closer than you think” along with statistics about the distance from various Bay Area locations?

This could help increase local tourism, boost sales at restaurants and other local businesses, and potentially, help convince business to locate here. A well-planned campaign could have subsequent phases that focus on a variety of specific South County assets.

For example, I recently heard Mr. Produce, Phil Cosentino, on KLIV radio talking about the Sun Crest peach. This peach was featured in David Mas Masumoto’s 1996 best-seller, Epitaph for a Peach. Cosentino said that the Sun Crest is “the sweetest, juiciest, most mouth-watering peach you’ve ever tasted.” This hard-to-find but delicious peach, with a shelf life that’s too short for modern grocery chains, is grown by Andy’s Orchard right here in Morgan Hill.

Andy’s Orchard is only one of many places in Morgan Hill and South County that offer fabulous locally grown food. Local food is a hot trend among foodies, and the Bay Area has more than its fair share of foodies. The initial advertising campaign could be followed by targeted campaign that focuses on local foods.

Other follow-up campaigns could highlight wineries, recreation opportunities, restaurants, and even the benefits of locating a business here (not the least of which is the reverse commute).

This kind of campaign requires investments of cash, time, passion and leadership. But convincing our Bay Area neighbors that we’re not so far away could do great things for our local economy.



  1. […] can find someone to create better marketing of the region as a local tourism destination. I’ve written about this in the past, but it bears repeating: People in the Bay Area need to know how close Morgan Hill, San Martin, and […]


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