Jason Crawford, City of Santa Clarita planning, marketing and economic development manager, is living proof that best-laid plans can often go strangely, yet perfectly, awry.
A graduate of California Institute of the Arts, Crawford had dreamed of a career in the entertainment industry. Instead, he found a career he loves in public administration.
“You think you know what you’re going to when you grow up, but what I’ve realized is that I really like what I’m doing,” he said. “Even though it is entirely different than what I thought I would be doing when I was a child.”
Crawford was born to Belinda and Jack Crawford in Nashville, Tennessee. He grew up in the city nicknamed “Music City USA” and graduated from McGavock High School.
He was offered a full scholarship to a Tennessee college, but decided to move to the Santa Clarita Valley when his family relocated to the area after his father accepted a job at Westwood One.
“I wanted to work in the film industry. It seemed more exciting to me to move out to the Los Angeles area and try to get into CalArts,” Crawford said. After the move he took a year off and found a few small jobs in the film industry.
Crawford was then accepted to CalArts, where he earned a bachelor;s of arts in theater. His mother worked at CalArts as a development officer for nearly seven years, then served as executive director of the SCV Food Pantry for more than 15 years.
His father retired from the Westwood One radio network and now owns a UPS store in Castaic.
Crawford’s younger brother, Jeremy, also lives in the SCV. “The entire family is still active in the community,” he said.
Crawford said moving to Southern California was exiting and he found living in the SCV to his liking. “Most of my friends at CalArts ended up living in the LA area after a year or two,” he said. “I realized I liked it out here in the SCV because it was more like Nashville than LA was.”
Crawford said he grew up making eye contact and exchanging pleasantries with strangers when walking down the street. “You say hello when you pass someone,” he said. “I realized when I would go into LA and did that, it didn’t go over so well. It goes over better in Santa Clarita.”
Crawford worked in the library at CalArts while attending school. “After the first year, they realized that I had computer help-desk skills,” he said. “They put me in charge of the student help desk.”
That job lead Crawford to apply for a position with the City of Santa Clarita. “While studying for my undergraduate degree, I started taking some directing classes,” he said. “That led me to go back to CalArts for a graduate degree in film directing.”
After his first year of graduate school, Crawford decided to take some time off and focus on making money to finance a film project. “There was a job at the city for a help-desk job that paid a little better than CalArts,” he said. “I thought I would work at the city for a year, make some money and work on some creative ideas, then return and finish my master’s.”
Crawford was hired by the city in March 2001.
A few months later, a position was created by the city to start a film office.
“They wanted to hire somebody to bring more TV shows and movies to town,” he said. “I thought it was an amazing opportunity to learn a different side of the film industry.”
Nearly 500 applications were received for the position. “I was lucky to be the one selected,” he said.
Crawford, as the city’s “film analyst,” was a one-man show as he built the Santa Clarita Film Office. “That was exciting, setting up the entire program from scratch,” he said.
While the SCV has served as Hollywood’s “backlot” almost since the beginning of film and television, the creation of the Santa Clarita Film Office was designed to attract even more production.
The City Council and then-City Manager Ken Pulskamp knew they wanted to increase the economic activity generated from filming, Crawford said. “They allowed me a lot of autonomy to achieve those results.” The effort was a resounding success, allowing that the “luck of timing and other factors” were a large part of the winning formula, he said.
‘CSI’ and more
“CSI” debuted on CBS in 2000. The successful show ran 15 seasons and created a host of spin-offs and imitators. “When I first started the film office, ‘CSI’ was filming in a warehouse in Valencia,” Crawford said. “They weren’t really sure, at the time, it was going to last.”
As the buzz increased, as well as the show’s ratings, studios across Southern California began approaching “CSI” to move filming to other locations.
“The show ended up moving to Santa Clarita Studios and became the anchor show there for many years,” said Crawford. “The success of ‘CSI’ made other shows take notice of the benefits of filming in Santa Clarita.”
Crawford said the filming of a major motion picture in the SCV is “always exciting,” but the real “bread and butter” for economic development comes from television.
“A big movie is exciting for a couple of months, but then they go away. A television show can be shot here for years. In the case of ‘NCIS,’ 17 years. ‘Jag’ was out here for about 10 years,” he said. “That is long-term economic impact — long-term jobs. It becomes entirely different than the one month of a movie.”
Tourism and more
Like filming, tourism brings transient events and people to the SCV to spend money.
Crawford said that like a movie, the big events, like the AT&T Champions Classic, (a part of the Senior PGA Tour which played 2001-2009 at Valencia Country Club), are exciting for a weekend, “but the real dollars are in youth- and amateur-sports tournaments.
“The real impact is from the tournaments that bring hundreds of people to Santa Clarita. They come for a weekend, stay in area hotels and spend money at local restaurants,” he said. “When we are able to pull in a couple on the same weekend, that creates real economic impact, more than one or two big flashy events a year.”
In 2007, Crawford was promoted to manager of the Economic Development Division. “I was working on film and tourism, as well as all of the city’s business attraction development,” he said.
In 2016, Crawford added planning to his responsibilities. “Since 2016 I have been managing both the Economic Development Division and the Planning Division,” he said.
Crawford earned his master’s degree in public administration from California State University, Northridge. He received his planning certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners in preparation for taking on the additional responsibilities of the Planning division.
Passionate about travel
Crawford enjoys scuba diving, hiking and travel. “I try to go to a new place every year. This year, I went on an Eastern European trip to Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. I loved it,” he said.
Some of his favorite trips have been to Cuba, South America, Tokyo, China, New Zealand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Ireland and the Greek Islands. “Every year I try to go to a new place and experience the culture, the food and learn about the history,” he said.
He still has a few places on his “bucket list.”
“I want to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef and I’ve never been to Australia,” he said.
Making sense of it all
“I left CalArts to begin working at the city,” he said. “Life takes you on some unexpected paths, then you realize in retrospect it all made sense. At the time, you don’t understand. It’s not what I planned on as a kid, but I love it.”