Road to the Summit: Talking government & business as partners at Sonoma forum

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Thursday’s Sonoma regional economic forum focused on infrastructure and public-private partnerships. (Photo Credit: John Guenther & Susan Lovenburg)

On Thursday, fifty civic leaders from the Sonoma region got down to the business of supporting business while keeping their eye on quality of life for area residents. Their focus was public-private partnerships to get the job done.

Opening remarks by Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt called for a 360-degree look at infrastructure: transportation, water, waste and access to broadband communication.

“CEQA,” he said, “plays an integral role in protecting our economy, but we cannot afford the status quo.” He also identified the need to support a strong and capable workforce as the foundation of the Sonoma economy.

David McCuan, professor of political science at Sonoma State University, moderated a panel focused on business and government as partners.

“The state and the feds cannot meet our needs – there are not adequate revenue sources and the competition is tough,” said panelist Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “It’s really about local decision making and local tax measures to help drive the economy.”

A healthy economy, she noted, requires effective and efficient movement of goods.

Carolyn Wasem of Kendall-Jackson Winery spoke to the need for businesses to strike a balance between stewardship and economic success. The Kendall-Jackson Winery works closely with federal and state government to navigate the regulatory environment and manage costs. “We cannot achieve our collective goals alone,” Wasem remarked.

Panelists and the audience engaged in dialogue about the value of enterprise zones, redevelopment funds and business recruitment. “Private business just wants the government to stretch a bit and meet them halfway,” said Paul Yoder of Shaw/Yoder/Antwih, Inc.

“Companies go where they want and they stay where they are appreciated,” noted Doug Henton of Collaborative Economics.

The audience then dived into identifying their regional priorities for the 2013 California Economic Summit using live audience polling. The conversation was supported by detailed analysis of progress on the 2012, Signature Initiatives outlined in the Briefing Book prepared for the forum.

Responsiveness to the needs of local employers (with 28 percent of the vote) was the highest priority for workforce development. Nearly half (42 percent) of participants identified transportation as the most critical infrastructure need. Regulatory modernization was also a top priority, with two-thirds of participants indicating a desire to reduce CEQA uncertainly, shorten permit processing time and help small businesses innovate.

Ben Stone, director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board and host of the forum, encouraged all participants to attend the 2013 California Economic Summit in Los Angeles on November 7-8, to continue to advance their important regional priorities.


Susan Lovenburg

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