How can we strengthen the regional economy in Sonoma County?
That question and the chance to give some possible answers drew over 250 people to Santa Rosa this week for the Sonoma County Regional Forum, one of fourteen regional events being held around the state before the end of March.
What emerged was a consensus that three things need to happen in order to improve the Sonoma County regional economy:
Ezrah Chaaban (left) of North Bay Association of Realtors speaks
with San Rafael Councilmember Marc Levine (Credit: Brian Howlett).
1. The government regulatory process must be streamlined to save time
2. The region needs to do an ever better job of building demand for Sonoma County products
3. The workforce in Sonoma County must aligned to meet the needs of employers.
Bill Carson, co-chair of the Sonoma County Innovation Action Council, says that the region has done a good job of promoting tourism, thanks to the wine country and the Russian River among other destinations. But, many products that the county produces are not known well outside the region. That, he thinks, has to change.
Doug Henton, part of the management team for this spring’s first California Economic Summit, emphasized to the audience that California is not one economy, but a series of regional economies. The Summit will bring together these diverse regions to create a shared, statewide agenda for job creation and competitiveness.
In preparation for the summit, the group had the opportunity to vote on a series of state actions as they relate to their regional priorities. These state actions were drawn primarily from three reports: The Think Long Committee for California’s Task Force on Jobs, Infrastructure, and the Workforce (2011), the Brookings Institution/McKinsey report entitled An Economic Growth and Competitiveness Agenda for California (2011), and the California Stewardship Network’s Thriving Regions Lead to a Thriving State (2010). The reports themselves are consistent with many recommendations from earlier reports completed over the past 20 years. Sonoma’s priorities included:
- Workforce development
- Access to postsecondary education and career development
- Permit streamlining, regulatory and CEQA reform
The session had a great community turnout. Elected officials, public policy experts, local business leaders and college students were among the various constituencies, represented at the meeting.
Outgoing Sonoma County Alliance CEO Lisa Wittke Schaffner, in her parting remarks, encouraged participants to “stand together on what you can agree on and you can make this community great.”
Robin Stephani of the Sonoma County Alliance with Efren
Carrillo, Sonoma County Supervisor (Credit: Brian Howlett).
Today’s Regional Forum was sponsored by the California Stewardship Network. The goal of the meeting was to define some regional priorities and identify local regional “champions” who will take part in Action Teams to promote initiatives to state and local policy makers. They will attend the California Economic Summit in Santa Clara on May 11 which is being sponsored by California Forward and the California Stewardship Network.
Photos by Brian Howlett.