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Perspective: Sonoma County 2014

Author: Karen Hart
December, 2013 Issue

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NorthBay biz shines a spotlight on the economy and culture of Sonoma County.

 
 
“The grapes on a score of rolling hills are red with autumn flame. Across Sonoma Mountain, wisps of sea fog are stealing. The afternoon sun smolders in the drowsy sky. I have everything to make me glad I am alive. I am filled with dreams and mysteries. I am all sun and air and sparkle. I am vitalized, organic,” Jack London once wrote, inspired by the beauty of Sonoma County. And, in 1875, Luther Burbank, who became a world-renowned horticulturist, wrote this sentiment about the area in a letter to his mother and sister in Lunenburg, Mass.: “I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned.” (Pictured left: Luther Burbank and Jack London)
 
If paradise exists, no doubt it’s located 35 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, where you’ll find rolling hills and vineyards, majestic redwoods, scenic coastlines and beaches, and the mystical Russian River. Breathe in deeply, and the air is fragrant with scents of lavender, eucalyptus and rosemary.
 
Mariano Vallejo, a 19th century politician, claimed that “Sonoma” was a local Chocuyen word for “valley of the moon,” and an online search shows that Sonoma is also a word of the Miwok, Pomo and Wintun peoples and believed to translate with the same meaning. Sonoma County is the largest and northernmost of the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties. It has a total land area of 1,576 square miles and features 76 miles of Pacific coastline on the west. More than 100 miles of the Russian River wind through the county, bringing the valley a great natural resource. The mountain ranges include the Sonoma Mountains and the Mayacamas, and Santa Rosa is the largest city and county seat.
 
Sonoma County is known for its Mediterranean climate. Winter rains leave the hills a velvety green and, during the summer, they develop a brilliant, golden hue. Coastal fog allows for cool evenings on warm summer days.
 
But aside from its beauty and moderate climate, Sonoma County has proven to be an ideal place for innovation and business development, according to Bill Silver, Ph.D., dean of the school of business and professor of business administration at Sonoma State University (SSU). The North Bay Innovation Hub, headquartered at Sonoma Mountain Village, for example, is dedicated to building a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem.
 
“Sonoma County is a great place to work and live,” says Silver. “It’s a place of tremendous opportunity and an entrepreneurial place.”
 

Agriculture and wine

As early as 1920, Sonoma County was ranked as the eighth most agriculturally productive U.S. county and a leading producer of poultry, hops, grapes, prunes, apples and dairy products. By 1989, winegrapes were Sonoma County’s top moneymaking crop. Last year, the largest winegrape crop in the history of Sonoma County was harvested, according to Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar. “In 2012, 267,000 tons of wine grapes were harvested for a value of more than $582 million. This year’s crop is also big, and it’s unusual for the vines to set two big crops in a row,” he says.
 
Today, Sonoma County is known around the world for its wine. “In the world of winemaking, Sonoma County has about 150 years of experience growing grapes and making wine, and about 40 to 50 years of fine winemaking,” says Sara Cummings, director of marketing communications at Sonoma County Vintners. Visitors are often surprised to learn that Sonoma County’s vineyards are still mostly tended, pruned and harvested by hand.
 
Sonoma County is the largest wine-producing region in California (surpassing Napa County in both quantity and revenue) and has more than 400 wineries. There are 16 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs, or appellations); the 16th appellation, Moon Mountain, was recently approved. Appellations are regions with unique soils and climates that allow certain grape varieties to grow particularly well. Some of the appellations include Alexander Valley, Carneros, Chalk Hill and Russian River Valley.
 
Why is Sonoma County such a great place to grow winegrapes?
 
“What makes Sonoma County an agricultural paradise is a combination of the different soil types, the topography in the county and the marine influence,” says Linegar.
 
“For a winegrower, Sonoma County has an embarrassment of riches,” adds Cummings. “The Pacific Ocean forms the western border of Sonoma County, which gives us a cool climate during the growing season. The San Andreas fault line runs right down our coastline, so Sonoma County bore the brunt of all that intense geological activity over millions of years, which resulted in a rich mix of soils, rugged terrain, volcanic soils, mountains, ridges and alluvial fans,” she adds. “Combine all this with a culture that embraces innovation and collaboration, and you have a winegrowing region in which the growers and the winemakers work together to develop growing sites with intense terroir and character and then do very little to the fruit to capture that character and put it in a bottle.”
 
According to Linegar, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wine grapes do especially well in the cooler areas of the county. On the east side of the county, where it’s hotter and dryer, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and other hearty reds do well.
 
Sonoma County is the most diverse premium winegrape region in the United States, but seven varieties comprise nearly 94 percent of the tons crushed: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Syrah.
 
Chardonnay is the most abundant varietal in Sonoma County with more than 17,000 vineyard acres planted. Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley appellation is regarded as world-class, prized for its lush flavors. The Russian River Valley, Carneros and Sonoma Coast appellations are known for having some of the best Pinot Noirs in the world. Sonoma County’s warmer regions (Alexander Valley and Knights Valley) are known for producing Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chalk Hill appellation, named for its volcanic soils of chalky white ash, is considered exceptional for producing Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. And finally, the Carneros region, defined by its climate, is known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wines.
 
Though Sonoma County is mostly known for its wine, it maintains a diverse agricultural system, says Linegar. “Dairy is still the county’s number two agricultural industry. Rohnert Park and Petaluma have the pastureland to create a great environment for dairy production,” he says. “Last year, the value of milk in Sonoma County was $85 million, and we also produce great cheeses and organic milk.” Though the number of dairies has declined over the years, there are still 70 licensed dairies. Sonoma County ranchers are currently raising 30,000 head of sheep, and 2,000 acres of apples, 95 percent of which are processed by Manzana Products Co., Inc., in Sebastopol (the rest go fresh to market).
 
What’s more, the county also has a successful nursery industry, growing grapevines, ornamental plants, bedding plants and cutting flowers. In 2012, the value of nursery products was $33 million.
 
What challenges are farmers likely to face in the years ahead?
 
Currently, new regulations are being developed by the Regional Water Quality Board. “Over the next two years, these regulations will begin to be implemented, and farmers will be dealing with that over the next decade,” he says.
 
In the long term, farmers are likely to face climate change. “The expectation is that 50 to 60 years from now, nighttime temperatures will increase—they’re already increasing—and eventually will impact where certain grape varietals can be successfully grown.”
 
There will also be unique challenges for growers wanting to develop new land for vineyards. “We’re at a point where much of the easily planted land has already been developed. Newer vineyards will have more challenges such as tree removal, wetlands and protecting endangered species such as the California tiger salamander.”
 
Another challenging factor is the shortage of labor. According to Linegar, agricultural labor is more difficult to find and retain, causing growers to offer health care, housing and other incentives. “The United States has tightened up the border, and there’s more opportunity in Mexico right now,” says Linegar. “The current agricultural labor force is aging and not being replaced by new workers. This has facilitated the increased use of mechanization in all aspects of grape farming, particularly increasing the use of mechanical harvesters.”
 
Despite these challenges, the future of agriculture continues to be promising. “The vintners and winegrowers of Sonoma County are often multi-generational, family-owned businesses, and we’re committed to preserving our way of life and our land for generations to come,” says Cummings.
 
Agriculture and winemaking go hand-in-hand in Sonoma County, and the success of these two industries impacts other area businesses. “At the core, you have growers, producers, distributors and retailers,” says Silver. “And you have all the associated hospitality players: restaurants, hotels, tour groups, limo services, event planning, music and arts. [There are also] the businesses that serve the industry: financial, legal, educational, marketing, sales and information technology.”
 
According to Cummings, an economic survey in partnership with the Sonoma County Winegrowers has been commissioned and its findings will be released in early 2014.
 

Hospitality and tourism

The natural beauty of Wine Country attracts 7.5 million visitors every year, which makes tourism a leading industry. Sonoma County is an amazing place and its physical beauty is the number one attraction for tourists, says Ken Fischang, president/CEO of Sonoma County Tourism. “We have many ecosystems—the ocean, valleys, rivers, redwoods and parks. People appreciate it.” Last year, TripAdvisor ranked Sonoma County as the top U.S wine destination, and second in the world, behind Tuscany, Italy.
 
What sets Sonoma apart from other wine destinations? “We have a high-end product and everything else in between,” says Fischang. And while some Wine Country locations have a reputation for being exclusive, Fischang describes Sonoma as all-inclusive. “People like the authenticity here,” he says.
 
Another major attraction, especially for international tourists, is visiting the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Snoopy’s Home Ice as well as seeing the Peanuts character statues outside local businesses, says Fischang.
 
As a result, hospitality and tourism is big business. Sonoma County offers 11,000 rooms in five different types of lodging (limited- and full-service hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts and vacation home rentals). Glamour camping, also known as “glamping,” also has taken off in Sonoma County. “The Petaluma and Cloverdale KOAs are popular with visitors and offer lodges, cabins and concierge service,” says Fischang.
 
Overnight visitors spend $292 per day on items such as food, wine, entertainment, recreation and more (less than half of which is spent on lodging). The tourism industry generates about 20,000 jobs and, in 2012, visitor spending totaled nearly $1.5 billion. Total taxes collected that same year totaled $94.8 million. According to Fischang, revenues are currently up 13 percent over last year. “It’s been one of the best years in history for many of our hotels and certainly for the wine industry,” he says.
 
Aside from wine tasting, the options are endless in Sonoma County, says Fischang. Tourists can visit Safari West, a 400-acre private wildlife preserve; zip line among the redwoods with Sonoma Canopy Tours, drive to Bodega Bay for surf, sand and saltwater taffy; or float down the Russian River in a canoe. Those wanting to sample artisan cheese can take a driving tour that begins in the historic agricultural town of Petaluma and continues to Sonoma and Sebastopol.
 
“Spas are a big draw, and we have some of the best in the world, using Sonoma County products,” says Fischang. There are more than 40 spas, ranging from the famed Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn to more off-the-beaten path places such as the Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone. There are also 21 challenging golf courses and an infinite number of restaurants and cafés to choose from.
 
Visitors can enjoy breakfast at Howard Station in Occidental or an elegant dinner at Vintners Inn at the legendary John Ash & Co. restaurant. Looking for a place to enjoy a romantic Italian dinner? Try LoCoco’s in Railroad Square. Food Network fans can check out Guy Fieri’s Johnny Garlic’s or Tex Wasabi restaurants. The Hot Box Grill in Sonoma offers such delicacies as duck-fat fries, and the Hole in the Wall in Sebastopol offers California comfort food. Visitors can find an infinite number of fine, casual and out-of-the-way dining options in every town.
 
What’s more, Sonoma County is becoming one of the top cycling destinations in the world, thanks to the Amgen Tour of California. “The impact of Amgen is tremendous when you look at what it’s done for Sonoma County the rest of the year,” says Fischang. “Some hotels, especially in west county and Windsor, offer cycling packages year-round.” In addition, Levi Leipheimer’s annual October GranFondo cycling event is a major draw. “When it started, there were 2,000 cyclists; this year, we had 8,000,” says Fischang. “We’ve become a mecca for cyclists.”
 

What’s ahead for tourism?

According to Fischang, tourism will most likely get a major boost from branding next year with “conjunctive labeling,” which means every bottle of wine that uses at least 75 percent Sonoma County grapes must read “Sonoma County” on the label as of January 1 and include the wine region where the grapes were grown. Winemakers can either add “Sonoma County” to the label or take advantage of the new logo that’s been made available.
 
Meanwhile, Sonoma County Tourism intends to continue promoting the area. “We’re often compared to Napa, but we just started promoting Sonoma County about eight-and-a-half years ago,” he says. “When we started in 2005, our budget was $3.5 million. In 2014, we predict it will exceed $6 million.” Sonoma County Tourism currently has five offices: Santa Rosa, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago. Most U.S. visitors come from California, Texas or the Midwest. Sonoma County Tourism also has focused on promoting Sonoma County in the United Kingdom, Germany and France. In 2014, it’ll be hiring a company to promote Sonoma County in Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
 
The Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park, which opened in November, is already drawing a steady stream of visitors. The casino features 144 table games and 3,000 slot and video poker machines. There’s also a poker room, high-limit room and salons, and high-limit slots. The casino also has four full-service restaurants, and the Marketplace offers nine casual dining choices.
 
River Rock Casino, located in Alexander Valley in Geyserville, offers tourists more than 1,250 slot machines, 20 table games and an exclusive high-limit area. The casino features four affordable dining options including two full-service restaurants and two casual eateries.
 
In addition, tourism will get a boost from the $54 million expansion to the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, which will allow for commercial air service directly to Santa Rosa. Currently, there are direct flights to Sonoma County from Portland, Seattle, San Diego and Los Angeles. According to Fischang, they are hoping the expansion will attract an airline with service from Denver and Salt Lake City to attract tourists from the Midwest and Eastern states.
 
As for tourism in Sonoma County these days, the new slogan says it all: “We are genuine. We are independent. We are adventurous. We are Sonoma County.”
 

Technology

While Sonoma County is known around the world for producing great wine, what’s not so well known is that it’s also a place where scientific know-how is developed for practical purposes. Two of the county’s top employersAgilent and Medtronichave offices in Santa Rosa.
 
Agilent Technologies, the maker of scientific testing equipment, is a global company that spun off from Hewlett-Packard Co. in 1999. Agilent has more than 150 sites around the world and customers in more than 100 countries. The company has been the world’s premier provider of measurement equipment for more than 70 years. Currently, there are about 1,175 employees in the Santa Rosa office. Some of the products it develops in Santa Rosa include signal analyzers, network analyzers, signal sources, one-box testers, modular instruments and electronic design automation software. Agilent’s revenues totaled $6.8 billion for its 2013 fiscal year.
 
How are Agilent’s products used today? Scientists use them to test food safety, researchers use them to study diseases and develop new drugs, and engineers use them to design and test smartphones, satellites, semiconductors and surveillance systems for homeland security.
 
In September, Agilent announced it will split into two companies by November 2014. One will focus on life sciences, diagnostics and applied markets, retaining the Agilent name, and will be located in Santa Clara. The other will continue to develop electronic measurement products and will be headquartered in Santa Rosa, becoming the company’s world headquarters for doing so.
 
The name of the company for the current Santa Rosa office has yet to be determined. “Naming a global company is a complicated process,” says Jeff Weber, Sonoma County public affairs and communications manager at Agilent. “We’re working with a consulting firm to navigate that process, and having an employee committee narrow the list of potential names down to finalists.”
 
How will this impact employees currently working in the Santa Rosa location? “It’s a big change and an exciting time for us. Now we’ll be able to focus exclusively on the success of our electronic measurement business,” says Weber. The company expects to add approximately 80 professional-level positions in Santa Rosa over the next couple of years.
 
Aside from being a leading employer in the area, Agilent is also community-minded. “The company has historically supported education and worked with local health and human services and environmental organizations on quality of life issues in communities where Agilent has a presence,” says Weber. Agilent employees are encouraged to take one hour of paid time off each week to volunteer for company-sponsored community projects in Santa Rosa. During the United Way Day of Caring in September, Agilent had the highest number of employees (406) of any company in Santa Rosa that provided volunteers for the annual event benefiting local nonprofits.
 
Agilent’s commitment to science education takes several forms. The company is a sponsor of the Mike Hauser Algebra Academy, made available through the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. Agilent also offers high school and college students opportunities to “shadow” company engineers and provides scholarships to Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College engineering students and assigns Agilent mentors for each scholarship recipient.
 
Another major employer in Santa Rosa is Medtronic, the world’s largest medical technology company. Its goal is to alleviate pain, restore health and extend life. Last year, more than 9 million people in more than 140 countries benefited from Medtronic’s medical therapies, which are used to treat cardiac and vascular diseases, diabetes, and neurological and musculoskeletal conditions. “Every three seconds, a Medtronic device is used to improve or save a life,” says Joe McGrath, director of public relations and corporate communications in the cardiac and vascular group in Santa Rosa.
 
Medtronic’s world headquarters is in Minneapolis, Minn., but it established a presence in Santa Rosa in 1999 with the acquisition of Arterial Vascular Engineering. Today, Medtronic is the fourth-largest employer in Sonoma County, with about 1,000 employees. Worldwide, Medtronic’s revenues totaled $16 billion last year; $2.5 billion came from products developed in Santa Rosa.
 
According to McGrath, the technological innovations at Medtronic are often the result of its engineers working with physicians to solve specific medical problems. “Doctors declare the unmet clinical needs they face in daily practice, and our engineers figure out how to address them,” he says. “We’re on the arterial side of the business, trying to save people’s lives and limbs and improve quality of life.”
 
Some of the medical devices developed at the Santa Rosa location include stents and angioplasty balloons that are used to open blocked or narrowed arteries. Engineers also develop devices and therapies to treat people with chronically high blood pressure or with blood pressure that’s resistant to medication. Medtronic also makes a stent graft for the treatment of aortic aneurysms, a ballooning of the body’s main artery.
 
In the coronary business, much of Medtronic’s revenue is from outside the United States. Angioplasty and stent devices are considered the standard of care for heart attack patients.
 
Medtronic is also community-minded. Currently, the company is focusing its efforts on improving access to health care for impoverished people. Over the next two years, Medtronic will donate $450,000 to four organizations in Sonoma County. What’s more, Medtronic employees have been volunteering at the Redwood Empire Food Bank and, in lieu of holiday parties, department heads are organizing volunteer activities for staff members.
 
Medtronic is also committed to helping students who are exploring careers in the biomedical field. The company is also a sponsor of the Mike Hauser Algebra Academy and offers a summer internship program for college students.
 
Another technical employer in the area is JDS Uniphase (JDSU) Corporation, a leading provider of optical products and test and measurement solutions in the communications industry. The company has more than 400 employees.
 
There are also a number of innovative companies, many of which have roots in the telecommunications industry, which boomed in the North Bay during the late 1990s but then bottomed out when the dot-com bubble burst. Out of the remnants of the telecom industry, some innovative new companies were formed. “The telecommunications industry never came back full strength, but the people stayed and have started entrepreneurial ventures in a variety of technology areas,” says SSU's Silver. For example, Calix (communications equipment), Enphase Energy (solar technology) and Cyan (networking software) are local companies with former telecommunication executives in leadership roles.
 

Health care

Health care is an industry in transformation nationwide. However, according to Silver, the recent changes in public policy will result in parallel changes in the way health care is delivered. Evidence-based medicine is at the heart of these changes. “Medical care has often been delivered based on what procedures can be billed or, simply, based on how we’ve always done it,” says Silver. “With a focus on science and data, people will have a more personalized health experience and get the treatment that’s right for them. But the big change will be from running health care as sickness treatment to a focus on keeping people healthy.”
 
According to Silver, Kaiser Permanente is known for building a successful health care business model that actually includes health and wellness as part of the standards of care.
 
“The concepts of prevention and wellness are in our DNA,” says Judy Coffey, senior vice president area manager for Kaiser Permanente in Sonoma and Marin counties. “Our focus on quality of care outcomes and prevention is keeping people healthieroften preventing illness and disease from occurring in the first place.”
 
According to Coffey, this focus on prevention is saving and improving lives and resulting in shorter and less frequent hospital stays. The hospital’s focus on disease prevention has resulted in an average of 300 fewer patients needing to stay in its Northern California hospitals every day, compared to 10 years ago. In addition, 87 percent of its members with hypertension have the disease under control, compared to only 50 percent nationally. And Kaiser members have a 30 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 10 percent lower chance of experiencing a stroke, compared to the population at large.
 
Kaiser offers 65 health education programs, many of which are open to the community as well as members. One cutting-edge program is called PHASE (Preventing Heart Attacks and Strokes Every Day), as the treatment of choice for those patients most prone to cardiovascular injury or death. “Research has shown that bundling certain drugs and emphasizing healthy lifestyle changes can prevent heart attack and strokes. At the same time, our patients have also lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and smoking rates have decreased. These efforts resulted in a 24 percent decline in heart attacks over a 10-year period among our members by 2010 and mortality for patients admitted for heart attacks was cut almost in half,” says Coffey.
 
These life-saving protocols are currently being shared with area community clinics through its “Healthy Heart” program to promote a new standard of care for preventing heart attacks and strokes.
 
Sutter Health is also placing a strong emphasis on preventive care. “Preventive care is where health care is going,” says Lisa Amador, strategy and business development executive for Sutter Health in Sonoma County. The goal, she says, is to keep people healthy and prevent disease before it happens, keeping people out of acute-care hospitals as much as possible.
 
Sutter offers a special women’s health series program. The women series offers a fun, educational program for the community with healthy snacks and wine, led by a panel of physicians offering their expertise to women’s health issues such as breast health, pre- and post-natal care, menopause, bone health, as well as skin and heart health. In addition, Sutter is piloting integrative medical services such as therapeutic massage, expressive arts, healing harp and guided imagery in patients’ care plans. These services are widely acclaimed by physicians, nurses, patients and families as a way to achieve overall well-being in an effort to increase community health and potentially lower health care costs.
 
In October 2014, Sutter Health will open a new hospital in northern Santa Rosa. The new facility is being built, using green building practices and state-of-the-art technologies, and will feature all-private rooms with 116 care stations. “It will be a patient and family-focused healing environment, providing clinical excellence for the health and well-being of our community,” says Amador.
 
St. Joseph Health oversees two hospitals in Sonoma County: Petaluma Valley Hospital and Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Its mission is to continue to assess community needs and work to meet those needs in partnership with like-minded collaborators. “In this period of rapid change, that philosophy continues to enable us to partner with other providers of health and wellness and broaden access to care,” says Katy Hillenmeyer, a spokesperson for St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County. “This includes expanding our network of care to serve the thousands of newly insured patients who have begun signing up for health coverage through our state’s new insurance exchange, Covered California.”
 
Memorial has 278 beds and admits about 12,600 patients per year and, counting outpatient visits, sees 181,474 patient visits per year. Petaluma Valley Hospital has 80 beds and admits about 2,770 patients per year (with outpatient visits, the total reaches 60,633 patient visits per year). Memorial is Sonoma County’s largest hospital and the region’s designated Level II Trauma Center, equipped to care for the most critically injured and ill patients on California’s North Coast. “This advanced level of care provided to trauma patients is unmatched along the North Coast, north of the Golden Gate. It’s an essential link to health care services for coastal residents and visitors all the way to the Oregon border,” says Hillenmeyer.
 
In addition, Memorial’s Heart and Vascular Institute is among the region’s leading providers of care to patients suffering from the most deadly form of a heart attack. “By working in collaboration with paramedics and emergency providers in the field, our multi-disciplinary clinical teams continue to work to reduce the time it takes to open up coronary blockages, which is vital to saving a patient’s life and heart muscle,” says Hillenmeyer.
 
What’s more, the goal is to keep former cardiac patients healthy and out of the hospital, so they don’t have to be readmitted. For the second year in a row, Becker’s Hospital Review named Santa Rosa Memorial among the top three hospitals in the United States for minimizing readmissions of heart attack patients.
 
What can we expect in the years ahead? “We’ll continue to maintain the region’s highest level of acute care, expand outpatient and other non-acute services so we can keep people healthier outside a hospital setting, and help support them at home so they don’t require readmission after a hospital stay,” says Hillenmeyer.
 

Higher education

Sonoma County is home to three colleges: Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University and Empire College, as well as University of San Francisco’s Santa Rosa Branch Campus.
 
Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) was founded in 1918 and, in 2012, nearly 50,000 people took classes through the institution (including credit and noncredit courses). It offers 111 majors and 167 certificate programs. The most popular programs for students earning two-year degrees are social and behavior sciences, humanities, business administration, administration of justice and psychology. The most popular certificate programs include the police academy, firefighter, emergency medical technician (EMT) and child/development teacher. Health certificate programs are also strong: nursing assistant, pharmacy technologist, medical and dental assisting. Automotive and culinary arts round out the popular offerings.
 
“SRJC and its staff frequently win awards,” says Ellen Maremont Silver, director of communication and marketing. SRJC was honored as one of the Great Colleges to Work for in 2013, based on a recent nationwide survey of college employees by The Chronicle of Higher Education. SRJC was the only California community college to earn this distinction, and one of only 12 community colleges nationwide to be named on the Honor Roll.
 
In addition, SRJC is recognized as being among the top five EMT degree programs in the country with a high rate of return on investment for students’ education, and its students hold the third-highest acceptance rate (among 113 California community colleges) for admission to University of California schools. Its student newspaper, The Oak Leaf, recently won 10 awards at the annual Journalism Association of Community Colleges’ NorCal conference.
 
SRJC also offers workforce training to local businesses. According to Jerald Miller, dean of career, technical education and workforce training, businesses can contract with SRJC to focus on whatever their needs are, such as business communications, Excel training or supervisory management skills. Two of the businesses it’s worked with are Traditional Medicinals and La Tortilla Factory.
 
This fall, the college started a new program, called Gateway to College, at its Petaluma campus. SRJC partners with other area schools to identify youth who would benefit from the program.
 
Sonoma State University (SSU), founded in 1961, has the largest student body ever for this school year with 9,120 students; 1,800 freshmen were admitted from a pool of more than 21,000 applications. The university, located in Rohnert Park, offers 46 bachelors degree programs and 16 masters degree programs. Some of the top majors include business, biology, pre-nursing, psychology, kinesiology, criminal justice, communications, English and computer science.
 
According to Dr. Silver, SSU offers the number one wine business program in the world, which is designed to reflect the critical issues facing the wine industry. The Wine Business Institute at SSU offers three degree programs: the wine business masters of business administration, the wine business strategy undergraduate major and the executive master of business administration for the wine industry.
 
SSU is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
 
Empire College, founded in 1961 by local entrepreneur and philanthropist Henry Trione, has a reputation for providing market-driven career training for its students. Currently, there are about 550 students enrolled.
 
Since its founding, the school of business has prepared more than 10,000 graduates for specialized careers in accounting, business, hospitality, medical, paralegal and technology. In addition, the Empire School of Law has prepared more than 800 juris doctor graduates for legal careers, and alumni account for about 25 percent of the Sonoma County Bar and include five members of the judiciary in Sonoma County (Empire graduates also sit on the judiciary in Napa, Mendocino, Lassen and Merced counties). The law school faculty at Empire College are practicing attorneys or judges, including the Sonoma County district attorney and public defender.
 
This fall, the law school received accreditation and U.S. Department of Education approvals to offer a masters of legal studies program with the option of dual enrollment for the juris doctor, a first in California.
 
In 2012 and 2013, Empire College received national recognition by President Obama for community service. “This is the highest honor a college can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service learning and civic engagement,” says Sherie Hurd, executive vice president. Students volunteer free legal services, free tax assistance to low-income residents, free health screenings and more.
 

Lifestyle

The Wine Country lifestyle is appealing to many people, and the real estate market appears to be making a comeback.
 
“Sonoma County saw a dramatic rebound in real estate prices in 2013. At the beginning of the year, prices jumped as investors and other cash buyers bought up properties as soon as they came on the market. From late spring through the summer, low interest rates and increased consumer confidence kept the rally going. We also have experienced a major decline in the number of foreclosure and short sale properties for sale. The result has been an impressive increase in prices of between 15 to 20 percent this year,” says Karen Moyers, real estate agent with Bradley Real Estate in Santa Rosa. “While we can’t expect this level of appreciation in 2014, we expect the real estate market to remain strong in Sonoma County.”
 
According to Moyers, there are also plenty of rental options throughout the county, although availability tends to fluctuate in accordance with the real estate market.
 
Sonoma County offers numerous shopping venues such as downtown areas in any city or malls like Montgomery Village, Coddingtown Mall, Santa Rosa Plaza, and Petaluma Premium Village Outlets. And residents can spend time outdoors hiking and biking at Sonoma Valley, Crane Creek, Armstrong Redwoods, Spring Lake Regional Park, Annadel State Park, Shiloh, Bodega seashore and more.
 
And there’s always plenty of things to do with friends and family. Wine Country life offers a wide range of festivals, events and farmers’ markets year-round to celebrate Sonoma County’s rich agricultural heritage. There’s Petaluma’s Butter & Egg Days, Sebastopol’s Gravenstein Apple Blossom Parade and Festival (followed by the Gravenstein Apple Fair later in the year), the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Festival and its Seafood, Art & Wine Festival, the Sonoma-Marin Fair and the Sonoma County Fair and Harvest Fair. For music lovers, there’s Healdsburg’s Tuesday Nights in the Plaza, Windsor’s Summer Concerts on the Green, Sonoma’s Tuesday Night Farmers’ Market, venues like Hopmonk in Sonoma and Sebastopol, and B.R. Cohn Winery hosts a Fall Musical Festival each year to raise money for charity.
 
Performing arts venues include the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, the world-class Green Music Center at SSU, Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa and Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park.
 
For the artistically minded, there are numerous options. The Sonoma International Film Festival takes place each April in Sonoma Valley. ArtTrails offers a free, self-guided studio tour, which features some of the best art Sonoma County has to offer. There are also several art galleries and collectives. Redwood Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club, offers a meeting place for local writers to convene each month at the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa in Santa Rosa. CWC is one of the oldest writers’ organizations in the nation today, and its story began in the early 20th century when Jack London and his literary friends gathered for picnics and conversation.
 
Dr. E.P. Kitty’s Wunderkammer is a steampunk-inspired festival held during the summer in historic downtown Railroad Square in Santa Rosa, featuring music, costume-clad attendees, artistic vendors, sideshow performers and, of course, handcar racing. Similar steampunk-themed events include Petaluma’s Rivertown Revival (boat races and $5 wedding ceremonies, anyone?) and the Lagunitas Beer Circus (a fund-raiser for the Petaluma Music Festival, supporting local schools), which has all sorts of fun going on.
 

A magical place

Both Jack London and Luther Burbank chose to settle in Sonoma County during their lifetimes. Burbank made his home in Santa Rosa for more than 50 years. On the garden site in Santa Rosa (now a museum) and in nearby Sebastopol, Burbank conducted plant-breeding experiments that brought him worldwide fame. During Burbank’s career, his four-acre garden in Santa Rosa was an outdoor laboratory where he conducted his horticulture experiments. London bought property in Glen Ellen in 1905 where he eventually lived and was inspired to write a book he titled The Valley of the Moon, published in 1913. The novel tells the story of how a struggling working-class couple, Billy and Saxon Roberts, eventually settle in the Valley of the Moon.
 
Burbank and London both had a passion for Sonoma County. Whether it was by chance or destiny, the two men eventually crossed paths. In fact, London used Burbank’s spineless cactus to feed his prize-winning hogs, according to Carol Skold, a volunteer at Luther Burbank Home & Gardens.
 
Today, Sonoma County is home to about 484,000 people, according to a census taken in 2010. “Visitors who come here are sometimes inspired to move their families and businesses here. I’m an example of such a person,” says Silver, who moved to Sonoma County from Colorado with his family five years ago. “Sonoma County changes people and transforms how they think of this area. It’s a magical place.”
 
And perhaps that’s why Jack London was inspired to write these lines in his novel, The Valley of the Moon: “The dim trail lay like a rambling red shadow cast on the soft forest floor by the great redwoods and over-arching oaks. It seemed as if all local varieties of trees and vines had conspired to weave the leafy roof—maples, big madrones and laurels, and lofty tan-barked oaks scaled and wrapped and inter-wound with grape and flaming poison oak.”
 
 


 

In this Issue

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