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A Good Place for Business

Author: Jonathan Coe
March, 2013 Issue

The year began with good news as the crowd at the State of the County breakfast learned that last year, Sonoma County created jobs at a faster rate than any other county in the state. Jerry Nickelsburg, Ph.D., senior economist at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, reported that non-farm payroll in our county grew at nearly 5 percent for 2012. That far outstrips the state’s average of about 2 percent and was bested nationally only by the state of North Dakota.
This is important news for many reasons. First and foremost, it means more people are being put back to work in our county. That’s good for them and for business as payroll dollars get spent with local companies. That spending will, in turn, pay employees, purchase supplies and inventory, and begin a positive spiral of increasing economic activity.
This also means Sonoma County is a good place for business. It often seems that members of our business community are reluctant to make that statement. But in 2012, businesses in Sonoma County added twice as many employees as those in the rest of the state. To me, that seems to be a pretty clear indicator that this is a good place to do business. Especially since it’s backed up by the fact that the cost of doing business here is about 93 percent of the national average. That’s not our reputation, but it is the current reality. Doing business here is less expensive than elsewhere.
But I think the most important story lies in the actions and organizations behind these numbers. Numbers like these don’t just happen unless, of course, you live in North Dakota and discover oil under your farmland. They happen because groups of people come together and take action to improve the business climate and enable business success—in other words, “foster economic development.” And that’s what’s been happening in Sonoma County over the past several years.
One of the new participants in this role is Sonoma County BEST (Building Economic Success Together). BEST was created as an offshoot of our chamber but with a regional focus. In that first year, companies that asked for and received help from BEST to resolve challenges or take advantage of opportunities added 526 direct new jobs after BEST’s help. Those new jobs, in turn, led to another 315 being created from the resulting increase in payroll spending. Thus, in just its first year of operation, BEST had great success in helping create jobs and has built momentum going into this new year.
But BEST is hardly the only economic development factor—far from it. And this speaks loudly to why we’ve been so successful in creating jobs. The tourism industry has been resurgent in the past few years. Much of that should be credited to Sonoma County Tourism, which has done an outstanding job selling our county. It’s not happenstance that Sonoma County has been lauded by such national and international entities as National Geographic (best places to see), TripAdvisor (No. 1 wine destination in the United States and No. 2 in the world), and CBS News (best getaway in 2013). It’s the result of the hard work that the team at Sonoma County Tourism has done to position our area as a top destination. That work, coupled with efforts of the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau and other county chambers has meant more visitor spending and more jobs in the hospitality industry for our citizens. [See “Destination Sonoma County,” pg. 16.]
Sonoma County itself has also made significant investments in economic development through its Economic Development Board (EDB). Last year, the Board of Supervisors substantially increased its investment in the EDB. As a result, task forces from the Innovation Action Council made important recommendations on improving our marketing of Sonoma County as a place to do business, ensuring we’re creating a workforce that meets the needs of our businesses, and improving the county’s permitting process. As each of these recommendations is implemented, the economic climate in which Sonoma County businesses operate will be improved.
The county has also spearheaded the effort to extend a foreign trade zone into Sonoma County. Such a designation brings with it benefits for companies that import materials for manufacturing and sale. It will thus provide an added benefit to those companies doing business overseas and again becomes an improvement to our business climate.
While Sonoma County’s cities have been hurt by the elimination of redevelopment funds, they continue to work to support economic development. Both Petaluma and Rohnert Park have hired staff to lead their efforts, while the chambers in Healdsburg and Sonoma receive support from their respective cities that enables them to be active in economic development.
With all this work and all these players, the good news that started 2013 should continue. But it will require the continued work and effort of all. Economic development is a team sport that requires active involvement from all segments of the community to be successful. We’re obviously on the right track. Let’s make sure we stay there.
Jonathan S. Coe is president/CEO of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. He has more than 25 years of experience managing chambers of commerce. You can reach him at


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