SONOMA COUNTY – The Sonoma County Economic Development Board’s 2011 work plan introduces several new initiatives that build on past efforts made possible by a major new grant.
At the top of the list is the 2-year-old Innovation Action Council, an update of the Economic Vitality Partnership of several years ago.
“That [earlier] partnership resulted in some very positive additions to the county economy,” said EDB Director Ben Stone. “The undergraduate and graduate schools of engineering at Sonoma State University came into being and the tourism bureau.”
Today’s Innovation Action Council, buoyed by a $50,000 grant from the Morgan Family Foundation, is looking to stimulate job creation through cluster analysis of significant employment sectors like technology and tourism, he said.
“We want to adapt to the changing faces of these sectors. Technology has moved from telecom to new areas. Tourism now involves new customer preferences, including using the Internet. And new sectors like medical devices call for closer focus,” said Mr. Stone.
The EDB’s employee and company relocation site, Sonoma County Connections, (sonomacountyconnections.org) is receiving a major upgrade, he said. The site has been getting 100 hits a day, a number expected to bump up considerably.
Business crime prevention is getting a closer look by the EDB this year, with the emphasis on helping local businesses take more of an initiative to prevent it.
Bad checks, shoplifting and most of all employee retail theft are up, yet some city and county public safety agencies are pinched by the economy.
A program of simple, preventative steps small and medium-sized businesses can take to help police has been developed and will launch during the coming months.
An event that debuted last year with success – Sonoma County Restaurant Week – will be repeated in February.
The 2010 Restaurant Week featured about 90 local restaurants offering a special prix-fixe menu at one of three price points. The week generated 15,000 extra meals and $1 million in new economic activity.
“One restaurant owner in an out-of-the-way location told us he was able to stay in business because of that event. He’s thriving now,” said Mr. Stone.
He’d like to see it expanded into the wine sector.
“We’re working with two countywide groups – the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma County Winegrape Growers – to encourage wineries to offer flights of wines or other special tastes at participating restaurants,” he said. “The event draws people from all over the Bay Area, and they mostly all order wine.”
The EDB is also working with the county tourism bureau and local visitor centers to promote the Restaurant Week, he said.
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