SONOMA COUNTY — After winning approval from the Santa Rosa City Council, a countywide job creation effort headed by the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce received positive feedback from the cities of Sonoma and Healdsburg as it closed in on its $3.25 million fundraising goal.
Building Economic Success Together, or BEST, was launched back in March, with the aim of addressing a stubbornly high unemployment rate while making Sonoma County a competitive destination in attracting and retaining businesses.
The chamber projects big gains from the plan for the region – the creation of 4,100 jobs, $155 million in consumer expenditures, $37 million in state and local tax revenues and $87 million in bank deposits, $268 million in payroll earnings and $182 million in disposable income. The county, which agreed to contribute $300,000 toward the effort, could stand to receive $11.4 million in economic benefit, according to proponents.
As of Sept. 30, the program had received $3.075 million in total pledges from an array of private and public entities, according to an investor update. Two weeks ago, the Santa Rosa City Council, by a 4-3 vote, approved to find $300,000 in funding over the next five years — effectively bringing the public-private partnership’s goal to fruition.
But work still remains, and advocates of the program still have yet to meet with all Sonoma County cities, which is a key step in gaining a wide swath of support, said Trip Snelson, campaign executive for BEST.
“On a timeline standing, we’re really transitioning from the capital campaigning to the execution phase,” Mr. Snelson said. “Our hope is that we have a unified countywide approach.”
Proponents of BEST last week presented their case to the city councils of Healdsburg and Sonoma, both of which reacted positively and entertained motions to offer funding for the program, according to Mr Snelson.
“We’re pleased, and I think … that we were able to take this concept to reality in a tough economic environment, I think provides some visibility into the quality of the program,” he said.
Supporters of BEST asked the Sonoma Council to contribute $27,000 a year for five years, and the Healdsburg Council to contribute $33,000 a year. BEST subtracted $10,000 from that number since the Healdsburg Council already contracts certain economic development functions to their Chamber, so the actual requested amount from Healdsburg is $23,000, according to Mr. Snelson.
The contributions asked of each municipality are based on historical tax rates, revenues and potential tax benefit.
Next, BEST intends on hiring an executive director, likely before the end of October or early November. In the near future, BEST advocates will make their pitch to the Sebastopol City Council on Nov. 1. Cloverdale and Petaluma council meetings have not been scheduled but will follow in the near term.
The five-year project includes a five-part plan that identifies the following goals: business retention and expansion; creating a supportive business climate; fostering innovative business; attracting new businesses and providing high quality jobs; and building a “world class workforce based on educational attainment.”
“The emphasis is on industry clusters,” Mr. Snelson said, adding that the goal is to not attract “big-box retailers” but instead a more varied offering of sectors such as technology, for example. “Companies that have value in intellectual property.”
He also said a wide range of businesses thus far have contributed to the effort, from agriculture, finance, legal, foundations and chambers of commerce.
Nearly 70 businesses and organizations have so far invested in the program.
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