ROHNERT PARK — In his annual economic forecast at the Sonoma State University Economic Outlook Conference, Dr. Robert Eyler, director of the university’s Center for Regional Economic Analysis, said that the six North Bay counties of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Mendocino and Lake could expect “broad growth” across various sectors through 2014.
However, continuing legislative debate about taxation and regulation has caused uncertainty to persist in the business community, tempering long-term plans and making predictions difficult beyond 2015.
In his annual report, Dr. Eyler presented six economic indicators that, as a combined index, illustrated the likely economic direction of the six North Bay counties. While none has recovered from the recessionary decline of 2008, all experienced a regional upward trend that was represented most strongly for Sonoma and Lake counties.
“While the U.S. economy has flattened out, the local economy is speeding up,” he said.
Current conditions represent recovery to prerecession employment, not including the housing boom and what Dr. Eyler called a continued “hole in construction.”
Business investment has recovered to over 80 percent of what it was in 2005 after plunging in 2009, but has decoupled from stronger recovery in consumption, government spending and exports, he said. Further economic and legislative clarity is required to drive that uptick, he said.
Some of that uncertainty is born from issues beyond the United States, including government debt in Europe. Middle East political issues could drive the price of a gallon of gas beyond $5 by August of this year, he said.
The volume of cash at lenders has skyrocketed during three distinct periods since July 2008, which Dr. Eyler attributed to multiple rounds of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve and its enduring effort to keep interest rates at record lows.
Housing continues to recover at a consistent pace in the North Bay, with less distressed sales and higher demand. Yet distressed sales remain higher than a normal level, which would be between 5 and 15 percent.
Dr. Eyler called for a collaborative focus on marketing and business development in the North Bay, and for efforts to focus on resolving the frequent obstacles many companies face.
“It’s way easier to hit 100 singles than have one home run in economic development,” he said.
Also featured at the conference were a duo of panels representing “game-changing” companies and new economic and regulatory developments affecting the North Bay.
The first panel at the conference was composed of Tony Magee, founder of Lagunitas Brewing Company; Tracy Geldert, chief executive officer of of Francis Ford Coppola Presents; John Crean, president and CEO of Sonoma Creamery, and Carolina Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California.
On the second panel, discussing the “triple bottom line” of profit, people and planet, were Robert Hunter, a registered investment adviser and advocate for the new capital-raising avenue of “crowdfunding;” Mark Nelson, principal of the Mark Nelson Group and entrepreneur-in-residence at Sonoma State; and Jeff Stump, easement program director for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust and leader in the greenhouse-gas-sequestration effort known as the Marin Carbon Project.
The keynote at the conference, held at the Green Music Center, was Sandy Weill, former chairman and top executive of Citigroup and lead donor to the project. Mr. Weill encouraged more cooperation between the business community, students and the university. He also sees a bright future for tourism and hospitality if the region can attract and accommodate more visitors to come and enjoy its enjoy its world-class food, wine, the arts and temperate weather.
The conference was co-presented by the North Bay Business Journal. Mr. Weill is part of a group of investors that owns the Business Journal, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Petaluma Argus-Courier and Sonoma Index-Tribune.
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