By Dr. Rob Eyler
As a lead up to the Impact Marin event on April 3, the North Bay Business Journal and Bank of Marin conducted a “business climate” survey in Marin County. This survey touched on many aspects of business in Marin County, from business confidence to the role of government in our economic lives.
Businesses in Marin indicate that their confidence is rising; over 50 percent of respondents suggested that the economy is likely to be better in 2013 than 2012, and over 39 percent suggested that the economy would stay the same. This shows a relative boost in confidence for this year.
In terms of job demand, Marin businesses signaled that they are hiring. Over 61 percent of respondents suggested the Marin County’s overall business climate was “favorable.” Most of the respondents were small businesses and looked to hire more in the next 12 months. Over 80 percent of respondents were in professional services (legal, accounting, financial services), health care or construction.
Talent attraction and retention was seen as a major issue in Marin County, over 22 percent of respondents indicated that they were experiencing an inability to fill open positions. In terms of growth and location, over 54 percent suggested that to grow their business, they would have to go outside Marin County. Two specific issues that came up in the survey were the importance of the global economy on local business and also the prospects for revenue growth given governmental issues (tax and regulations) and local markets changing demography away from supporting the business.
The survey asked how the business climate could be improved in Marin County. A large number of respondents suggested that lower taxes and regulations would be a good way to provide more help to businesses. These answers came from different angles. Some were about lowering sales taxes; others came at the issue in terms of lower regulatory environments. Marin County has a long history of contention between the residents and local businesses, where the government is in the middle acting as mediator.
For Marin County, the challenges are on two major fronts. The first is providing a business-friendly environment and look at incentives to attract and retain those businesses. Marin County is beset by competition in terms of both businesses and talent acquisition. Becoming more regional in scope, looking at neighboring counties and intracounty cooperation where cities share the burden of incentives to gain benefits from the new and expanding businesses, could generate a different way of looking at the question of business climate.
The second is to look at what Marin County cannot be. It cannot be a place where large-scale manufacturing takes place, and it is unlikely a place where large-scale businesses will choose to place a campus. Critical masses of both talent and space lie too close to Marin County to challenge the economics in neighboring communities. Transportation issues, the number-one issue in Marin County five years ago, are now but a minor issue in terms of business challenges in 2013.
Marin County can be a place where businesses are ignited, grown, and mature in multiple ways such that our indigenous talent (a mix of entrepreneurs and well-educated workers) can find similar options to the greater Bay Area, but perhaps remain in Marin County to work. There is risk in that strategy and local government needs to be a partner to signal a reduction in risk. The confidence in Marin County as a place to do business is growing; the survey signals this to us. It is a great time to seize these opportunities.
Rob Eyler (email@example.com) is the CEO of the Marin Economic Forum and professor and Frank Howard Allen Research Scholar of Economics at Sonoma State University School of Business and Economics.
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