NORTH BAY – A coalition of North Bay employment development officials have created a research council that once funded will examine renewable-energy employment needs and possible joint strategies for Sonoma, Marin, Solano and Napa counties.

“In preliminary discussions, we recognized that we would have to choose an industry that was relevant to all four counties, and renewable energy was one area we all felt we had common ground,” said Robert Bloom, Solano Workforce Investment Board executive director.

The diverse 25-member group called Generating Renewable Energy Employment in the Northbay (GREEN) is comprised of the four counties’ WIB leaders, college and university executives, private business owners, nonprofit and community group chiefs and other government officials.

Mr. Bloom said the team is currently preparing to submit for a federal innovation grant and if accepted, they will begin preparations to assess the current and future renewable-energy work force. The project is estimated to take about 18 months and will include qualified consultant and survey research with the hopes of developing a strategic plan meant to stimulate job creation.

Development of the GREEN council was the result of work by the North Bay Employment Connection, which was created about 10 years ago and is comprised of WIB’s in Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Solano. The collaboration receives both federal and state funding and works with other nonprofit and private companies to provide free employment services and labor market data.

As part of those services, each region has one or several “one-stop centers” that offer resume development services, help with unemployment insurance and assistance with job searches. “The biggest thing we are seeing right now is people coming into our office that are kind of shell-shocked, they just lost their job, and haven’t had to look for one in 35 years and don’t know where to start,” Mr. Bloom said.

In Sonoma, WIB Director Karen Fies said visits to their one-stop center called Job Link saw more than triple its normal traffic on the first of January and daily visits have stayed higher than normal.

“We have been extremely busy lately with the economy,” Ms. Fies said.

“In a normal year we will see about 5,000 people, and we saw more than 1,000 just in January this year.”

Marin Employment Connection Manager Racy Ming said they are “breaking records on a monthly basis.” Year over year, visits were up 35 percent for the last two quarters of 2008 compared with 2007. The number of people filing for unemployment in Marin was up 64 percent during the same period.