(Editor’s note: Following are the opening remarks delivered to the Feb. 6 Sonoma State University Economic Outlook conference by William Silver, the dean of the SSU School of Business and Economics.)
This community inspires me.
I came here eight months ago because I saw great potential in the North Bay business community. The current economic climate does not dampen this assessment. Rather, it reaffirms it.
Why am I inspired?
I am inspired by the caliber and the quality of the business leaders that work and live here.
These are difficult times. There is no mistaking the seriousness of the economic challenges that we face. But instead of wallowing in despair and defeat, I see a community rallying to find solutions. I see people rising to the occasion. Look through the eyes of someone recently arrived to the North Bay, and allow me to share with you what I have seen.
A couple of months ago I attended the fall planning meeting for the board of directors of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. As the board discussed the goals and objectives for the coming year, it would have been easy to blame the economy for an expected revenue shortfall and focus the conversation on which services to cut. Instead, under the leadership of Mari Featherstone and Sue Nelson, the board reaffirmed its mission to be the leading organization dedicated to the success of business.
The conversation focused on the fact that this was the time when the business community is most in need of the services and programs of the chamber. And so the board voted to invest in programs such as the Entrepreneurial Pathways (helping startup and growth businesses succeed and create jobs), the Algebra Academy (building a skilled work force by helping English language learners) and the Young Professionals Network (focused on engaging the emerging business leaders of this community).
Whereas other communities have adopted a “death-spiral” plan where cuts in services lead to revenue loss which leads to further cuts in services which lead to further losses, we have an investment plan.
Three weeks ago North Bay Leadership Council CEO Cynthia Murray, PG&E’s Randy DiCaminada and Ben Stone of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board hosted a diverse group of community leaders to discuss the recommendations from the Innovation Council. The council’s economic strategic plan takes aim at advancing all facets of the regional economy through public-private collaboration in the areas of work force education, energy efficiency and economic development.
Thus we have a road map for the innovation needed for the region to be globally competitive in the years ahead. What is remarkable about this effort is that it was not launched in response to the current set of economic challenges, but in anticipation of them. Whereas other communities are scrambling to figure out what to do, we have a plan that is being put into action.
Last Thursday, I went to hear a talk at the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster on sustainability as a driver for innovation. Led by cluster leader Michael Newell and Codding Enterprises’ Brad Baker, the SMBC is another regional effort designed to stimulate economic development. As a nonprofit business incubator, the SMBC provides infrastructure, training, management assistance, financial resources and support networks that enable new and emerging companies to succeed, creating value-added jobs for the local region through the commercialization of technology.