NORTH BAY – With the loss of 600 high-wage positions just between Agilent Technologies and Medtronic Cardio-Vascular in Sonoma County alone, North Bay business, government and education leaders will need to work together to create alternatives for the region’s talent.
Local economic experts said unlike specific industries that can rise and fall, small business development might be the answer to attracting new talent in the future and realigning local resources in difficult times.
“I am very concerned and am hearing from other people a great concern for losing these talented workers, particularly because we know that cost of living is still quite high. The ones that are already here are the easiest to put to work. Importing new people is much more competitive,” said North Bay Leadership Council President and Chief Executive Officer Cynthia Murray.
“One of key things we learned from the dot-com bust is not to focus on any one industry, and I think moving in the direction of becoming an innovation-friendly region for startups and second-stage businesses could be the real future for our local economy.”
Since the onset of recession, the North Bay like the rest of the country has experienced an onslaught of layoffs, including recent reductions of 300 each at Agilent Technologies and Medtronic CardioVascular.
Santa Rosa Chamber Executive Vice President Chris Lynch said high-wage earners are valuable not only for businesses but for the money they spend in the local economy. Losing a chunk of these earners could mean a loss in the housing market, retail and local tax revenue.
“Even if these people do stay and don’t get hired, their children view this place as not having possibilities. These impacts have all sorts of implications for housing, education, the tax base, an increase in social services, the list goes on,” he said.
Sonoma Economic Development Board Director Ben Stone said the county is protected in some ways in that few places elsewhere have an abundance of open positions, but the North Bay is still faced with finding positions for the workers to start earning again.
“There is the risk that these people will move, but really there isn’t any obvious place for them to go to,” he said.
“We are very fortunate in that we have a lot of resources for people that do want to start their own business. If you wanted to, never before has it been so easy or affordable. … The more we can do to simplify the process the better.”
Among the emerging resources for new business owners, the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster incubator and an angel investors program have proven a successful beginning to defining the region as start-up friendly.
The Small Business Development Center of Santa Rosa Junior College also offers low-cost courses in small business growth throughout the North Bay. For those not looking to start a business, Santa Rosa-based HR Matrix recently launched a “job angel network” specifically for placing recently displaced workers.
“When you have a culture of good job transition and opportunity, losing a high- wage job position does not mean losing a resident, it just means experiencing a transition period,” said Sonoma State Economics Department Chair Rob Eyler.