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SANTA ROSA – In an attempt to foster mutual cooperation and enhance awareness of economic development activities throughout Sonoma County, eight government agencies came together at a Sonoma County Alliance meeting June 3 at the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club to talk about retaining existing businesses, attracting new ones, creating jobs and leveraging private/public partnerships to stimulate growth.

The plans outlined city by city are:

City of Santa Rosa

“In 2007 we refined our economic sustainability strategy to focus on new employment opportunities and ways to grow spending by visitors to downtown retail stores,” said David Gouin, director of economic development and housing for the city of Santa Rosa.

“Jobs provide income that produces community cash flow. Our plan targets firms as far away as the East Bay that we want to bring to our city. We are building a brand image to support Santa Rosa’s Shop Local campaign through events such as Small Business Week, Getting Diners in the Door, the Retail Academy, the Amgen Tour, Scooter Rosa, holiday events and First Friday’s for the arts.”

Using the service LoopNet, the city is taking inventory of vacant retail space so the planning department can assess site decision data. A business visitation process has been initiated that interviews 30 to 40 firms annually to learn about challenges facing local firms and how the city can facilitate change.

Facade, Brownfield, SCIP and federal/state referral assistance loan programs are available to upgrade properties and aid in remediation. Parking signage is being improved to enhance the use of public spaces, and five city redevelopment projects have been identified.

The West Side project will create an estimated 700 jobs associated with the coming of the SMART train, new housing and emerging retail outlets while producing $4 million in new city revenues.

“The Environment, Equity and Economics are the three E’s of our local strategy. We want to expand this approach to encompass a regional effort that will place all of our concerns on the table,” Mr. Gouin said.

Sonoma County Economic Development Board

Providing tools to help businesses perform better and stay ahead of emerging trends is the role of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

“Economic vitality has been stimulated in recent years for the technology, tourism and agricultural sectors,” said Ben Stone, director of the EDB. “Evidence of this can be seen in the science curriculum at Sonoma State University – where 70 percent of graduates are able to find jobs – and in the creation of the Sonoma Tourism Bureau and through an integrated marketing program for county agriculture.”

According to Mr. Stone, the Innovation Council was formed to focus on issues not being studied by other groups and to formulate economic models used to forecast possible future scenarios.

“Educational attainment is a priority. A well-educated work force will attract business. We have also initiated a Web site to show small businesses how to survive tough economic times. A better regulatory environment is a big part of the equation. We are conducting a permitting function study with the goal of accelerating operations as well as another project monitoring how climate change legislation will impact firms in our area,” he said.

“We believe there is widespread interest in regional economic planning since 25 percent of the inquiries to our Web site come from outside of the county. The EDB is also a resource for the Small Business Development Center in helping firms anticipate change,” he said.

City of Cloverdale

Carla Howell, a consultant to the city of Cloverdale Economic Partnership, said that her community conducted a branding study revealing that 70 percent of Cloverdale residents leave each day for jobs elsewhere.

“We’ve updated our general plan to include ways to attract more jobs to our community, since most of our people shop where they work, go to doctors there and take their children to schools close to their employers. The city also wishes to expand Cloverdale’s sphere of influence by annexing Asti and an unincorporated area near the southwest side of town. We are also seeking a USDA grant to fund local infrastructure projects,” she said.

Cloverdale received an MTA grant to study ways to transport people from downtown to the future SMART station on the other side of Highway 101. The city is also exploring ways to commercially use land formerly occupied by the Citrus Fair.

City of Cotati

Andre Morrow heads the city of Cotati Economic Development Task Force charged with attracting and retaining new businesses and filling open spaces within the city limits. A new Web site lists available commercial properties. Another site, shopcotati.org, gives businesses an opportunity to advertise free of charge.

“We are working with City Manager Diane Thompson to change the image of Cotati to that of a green city that is also friendly to businesses that fit our profile as a small town,” Mr. Morrow said. “We want to make it easy for firms to locate here by educating them about zoning, permits, fees and licenses.”

The task force partnered with the city council in launching an Economic Development Survey for Citizens and Businesses to identify specific business types that residents want to attract to Cotati.

The city has stepped up efforts to publicize special events, such as the Cotati Jazz Festival on June 20, the Thursday Night Market, the Ethnic Food Festival, Octoberfest, the Elegant Evening Holiday Celebration and the hallmark Cotati Accordion Festival.

City of Healdsburg

Richard Spitler, director of the Healdsburg Redevelopment Agency, said, “We commissioned a downtown design study to determine how to capitalize on our small town atmosphere and to achieve positive economic development.”

The city brought its general plan up to date and has focused on upgrading the public infrastructure so property owners will not be burdened.

Healdburg’s rail depot will be renovated starting this fall in anticipation of the SMART rail system. The general plan includes revitalizing the Healdsburg corridor from Highway 101 to the plaza to prepare this access road for development during the next economic upswing.

A Lodging Coalition was formed to promote hospitality-based businesses along with another program to provide matching funds for advertising campaigns to aid city car dealerships. Through a Downtown Promotional Committee, retailers contribute $40,000 a year to publicize the Healdsburg experience. A Local Vendor Preference Ordinance was passed that provides allowances for hiring Healdsburg residents and other incentives.

City of Sebastopol

The city of Sebastopol and its Community Development Agency are emphasizing business retention and assistance for existing firms, while also finding ways to expedite city processes for new and existing businesses, according to Jack Griffin, Sebastopol city manager.

A Business Outreach Committee was created with the goal of tripling funding of the city’s Facade Improvement Program, developing a new city Web portal, implementing a downtown directional signage program and providing matching funds for consolidated advertising campaigns.

Sebastopol plans to host an Economic Summit this fall and is also providing grants and loans to nonprofit organizations for technology improvements, which could evolve into a similar loan program for local businesses.

Sebastopol is considering the creation of a business incubator in city-owned space and is exploring opportunities for green businesses, such as the recent opening of MakeMineElectric – a firm that converts gasoline powered vehicles to use electric power.

In addition, a series of intersection improvements are being planned for downtown, beginning in 2010, to ease pedestrian and bicycle passage.

Town of Windsor

For Matt Mullan, Windsor town manager, crafting an image for his community as a family destination that is also business friendly, is the challenge facing the Windsor Economic Development Council.

“Six months ago we created our first comprehensive plan for economic development focusing on quality jobs, business and sustainability with the vision to have a balanced community we can all be proud of.”

Windsor has experienced business growth with the opening of Hampton Inn and Suites, Dumol Winery and Tractor Supply.

Summer Nights on the Green, funded by the Town of Windsor, brings about 4,000 to 6,000 people into Old Town to shop, picnic, enjoy musical concerts and watch classic movies. “This is a new paradigm for local government. No longer can we just afford to think outside the box – there is no box. We must be creative with every new project,” he said.

Sonoma Valley Economic Partnership

The Sonoma Valley Economic Development Partnership was founded in 2004 following an economic summit. Project manager Laurie Decker said their strategy includes working with the county to strengthen economic diversification.

“Strong businesses make a strong community, and the quality of life is the key business driver in Sonoma. It is why they come and why they stay. We have a large small business population with many one- and two-person enterprises.” The partnership is promoting energy independence by offering forgivable matching funds up to $50,000. It is also identifying effective uses of redevelopment space to leverage private investment.