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ROHNERT PARK – The North Bay must act immediately to form an economic development agency focused on improving the region's economy, according to William Silver, dean of the School of Business and Economics at SSU.

Creating such an entity will be one of the central themes of the annual SSU School of Business and Economics Outlook Conference Feb. 25 entitled  “The Time is Now: Developing a regional strategy to attract and retain jobs.”

“This has to be a conference that focuses us on action, not dissemination of more data,” said Dr. Silver.

“How do we get there and what do we do? We need an entity that is taking an active role, not a studying role. We have the information we need to move forward. Let's move.”

Putting together an economic development corporation is a regional strategy, Dr. Silver said.

“At the university, the North Bay Leadership Council, the Sonoma County Alliance and the [Santa Rosa] Chamber of Commerce have discussed coming together to support growth in the region,” he said.

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The conference, which also will be highlighted by the annual economic outlook for the region by economist Robert Eyler, will include a panel made up of economic development leaders who have hands-on examples of how the area can move forward.

Dr. Silver said North Bay leaders are already looking at funding ideas for such a corporation.

The hope is to get a group together so “next year we can report on the results of our efforts,” he said.

The economic outlook conference began in the early ‘90s and has evolved into the university’s signature business event.

This year, for the first time, there will be a special publication in connection with the conference that will highlight the school’s activities, programs and students.

The conference, co-sponsored by the Business Journal, will open with Brian Sobel, principal consultant for Sobel Communications of Petaluma, who will talk about the political climate moving into the new year.

Dr. Eyler, chair of economics at Sonoma State University and director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis, will discuss the regional economy and give his annual forecast.

A panel discussion will further examine the importance of a regional approach to economic development and attraction and retention of jobs. The panel will feature Emerson Estrada, director of expansion and retention at the Fresno Economic Development Corp.; Michael Ammann, president of the Solano Economic Development Corp.; Naheed Ali of the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program; and Tracey Grose, vice president of research and strategic development at Collaborative Economics in Mountain View.

Brian Pretti, senior vice president at Mechanics Bank, will close the program with an outlook for 2010. Mr. Pretti heads the investment management group responsible for managing $1.4 billion of client assets.

“I am really excited about this. I think we as a region can move toward recovery," Dr. Silver said. "There has been malaise with the economic situation. It is hard to mobilize when people are just surviving.”

But, he said, “We are beyond that. There are challenges ahead, but we can face them.”

The conference will be from 7:30 a.m. to noon Feb. 25 at the Sheraton Sonoma County, Petaluma. To register or for further information, call the Business Journal at 707-521-5264 or go to www.northbaybusinessjournal.com.