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Also: Chamber CEO Batto talks about jobs, local economy

Tim Wilkens is a resort developer who worked on the Vino Bello Meritage in Napa, among other projects. But he is also the president of the Global Housing Foundation, a micro-lending non-governmental organization dedicated to housing the 1.2 billion homeless worldwide.

He was made president after the founder and former president Rene Frank passed away. “I had served as a board member, and after Mr. Frank died, I was asked to serve as interim president for six months,” he said.

Four years later he is still the president, and the foundation now has a satellite office in Napa, where Mr. Wilkens works and has lived for the last 12 years.

The foundation was launched in 1999 when Mr. Frank took up a challenge from the United Nations Commission on Human Settlements as to why the private real estate industry did not do more to help solve housing crises around the world.

Global Housing Foundation was established as an independent, U.S.- and European-based not-for-profit organization that leverages the expertise and resources of the private real estate community to build new affordable housing for the working poor around the world.

Its mission is, in conjunction with UN-Habitat, to bring together the resources necessary to create housing for the working poor.  According to its Web site, the foundation aims to reach the 350 million urban homeless slum dwellers that are employed or have a source of income and offer them the opportunity to own a sustainable home that can be financed on a long-term basis with a "micro-mortgage."

The micro-mortgage program was developed by the foundation along with Merrill Lynch.

Sharon Young, the newly appointed chief executive officer of the foundation, said because of the international capabilities of the foundation, it is able to go to a country and easily assess that country’s needs.

The program is designed to assist the working poor. These are families that earn anywhere from $35 to $125 per week with an average household of five people. The 600-square-foot homes are built from $5,500 to $20,000, depending on the country.

In addition to continually looking for opportunities worldwide, there are currently plans for 500 homes to be built in Nicaragua, 2,000 homes in Panama and 1,500 in El Salvador. ---JVL

Update, July 6, 2010: In April, the foundation made what it called "an important change in its leadership." Mr. Wilkens is "no longer associated with Global Housing or any of its international affiliates," according to the statement at the time. Ms. Young is the new president.

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[caption id="attachment_18443" align="alignleft" width="126" caption="Lisa Batto"][/caption]

The Business Journal asked Lisa Batto, president and CEO of the Napa Chamber of Commerce, to give her take on current conditions in the business community.

Q. In what sector or sectors of the business community do you see growth?

A. In the city of Napa, I have seen our restaurant sector improve with new business openings, and the restaurants are sporting a price point that encourages repeat weekly business.

In the past year we have had a few restaurants close only to see new ones taking their place. I believe restaurants in Napa and throughout the county thrive by meeting the needs of the long-time resident rather than catering exclusively to the visitors.

Q. What sectors are still slow or weakening?

A. Manufacturing is a sector that is still very slow. We’ve had the recent closure of Marinco [a maker of harsh environment electrics for the marine industry, which closed its Napa facility in January] and the downsizing with Dey Labs and layoffs at other facilities. These factors have contributed to our very high unemployment rate in Napa County.

Our work force is looking for opportunities to be retrained or find comparable work through our Workforce Napa center. We're seeing the full range of workers come through the center.

Q. Can you comment in a general way about the state of the economy?

A. The economy seems to be in a lag period in Napa County. We’ve seen business successes along with the failures, which tend to keep us a bit flat. Our community needs to pay attention to itself to weather through the next bounce period. We all must keep in mind that spending our hard-earned dollars in our own county helps to keep each other employed, our services intact and our economy strong. ---LS