NORTH BAY -- The good news is that the worst part of the recession generally is over for the local construction industry, according to conference panelist Rob Eyler, chair of the Sonoma State University Economics Department and director of the institution's Center for Regional Economic Analysis.
"Construction is our major manufacturing base, alongside classic manufacturing in the North Bay and our wine industry," Dr. Eyler said. "We need to support these workers and either provide resources for their further education and flexibility into other careers or change our politics to realize the demand for new businesses means a demand for the trades."
In the short term, any funds secured from federal or other sources should be invested into skills training for the trades, education in general and construction projects that will lead to long-term job stability, he said.
But the long-term fixes for the industry, Dr. Eyler said, likely will come from greater flexibility from local governments about real estate development, especially in rezoning and repurposing properties for technology companies. With somewhere to go, those businesses and others could be enticed to relocate to the area.
Dr. Eyler will be one of the panelists at the Business Journal's annual Construction Conference on Wednesday, offering opportunities for the North Bay economy and its significant construction industry to prepare for the next business cycle.
Two solutions for higher vacancy rates for commercial real estate in a number of North Bay cities are better marketing of business in the region and more certainty about how much expanding in and relocating to the North Bay will cost in time and money, according to North Bay Leadership Council President and Chief Executive Officer Cynthia Murray. The group focuses on public policy that affects business activity.
"We're in an area where there is a lot more public involvement and a lot more agencies involved in a project," she said.
However, development of best practices for minimizing environmental impact from projects together with fiscal strain in many local governments provide an opportunity for streamlining the way local, state and federal agencies review projects, according to Ms. Murray. This has led to the Innovation Council's development of a "toolbox" for local government that would help standardize project requirements within an area.
Limited resources and common challenges also are leading to coordinated economic-development efforts in the North Bay, she said.
Leading the effort to develop consistent and coordinated marketing of business in the region is William Silver, dean of the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University.
"We've been a community where economic development has not gone on collaboratively," he said.
The North Bay has a number of existing economic-development, employee education, business-attraction and job-retention efforts, and some may work better in cooperation than in competition as well as areas where certain industries may be better suited than others, according to Dr. Silver.
For example, Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster in Rohnert Park has available space to incubate startups, and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce's workplace-based English program has capacity to be offered through other chambers in the area.