Economic DevelopmentTaking North Bay Leadership Council to new levelCynthia Murray

President and CEO

North Bay Leadership Council

775 Baywood Drive, Suite 101

Petaluma 94954



PETALUMA -- Receiving the Women in Business Award in 2010 on the 10th anniversary of these awards seems somehow appropriate for Cynthia Murray, CEO and president of the North Bay Leadership Council, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. As the current leader and visionary of that organization, Ms. Murray is fluent in thinking in terms of decades.

“Cynthia sees our region as well as our world as it is now, but she also clearly sees the endless effects and possibilities of our future,” observed Patricia Kendall of Kaiser Permanente in San Rafael, a member company of the NBLC and former chairwoman.  In her four years as head of the organization, Ms. Murray “has made an indelible mark on Marin and Sonoma counties, reaching far and wide across the disciplines recognized in the Women in Business categories.”

Return to the list of Women in Business 2010 video remarks and profiles.

Founded in 1991, the NBLC represents leading employers in the North Bay both in crafting and advocating for sound, regionally focused public policy. The organization now includes more than 30 employers in Marin and Sonoma counties from a broad cross section of industries, professional services, nonprofits and educational institutions, representing a work force of more than 20,000.

Ms. Murray is well-known and respected for her leadership in tackling complex issues with a practical, collaborative approach focused on quality of life while balancing the immediate and long-term needs of business, the environment and people. The most recent and prominent example of this is SMART, the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, made possible by the passage of the Measure Q sales tax in the November 2009 election by a two-thirds majority in both Marin and Sonoma counties. The NBLC was a key leader of the SMART campaign.

“Transportation has been one of NBLC’s main issues historically because this is a big issue for attracting and retaining employees,” said Ms. Murray, who served as co-chair for the campaign. “Although Marin doesn’t have the connection to the need for a train like Sonoma does, Marin employers have always supported SMART.”

The NBLC has taken a lead advocacy role in other major transportation issues during Ms. Murray’s tenure, successfully ensuring $82 million in funding to widening the Highway 101 “Novato Narrows” and $20 million to add a second connector lane to the 580/101 interchange. Ms. Murray worked with the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) to secure this funding.

Another example of Ms. Murray’s cross-pollinating approach to economic development is getting the NBLC involved through the Bay Area Council in creating a “landing pad” for companies that want to do business in China and companies in China that want to do business here. Ms. Murray participated in a delegation of North Bay companies on a trip to Shanghai, China, this month. Because of explosive business growth in China, Ms. Murray sees this exchange as an opportunity to influence Chinese companies on the need to balance innovation, sustainability and health.

Convening public and private stakeholders is a hallmark of Ms. Murray’s leadership. It stems from a career that began with 20 years in the private sector – sales and marketing in the computer industry – and then took a turn into public service for 15 years. She served on the Novato City Council from 1991 to 1998, including one year as mayor, and on the Marin County Board of Supervisors from 1999 to 2006.

The NBLC saw the opportunity to recruit Ms. Murray in 2006 after she lost a bid for California State Assembly against Jared Huffman. Her professional background made her uniquely qualified to lead and grow the organization, then known as the North Bay Council.

“Cynthia has single-handedly taken the former Marin organization and made it into a dominant player in the North Bay,” said Ms. Kendall, noting that the organization added the word “Leadership” to its name after Murray came on board.

The list of organizations and initiatives Ms. Murray has put her energies into tells the story: the Bay Area Water Forum, Bay Area Council's Economic Institute and Water, Health Care and Transportation/Land Use Committees, Bay Area Wetlands Restoration Authority, Sonoma Business Consortium, Marin Schools-to-Career Partnership, Healthy Marin Partnership, Sonoma Health Action Council, Sonoma Aiming High Program, Marin Business Advocates, Marin Economic Forum, REAL Coalition, Dominican University Business Advisory Council and Sonoma County Innovation Council.

As co-chair of the Innovation Council, Ms. Murray led the effort to produce “Strategic Economic Plan for Sonoma County,” published in January 2009, a 10-year road map for economic development – an accomplishment she is particularly proud of in light of the economic downturn. “We were prescient in looking at what needs to be done for the next 10 years,” she said.

Ms. Murray sees education and jobs creation as the most pressing challenges facing the North Bay.

“We were already seeing a deficit of jobs before the recession. They were calling it a jobless recovery, but now we’ve all found out what a jobless recovery really is,” she said. “The big question is how do we create and save jobs in North Bay that are commensurate with the skill and pay levels needed for what it costs to live here.”

Under her leadership, the NBLC has set its sights on early child education to work toward improving the educational system. In the same way that preventative health care in early childhood correlates to better lifelong physical health, the best return on investment of educational dollar is through early childhood education.

The NBLC’s annual Economic Insight Conference this month focused on the critical importance of early childhood education as well as the need to increase the number of North Bay students prepared for college. More students need to be encouraged toward math and sciences to gain the knowledge and skills needed for the work force of the future.

“The jobs of the future are requiring increasingly higher skill sets. Not only do we need more college graduates, we need people who are willing to pursue continuous education and improvement throughout their careers to keep up with how jobs are changing,” Ms. Murray said.

In her own life, Ms. Murray pursued math, science and technology as a younger woman because these led to careers where there was no glass ceiling for women.

“I’m 60 years old so things have evolved quite a bit,” Ms. Murray said. “There were a lot things when I first came out of college that women weren’t encouraged to participate in. I went for sales because it was totally merit-based.”

The NBLC is concerned about the growing achievement gap now for Latinos, 30 percent of whom are not finishing high school and who will become the majority population in the North Bay by 2023.

“Educating all students to be career and college ready is really about having options,” Ms. Murray said. “Those students who don’t have the ability to go to college have shut the door on many options. It will never hurt them to have those skills.”

Ms. Murray is working on developing and expanding public-private partnerships between business and education to address this gap.

“Cynthia sees business as the employer of hope,” Ms. Kendall noted. “She has found her responsible role on the stage of leadership in the North Bay.”