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What do voting, jobs and prosperity have in common? It turns out a lot.  And as we try to cut the 10.4 percent unemployment that is persisting in Sonoma County, we all can benefit from knowing what those connections are.

Sonoma County has lost 4.7 percent of its jobs over the past 2 years.  This number does not take into account the number of people who have given up looking for work, never entered the workforce (recent high school and college graduates) or been forced to take early retirement because of layoffs and downsizing. With more than one out of every 10 people out of work, we need more jobs in Sonoma County.  We need more jobs for the unemployed plus the new people who will enter the workforce as they become of age or move to this County. 

When we look at where those jobs may be created, it is important to understand that the jobs we have lost are not coming back. The local economy, like the national economy, has experienced a rebalancing that has forever changed how and where we work. Surprisingly, many elected officials have been slow to respond to these economic realities and have failed to make creating and saving jobs their top priority. 

Without jobs, there is no prosperity.  So where does voting fit into this equation? There is a strong correlation between economic vitality and civic vitality. In communities where there are high percentages of registered voters and those registered voters vote in most elections, the communities benefit from having active participation in civic life.  The benefits derive from voters making informed decisions about what is in their best interests by voting for the candidates who will represent those interests and ballot measures that improve their communities. 

Politicians pay more attention to the people who vote than those who don’t.  That means political rewards are aligned with political participation.  Studies have shown that governmental budgets, which are controlled by elected officials, are allocated to a greater degree to high propensity voting districts/voters than low voter turnout areas.  Obviously, the politicians know who is paying attention and who is not. And in turn, those politicians are more attentive to those who put them in, and out, of office.

The lesson is, “If you care about jobs and prosperity, elect people who want to create jobs and increased economic vitality and re-elect officials whose voting record demonstrates job creation and increased economic vitality within their jurisdiction.”  Unfortunately, election results show there have been a significant percentage of people not participating in elections. According to Pete Golis, in his column in the Press Democrat (June 8, 2010), there are 337,812 local residents eligible by age and citizenship to vote in Sonoma County.  However, only 245,136 are registered to vote.  This means almost 100,000 people are sitting on the sidelines, not exercising their right to vote, and letting other people make their decisions and reap the rewards.

Of those registered to vote, many don’t bother. The average turnout in a non-presidential election is between 50 to 60 percent.  That means an additional 125,000 to 150,000 people are not voting most of the time. Total up the non-voters and you can see that approximately a quarter million people in Sonoma County are not civically engaged. And while there are worse statistics in California, these numbers should not be acceptable to any resident of Sonoma County.

They certainly aren’t to us. That is why our three organizations -- Sonoma County Alliance, North Coast Builders Exchange and North Bay Leadership Council -- have formed the North Bay Jobs and Prosperity Project (NBJPP).   NBJPP is a nonpartisan effort to improve voter registration and turnout through highly accessible voter information. The project will work with North Bay employers, starting in Sonoma County, to provide their employees with encouragement to register to vote, registration materials, candidate information and questionnaire results, and ballot measure pros and cons.  There will be no advocacy or endorsements at NBJPP.

We hope the thousands of employees of our mutual members will seize the opportunity to register to vote, thereby gaining a say in making Sonoma County more economically competitive so new jobs are created and existing jobs are saved. We hope that NBJPP spurs a new level of civic vitality that leads to a greater economic vitality.  That is why our motto is: “Your Job and the North Bay’s Future Depend on How You Vote.”  For more information go to www.NorthBayProsperity.com.

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Submitted by the North Bay Jobs and Prosperity Project and the executives of its founding organizations: Cynthia Murray, president and CEO, North Bay Leadership Council; Lisa Wittke Schaffner, executive director, Sonoma County Alliance; and Keith Woods, CEO, North Coast Builders Exchange. For more information, contact: Terry Darcy, project coordinator, 707-570-JOBS or Terry@NorthBayProsperity.com.