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‘Must pursue new model to sustain’ Marin ‘quality of life’

MARIN COUNTY – The Marin Economic Forum is publishing its first Marin Economic Bulletin, a forecast into 2011 that will be released at the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce’s annual Forecasting the Future conference Thursday morning.

“A great recession, combined with a new focus on the value of a strong local economy, have brought a dawning realization that we must pursue a new model to sustain the quality of life we so enjoy in Marin,” the introduction reads.

“Marin also faces challenges of inadequate mass transportation infrastructure, steep housing costs and changing demographics. Maintaining and expanding a workforce to meet the needs of Marin employers is critical.”

The Marin Economic Forum is a public-private partnership working to “enhance Marin’s economic vitality and to create an environment that supports startup, expanding and entrepreneurial businesses within Marin’s economic sustainability strategy.”

The report, prepared by the Marin Economic Forum staff and board, provides information about the current and future state of the county economy.

Dr. Robert Eyler, the interim chief executive officer at the forum and head of the economics department at Sonoma State University, said report shows the Marin economy is in recovery, but that that position is not guaranteed.

“That is the prevailing theme, but the recovery is really tenuous,” he said. But it is a recovery nonetheless.

“While the labor force and number of new businesses slowly grow through this recovery, the number of defaults, bankruptcies and foreclosures are likely to slow down and fall from their historic peaks,” he said.

Dr. Eyler said the strength of employment rate in Marin in the future depends on getting the industry mix right.

“Also, one of the major issues will be how Marin is going to grow up out of this bedroom community feel,” he said.

Dr. Eyler said the industries most likely to provide strength in the future are real estate and finance, software development for gaming and entertainment, alternative and residential health care, agro-tourism, and core technology.

“In each one there seems to be a pretty good foundation in Marin,” he said. “There seems to be real momentum growing out of Silicon Valley ex-pats, former startup folks who are quasi-retired.”

He said there is a lot of momentum in those arenas, but the question is can it be captured and kept in Marin.

Historically, he said, in Marin there has not been a push toward economic policy. There are population serving industries like retail and restaurants and some tourism in the west and south of Marin, but there is not a lot of focus on export industries.

“Economic policy on a county-wide level is what we at the Marin Economic Forum are trying to do,” he said.

He said that Hamilton Field with its core technology, filmmaking, software, retail and personal services along with housing best shows what Marin County would want to replicate.

“If economic development is done correctly, the income small businesses generate should outpace the wages paid,” he said.

Dr. Eyler said that Marin tends to think of itself as an isolated micro-economy, but so much depends on commuters from throughout the Bay Area as well as the condition of national and state economies, budgets and housing markets.