One could have heard a pin drop as Marin County native Harry Thomas spoke passionately about the area he grew up in and where he spent a successful career in finance.
Today, he said, the very foundation that makes Marin a great place to live – the schools, fire, police and other public services – are threatened by an eroding business and tax base needed to pay for them.
And another pillar of a strong community – the ability of multiple generations to live and work in the same city or town – has been seriously weakened.
“My daughter makes $80,000 a year,” Mr. Thomas told attendees at last month’s San Rafael Chamber of Commerce Forecasting the Future conference. “She lives in Sacramento. We’d love to have her live here.”
But, of course, $80,000 a year is an exemplary salary by almost any standard, but not enough for Marin’s very high cost of living. And then there’s the issue of whether there would be a job for her anyway.
Speaking broadly, those are the fundamental issues being taken up by the young Marin Economic Forum of which Mr. Thomas is the current president.
Started with initial funding from the county of Marin, the forum is now backed by leading Marin businesses and last week received a $75,000 grant from the Marin Community Foundation. The forum is in the process of selecting a CEO.
Marin has never had its own economic development organization. It hasn’t needed to. And many people are skeptical this latest effort can succeed.
But just as many people have now come to the conclusion that something must be done because they believe Marin’s economy is drifting in the wrong direction and its “very lifestyle we enjoy will devolve,” in the words of Mr. Thomas.
The forum is clear on one point: whatever efforts it undertakes will balance “civic, environmental and social goals.”
The forum’s initial economic study showed Marin has opportunities before it today. The author of the first Marin Economic Bulletin, Dr. Robert Eyler, chairman of the economics department at Sonoma State University, said many successful entrepreneurs live in Marin County and are looking for business and other opportunities. But unless Marin creates the environment for these enterprises to succeed locally, it risks losing them to San Francisco or Silicon Valley.
Marin also has opportunities for added tourism and work-at-home employment, according to the forum. Marin also needs a more effective transit system.
On those topics and others, the forum, to its credit, has started the conversation.