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Sonoma County Job Link, SonomaWorks, others plan move to southwest building

[caption id="attachment_27457" align="alignright" width="360" caption="The Lakes Corporate Center (Photos courtesy of Cornish & Carey Newmark Knight Frank)"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- The county of Sonoma plans to consolidate its job-seeker services to one 46,300-square-foot office in southwest Santa Rosa next spring to handle a growing number of clients without work.

If approved by the county Board of Supervisors on Dec. 14, the consolidated office would bring together 120 employees in the Sonoma County Job Link and SonomaWorks programs from four separate buildings and about 40 people from partner firms such as mental-health counselors, the state Employment Development Department and service organizations such as Goodwill Industries and YWCA.

The move is planned for weekends between April and June 2011.

In the past two years, the caseload for the Sonoma County Job Link one-stop employment and training center increased 56 percent and the welfare-to-work SonomaWorks program, 17 percent, according to Karen Fies, director of the Employment and Training division of the county Human Services Department.

Citing the latest figures from August, Job Link served about 1,200 clients, and SonomaWorks 8,317, including care for 6,229 children. Most live in Roseland, which dictated where the division would finally settle, Ms. Fies said.

The growth in the caseload for both programs about doubled since the start of the housing market crisis in the county in mid-2006, according to the department.

"This will give us economies of scale and flexibility in the workload and allow us to share responsibilities in the same building," Ms. Fies said.

Some of the SonomaWorks staff members work at the county administration center five miles to the northwest of the division's administrative offices currently in another building in The Lakes because there wasn't room at the main office.

"They are more important than ever, and getting people back to work is more important than ever," said Ms. Fies about those two programs.

The jobless rate in Sonoma County has risen from 6.1 percent in August 2008 to 11.4 percent in March of this year and back to a still-high 9.7 percent in September, according to the latest state figures.

Among the Job Link umbrella of 30 programs serving employers, job seekers and employees, job-search coaching has become paramount because of the much different hiring environment from just a few years ago, according to Ms. Fies.

Rather than advertising jobs, a number of employers unsure about the course of the economy are hiring for various levels of jobs on a temporary basis then considering longer-term commitments later.

Because fewer jobs are posted, getting a job can be dependent on who you know, she said. To that end, a group of about 30 meet at the Job Link offices each Monday to network and trade job leads.

Job Link hasn't yet heard from the 450 Rohnert Park employees of State Farm Insurance given a choice of relocating to Bakersfield or leaving the company when the operations center closes in July 2011, but Ms. Fies suspects some will seek help on modern job-search strategies such as online professional networks.

"There are some State Farm employees who have worked there for a decade or more, and it is a different employment environment than it used to be," she said.

The county negotiated final terms for a 12-year lease for the first floor of 2227 Capricorn Way in The Lakes Corporate Center. The county Board of Supervisors had its first look at the deal on Nov. 9 and is set to consider issuing a letter of intent to lease the space.

The pending SonomaWorks and Job Link lease is one of five 25,000-square-foot-plus office-type space requirements in the Santa Rosa area now, including three for county offices, a private school new to the North Bay and a couple of existing call centers, according to Dave Peterson, a Keegan & Coppin agent representing the county in the Employment and Training deal.

Chasing these requirements are owners of about a half-dozen properties with available space of that size.

"These big spaces will become more and more limited, and we will be left with two or three spaces of more than 20,000 square feet," Mr. Peterson said.

There is tough deal-making for these opportunities. The Lakes managing partner Equity Office Properties beat six top contenders from Sonoma County Airport to Rohnert Park and 16 total proposals for the Employment and Training division lease. All offered tenant-improvement and moving allowances around $3 million, according to public documents.

Equity Office also offered to lower the rent after April, when the new lease starts, by $111,000 for county offices at The Lakes. The division is funded mostly by $24 million in federal and state funds.

"Rental rates are so low and tenant incentives are so high that lenders are pushing back on these transactions," Mr. Peterson said.

Property value would be lowered based on expected lower rent income, resulting in lower debt-service coverage ratios, he added. A ratio of 1 means that net operating income equals the amount needed to cover debt and other property payments.

To make room for the county at The Lakes, Equity Office plans to upgrade Integra Telecom from 5,000 square feet to part of 10,000 square feet remaining at Equity Office's 3700 Old Redwood Highway freeway-fronting building in the Fountaingrove area of northeast Santa Rosa.

Equity Office also has created six rapid move-in office suites of 800 to 1,700 square feet at The Lakes, according to marketing agent Connie Bradley of Cornish & Carey Newmark Knight Frank.