Marin Economic Forum focuses on helping locals thrive

MARIN – Fostering the growth of business and retention of current businesses in Marin County is the focal point of the Marin Economic Forum.

The 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.”

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“We are trying to both help businesses stay here and to connect entrepreneurs to capital,” said Dr. Robert Eyler, interim chief executive officer of the forum, chair of the Economics Department at Sonoma State University and the director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis, also at Sonoma State.

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 San Francisco and the South Bay have both labor and financial capital. The problem is many of the people looking for capital are already linked into capital markets in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.

But, he said, “There is capital in Marin.”

“The better play for us is to talk to those who are financiers in Marin County to seek out opportunities of entrepreneurs to invest in,” said Dr. Eyler.

Another major issue facing Marin is trying to find a labor force that want to live in the county.

“We are talking about software engineers and people in the tech industry and anecdotally they want to live closer to metropolitan centers,” he said. “They are looking for a more urban environment and that hurdle will never be eclipsed.”

However, he said, with some efforts in the arena of education, there are possibilities.

“We would like to have a pipeline from Dominican University,” he said. “People who come out of school will then have opportunities right there in the county.”

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.

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.

So far, he said, 25 or 30 firms have contacted the forum for direct support and about 100 have been connect indirectly through networking.

However, the less than 2-year-old forum is still finding its place.

“Right now we are trying to figure out where we are going as an organization,” Dr. Eyler said.

“We have not gotten as much of the networking opportunities off the ground as we would like,” said Dr. Eyler. “Currently businesses can contact us to try to find out what we have to offer.”

He said recognizing there are entrepreneurs in the area and fostering healthy growth that focuses on the community and the needs and wants of the community will result in sustainable growth needed to sustain the economy.

But it is not just the economy that the forum is focused on.

“Above all,” Dr. Eyler said, “I want the Marin Economic Forum to be the first stop for businesses and residents when they want to know what is going on in business in Marin County.”

Visit the Marin Economic Forum’s website for more information and to read the latest economic bulliten at www.marineconomicforum.org