If someone offered you the opportunity to make a tenfold return on an investment over five years, would you take it?

That’s what the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce BEST economic development program is offering state and local government: $37 million in additional tax revenue generated by 4,100 new jobs created or attracted to Sonoma County in the next five years, according to its estimates.

That’s the goal set by Building Economic Success Together – BEST – which has set a $3.25 million fund-raising goal and is well along to achieving it.

Including the county contribution, the campaign has raised $2.415 million – the vast majority from business. That puts BEST at 74 percent of its goal and places it on solid ground to go forward.

But this is not about fundraising. It is about creating jobs, the most basic underpinning of any community. And it about proactively seeking out and supporting jobs in an economy where the rules of job creation have changed.

In a presentation Thursday celebrating the kickoff of the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Wells Capital Management Senior Economist Gary Schlossberg noted that Sonoma County has recently fared better in job creation than the state and nation.

His data show that while gains have slowed over the past two months, job growth has exceeded 2 percent in Sonoma County this year while the state and nation have lagged behind at about 1.5 percent or less.

That’s good news. But Sonoma County’s unemployment rate remains historically high above 9 percent, and there are pockets in the county where it is well into the double digits. And Sonoma County by percentage lost more jobs in the recession than the state or nation. At the deepest point in the recession, the county shed 9.5 percent of its employment base, according to Mr. Schlossberg’s data.

Many experts believe the recession, globalization and technology have created structural changes in employment that will keep the jobless rate high for years to come if not longer.

So, one can resign himself to that dreary future or combat it with the right training programs, business retention and attraction and other strategies, which are what BEST is designed to do.

The question, of course, is how to accomplish the goal of creating 4,100 jobs and how to measure it. And in agreeing to support BEST, county supervisors made clear they expect measureable results above the 20,000 new jobs forecasters say the economy could – with the key word being could  – create organically over five years.

It’s not as though Sonoma County is the first to try this. Similar programs based on return on investment to their backers have shown success in Asheville, N.C., Richmond, Va., and Omaha, Neb.

Is BEST a risk? Of course it is. But doing nothing is a bigger one.


Brad Bollinger is Business Journal editor in chief and associate publisher. He can be reached at 707-521-4251 or bbollinger@busjrnl.com.