At the recent Sonoma County economic outlook summit, the need to brand the region came up over and over.

Could it be known as a place that places high value on health and wellness, as a center for advanced manufacturing, as a "total destination" for visitors?

These are worthwhile and thought-provoking discussions. As one speaker at the Sonoma County Economic Development Board event put it, we are a "genuine" sort. We are welcoming and community-minded, committed to the success of this region and its communities. Why else would 350 people come out at 7 a.m. on a summer morning to talk about the economy?

Nonetheless, experts will tell you that branding can be a tricky business.

The first inclination is to go out and hire consultants to tell you what your brand is. Now, knowledgeable experts are great and can be extremely valuable. But if you rely on people from Los Angeles to tell you what your brand is, you will get a Southern California brand.

A brand comes from deep inside. As the creator of a growing local beer brand said recently, he figured there were other people like him out there. So he set out to create a brand that he would like.

It worked. Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma grew 40 percent last year, and sales are accelerating in 2011, up more than two thirds. It is a national brand sold in 35 states.

As was noted here last week, Sonoma County -- the North Bay’s largest economy -- is at a unique moment. Housing is more affordable than it has been for a decade or more. Commercial real estate is plentiful and favorably priced. And people in the public and private sectors are fully engaged in a conversation about what will return the region to prosperity and sustain it.

Branding the region is an important piece of these efforts. And as the economic summit demonstrated, the seeds of a brand are emerging. Most importantly, ideas are flowing from within. For instance, can that brand include a high value placed on high school graduation and trade and college achievement for every young person? Will it embody the very real value placed on community, innovation, health and the environment? Will it communicate our world-class lifestyle and the beauty of our surroundings? Can we tell the outside world that our business climate is, like that of our restaurants, tasting rooms and spas, welcoming and genuine?

Now that is a brand. And like all good brands, it can be true.


Brad Bollinger is associate publisher and editor in chief of the Business Journal. He can be reached at 707-521-5241 or You can find his blog and other commentary at