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The inaugural North Bay Business Journal Manufacturing Awards event on July 19 demonstrated how important manufacturing is to our North Bay economy. It also highlighted the challenges these companies face. The business community must come together to support and help sustain and grow these businesses, many of which have been operating here successfully for generations.

I admire manufacturers and firmly believe they are a catalyst for turning our economy around. New product innovation is the key to creating jobs and these businesses provide valuable leadership to our region. For us to remain competitive, it is critical that we have a vibrant manufacturing sector that builds products which are in demand locally and globally, and draws the best and brightest talent to our region.

While service industries are very important for a well-balanced economy, we cannot bet on this sector alone to drive us forward given the historically large gap in wages and education required. It is time for the U.S. to reclaim our knowledge centers and put a high priority on science, technology and engineering.

I would guess that most local residents don’t realize that we have a significant manufacturing economy in the North Bay or understand its importance to the overall sustainability of our economy. As stated in the July 22 article from this paper, “A little bit of history for manufacturing and an ‘aha’ moment,” North Bay manufacturers employ 18,000 people and generate 20 percent of the region’s GDP, or nearly $5 billion in revenue annually. They are also adding jobs at growth rates of 15 to 50 percent contributing to the economic vitality of the North Bay.

Some of our local manufacturing customers including Labcon from Petaluma, a maker of disposable plastic laboratory products, and Sutter Instrument of Novato, a manufacturer of biomedical research instrumentation, have been operating in the North Bay for more than 50 and 30 years respectively. They recently shared some of their best practices as well as their unique challenges – from concerns about the impact of the recent debt deal to impediments for growth due to inadequate supply of commercial real estate. The issues they face are familiar for many businesses here in the North Bay.Maintaining high quality of life.

Not surprisingly, living and working in the North Bay is a major advantage for these business owners to help attract and retain high-caliber employees. With world-class universities nearby, we have access to a highly educated and specialized workforce.

Conversely, the increased expense of living in the North Bay makes it hard for some employees to live close enough to their jobs, including sought-after machinists and production workers who often live out of the area. Our counties are inter-connected economically and must be reliant on each other to provide workers and a healthy infrastructure, from roads to rail to affordable housing.

Organizations like the Marin Economic Forum are tackling these issues and I’m proud that Mike Kadel from Bank of Marin is part of this effort, as their newly elected board president. With Mike’s leadership, the expertise of all the forum members, and support from our chambers of commerce and local business organizations, we need to continue to build a healthy business environment in the North Bay and make it easier for people to live and work here.Access to world-class talent and education.

By creating the proper pro-business environment, our region will more easily attract talented young professionals in technical fields such as engineering, biotechnology, and general sciences. Our own local universities will greatly benefit from the influx of talent and as attraction to local schools increases, it will allow for diversification in their offerings. Access to top education is a critical component to maintaining a high quality of life in the North Bay, and we must address the current gap in educational opportunities to support our manufacturing sector and the broader business community.Promote growth and development.

Many manufacturers in the North Bay are faced with the challenging situation of being ready to grow but having nowhere to go. In order to support job growth and expansion, we have to plan for development of manufacturing parcels. Leadership in our local government has to understand this need and get creative to develop solutions for the real estate challenges these manufacturing businesses face, or we will face the unfortunate reality that they cannot afford to stay in the North Bay.

These issues are very complex and are not easily solved with access to capital. To build a vibrant and growing manufacturing sector will require the cooperation and commitment of businesses, educational leaders and local politicians. As a lifelong resident of this region, I am confident that together, we can achieve the goal of maintaining a dynamic manufacturing environment in the North Bay....

Russell A. Colombo is the chief executive officer of Bank of Marin.