Over Labor Day weekend, I ran into a leader in the Sonoma County wine industry at "Taste of Sonoma." This is where thousands gather at the gorgeous and historic MacMurray Ranch in the Russian River Valley to savor the county's finest wines and foods and the people who make them.
I noted to him how youthful the crowd was and that it was clear it came from around the Bay Area, California and beyond. The amazing thing about the largely young crowd, the wine industry leader said, is that while it took the baby boomers a lifetime to come to fine wine, these Taste of Sonoma twenty-thirty-and-fourty-somethings were already there.
This experience drove home clearly what many already know: Sonoma County has developed a wide reputation as a friendly, comfortable destination to experience fine food, wine and natural beauty. It's reputation as a destination and all that means for the economy -- hotels, farmers, winemakers and growers and restaurants and countless other businesses that benefit from visitors -- is significant and will only grow.
Meanwhile, Raydiance Inc., the leading developer of ultra fast lasers in Petaluma with about 50 employees, is at the center of another promising sector of the North Bay economy -- cutting edge technology.
Founded by Internet visionary and former AOL CEO Barry Schuler, the technology Raydiance is working on holds enormous potential.
"We are now entering the 'light age' and lasers will be a big part of our future," Mr. Schuler writes in an interview nearby. Mr. Schuler is the keynote speaker for the Business Journal's Impact Sonoma conference Thursday.
"The mobile phone in your pocket couldn't be manufactured without lasers," he said. "The unique aspect of the technology is that it can cut any material at very high precision without any heat. It is a game-changer for so many categories from manufacturing fuel injectors that increase fuel efficiency by 30 percent to new generations of cardiovascular stents and heart valves."
And that technology, like Taste of Sonoma, is here in Sonoma County now. The opportunity for the county to benefit from its growth is great. But it is in no case guaranteed.
The principal threat to loosing out on the future is a growing mismatch between the skills needed by broad range of businesses and the talent that is available locally.
The New Technology high schools that Mr. Schuler has backed and have spread across the country address this issue.
But there is no time to waste. As Supervisor Efren Carrillo, another Impact Sonoma presenter, writes in his interview in this issue: "I think our greatest challenge lies with the achievement gap for our growing Latino population, and how to most effectively address this future economic and social problem. We are facing a potential tsunami of failure that has incredibly high social and tangible costs."
Impact Sonoma on Thursday is all about exploring the future of the county through success stories like Taste of Sonoma, Raydiance, Oliver's Markets, high-tech manufacturer Small Precision Tools and the significant efforts of the county and city to improve our economy.
And as Mr. Schuler and others who will present Thursday have made clear, we can't wait for the state or federal governments to act on our schools or economy. But we can, and are in some cases, act locally to address them....