(Following are the opening remarks delivered by by Dr. William Silver at the Feb. 23 2012 Sonoma State University Economic Outlook Conference. Dr. Silver is the dean of the SSU School of Business and Economics. The Business Journal is a co-presenter of the conference.)

On behalf of the faculty, students, staff, and alumni of SSU’s School of Business and Economics I want to welcome you to the 2012 North Bay Economic Outlook Conference.  For nearly two decades this conference has been dedicated to providing North Bay leaders with the economic news and information needed to make informed business decisions.  In recent years this has been even more important as our economy struggled, and our businesses suffered. 

At this conference two years ago we called attention to the need for regional economic development.  And since that time, we have seen the creation of public-private partnerships such as Sonoma County BEST, the Marin Economic Forum, and the North Bay Innovation Hub assume leadership roles in rebuilding our regional economy.  Each of these efforts is under way and will need our continued support as they implement the plans to bring new companies to the area, grow our existing business, and (in my opinion most important of all), help launch new businesses.

Last year, we took on the challenge of the fiscal crises in the public sector.  Locally, we have seen our cities and counties make significant cuts to reduce costs, and launch the innovations that will create sustainable futures.  At the State level we have seen – well, frankly we have seen more of the same. 

 As a leader in our state university, as a volunteer in my children’s public school, and as a board member of four business organizations, I see daily the impact of a dysfunctional state government.  I implore our governor and state legislators to stop the insanity -- to stop the politics as usual -- and to start making the tough but important decisions that will restore our education system to its place among our nation’s best, and to create a business environment which supports prosperity. 

Follow the example set by today’s keynote speaker, State Controller John Chiang, who by his actions in suspending legislator’s paychecks until a real budget was passed tried to hold our leaders in Sacramento accountable.  What I would like to see is our elected state officials holding themselves accountable. 

 This year, our economic outlook conference takes a look at our region’s future, with an exploration of our new and emerging business sectors and industries.  We are experiencing the formation of a new regional economy, an economy with businesses that are not merely production or service operations – but that are transformational economy businesses.  Businesses that are transformational in the way they operate, transformational in their impact on customers, and transformational in their influence on our regional economic prosperity.  Transformational economy businesses not only provide transactional value (product or service for money), but also provide transformational value.

Take for example Amy’s Kitchen, whose founder we will hear from shortly.  For your money, they not only provide a food product, but they also provide the ability to conveniently (and I might add tastily) eat healthily.  Now the purchase of one organic bean and rice burrito is not going to solve our nation’s obesity epidemic or health care crisis, but it is an example of how a business can both make money and provide products that are good for us.  And when you add to the equation other value adds from having Amy’s Kitchen provides -- job creation, philanthropic support, business taxes, innovative HR practices such as an on-site health care clinic -- you begin to have the perfect picture of a business operating in the transformational economy.

What is the role of a University in this new transformational economy?

 As the dean of Sonoma State University’s School of Business and Economics, I want you know that we are committed to being the educational nucleus of this new North Bay economy.  We will continue to provide the relevant and “real world” educational programs that produce the business leaders and business professionals needed to operate our region’s great organizations – programs like our executive MBA, our wine business MBA, and our professional development certificates.

 I am proud to report that just last week, a team of business students traveled to Texas to claim first place among all business schools in the country in the Small Business Institute’s Project of the Year competition for a consulting class project they completed on a local Cold Stone Creamery.

 Beyond our education programs, we are also committed to providing research into best business practices and economic analyses to inform the key decisions you need to make.  For a few years now you have had the privilege of hearing Dr. Eyler, our region’s foremost economist, offer his insight into our economic and business trends.  And we also have three dozen other faculty members bringing their intellect and experience to today’s business challenges with their work on labor market analyses, marketing to millenials, cult wines, ethical leadership, financial benchmarking, and housing prices – just to name a few recent projects.

 Our teaching and research are important but they are not enough if as a business school, we are to be a catalyst for regional economic prosperity.  We must ensure that we graduate SSU students with the entrepreneurial drive to dream of new business ideas, and the technical skills and practical experience to bring them to market.  So we are investing strongly in our entrepreneurship program to help launch businesses out of the university that will be part of our new transformational economy.

 And to support our efforts, I pleased to announce publically for the first time, a very generous $180,000 gift from Codding Enterprises to support the hiring of the Hugh Codding Entrepreneur-in Residence.   With this gift, we will be able to add an experienced serial entrepreneur to our teaching team. 

Hugh Codding, one of Sonoma County’s most successful businessmen, embodied the spirit of entrepreneurship.  He recognized opportunity, created successes, and through it all, he gave back to his community.  The funding for the Hugh Codding Entrepreneur-in-Residence will help us build an “entrepreneurship pipeline” from local schools into Sonoma State, and then from the University into the North Bay Innovation Hub and the regional economy.  The Hugh Codding Entrepreneur-in-Residence will be a champion for entrepreneurship and its importance in a healthy North Bay economy.  

I want to thank Connie Codding, Brad Baker and Codding Enterprises for their generous support of our entrepreneurship program. ...

William Silver is the dean of the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University, silverw@sonoma.edu.