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In early April, Lucasfilm Ltd. withdrew its bid to build the Grady Ranch studio complex in Marin County, citing bitter opposition from neighbors and regulatory delays. This news immediately caught the attention of government and business leaders in Sonoma and other Bay Area counties, each interested in luring one of the most successful independent production companies in the world to its own neighborhood.

Projections from Sonoma State University for job growth and investment that would result from bringing Lucasfilm to Sonoma County facilitated the groundswell of local enthusiasm to go after this project. Attracting a company like Lucasfilm to Sonoma County would mean the creation of jobs. Not just a few jobs, but a number of jobs of game-changing proportions.

For every 100 employees hired by Lucasfilm, an additional 235 jobs would be created in Sonoma County. Lucasfilm reportedly was going to add 350 new jobs to its Marin County base through the Grady Ranch project. After losing over 16,000 jobs in Sonoma County since 2007, these projected new 1,000-plus jobs would be more than welcomed here.

So when rumors started flying that other sites were under consideration by Lucasfilm, it was time to get serious about putting Sonoma County into the game for winning the big one.

The initial reaction in Sonoma County by some critics of the idea was, “We don’t have incentives. How could we possibly compete?” Years of reliance on cyclical business growth and cynicism about California’s regulatory environment quickly led to the realization that to attract Lucasfilm to Sonoma County would require a new approach. 

Under the leadership of BEST (Building Economic Success Together), a new regional economic development initiative and a public-private partnership designed to facilitate business success in Sonoma County, seven incentives to attract Lucasfilm to Sonoma Country quickly appeared. 

Incentive No. 1: a managed and supported process of approval. Ideas for possible project sites have been suggested, along with stated support from government officials for help in navigating the permitting and regulatory bureaucracy. 

Incentive No. 2: a talented and available workforce. Sonoma County has a highly-educated workforce operating in a creative environment. And many Sonoma County people already work in companies that either support Lucasfilm directly or its related industries. 

Incentive No. 3: local availability of specialized training. Our educational institutions and the Workforce Investment Board stand ready to provide the specialized training necessary for Lucasfilm to keep a creative workforce at world class levels.

Incentive No. 4: transportation improvements. The advent of the SMART train, the expansion of the Sonoma County Airport to become the Bay Area’s fourth airport, and a renovated Highway 101 provide transportation infrastructure that is changing Sonoma County’s accessibility. 

Incentive No. 5: proximity to the Lucasfilm headquarters. Sonoma County is, at most, 50 miles from existing Lucasfilm properties in San Francisco and even closer to its Marin offices.

Incentive No. 6: the matchless quality of life in Sonoma County, where land and housing are more affordable than many other parts of the Bay Area.

Incentive No. 7: we want Lucasfilm. The County of Sonoma, the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, PG&E, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, Comcast, Redwood Credit Union, Moss Adams, Clover Stornetta, Luther Burbank Savings, Exchange Bank, Henry Trione and 75 other private sector businesses, representing large and small industry in the county, are all major investors in BEST. We represent business and government employers in Sonoma County and we want Lucasfilm to know we are serious about moving them to Sonoma County. We want to play in this game and we want to win.

As executive director of BEST, I have already contacted Lucasfilm and outlined these seven incentives for the company to consider in its decision about where to locate its studio facility. The response was appreciative, and we are hoping to continue discussions with the company in the coming weeks and months.

While some in the county say that bringing Lucasfilm here is a long shot, I learned early in my career that there is no way to make a sale unless you get the appointment. You can’t get an answer unless you ask the question. You can’t score points without playing the game. And you can’t win if you don’t play....

Carolyn Stark is the executive director of Sonoma County BEST, a countywide economic development and jobs program of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached at 707-636 2842 or Carolyn@sonomacountybest.com.