Impact conference includes top economist, Napa wine industry leaders

Economist sees three paths for Napa economyBusiness Journal Q&As with conference panelists

Bart Araujo, proprietor, Araujo Estate Wines

Andy Beckstoffer, president, Beckstoffer Vineyards

Jayson Pahlmeyer, founder and proprietor, and Brian Hilliard, president, Pahlmeyer Wines

Mario Zepponi, partner, Zepponi & Company

NAPA -- The Napa Valley can take three paths for its economic future, options that Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics Founding Principal Chris Thornberg said should have a common starting point for policy makers: early planning and clear vision to build on the strength that wine and tourism have brought to the region.

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"My perspective is that there are three paths that political forces in Napa can choose. One is -- maintain the status quo, keep it a high-end area and ride on its historic reputation," he said. "Alternatively, there are two other ways they can go -- How do we step up our game in combination with tourism, and what about ultimately developing our industrial base in the way that Sonoma has?'"

In the days leading to his keynote speech at the North Bay Business Journal's annual "Impact Napa" economic conference Thursday, Mr. Thornberg said that he saw a number of pressures encroaching on Napa's dominance among other wine-making regions in the United States.Chris Thornberg's presentation at Impact Napa

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Those pressures include the increasing profile of regions like Sonoma County and the Northwestern United States among savvy wine consumers. While the Napa Valley enjoys broad international recognition, maintaining the current strong economic position may require a decisive effort among policy makers in the next five to 15 years.

"The short run data is very good for Napa," he said. "The question is -- is the region starting to think ahead again?"

In noting potential opportunities for the region, Mr. Thornberg said that Napa could enhance its position as a destination by developing large-capacity conference spaces, particularly ones that are coupled with existing wineries.

Other opportunities could include the development of an industrial zone to encourage the geographic spread of high-tech industry from Silicon Valley in the direction of Napa.

Yet attracting new industry to Napa would be a long-term effort, with excess capacity for high-tech companies enduring in Sonoma County and the East Bay Area.

As one of Napa's core industries, wine, particularly the high-end products, has enjoyed a surge in international demand.

"Tourism has made a very strong bounce-back across California," he said.

Mr. Thornberg will join a number of other voices to discuss the Napa County economy at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa on the morning of Thursday, Aug. 30. Tickets are $45 per person, and $450 for a table of 10. Visit for more information.