HEALDSBURG -- In an era of slow growth and continuing high unemployment, Healdsburg has become the latest city to begin exploring ways to increase jobs, stimulate commercial occupancy and grow its tax base by utilizing the strength of its existing technology hub to attract and retain firms and support a business incubator.

Healdsburg joins groups throughout the North Bay with similar objectives: iHub in Rohnert Park, the proposed Trellis Napa Valley incubator, a taskforce by the Windsor Chamber and town of Windsor, Santa Rosa Chamber’s BEST program, Work Petaluma and other economic development models throughout the region. 

Early stage efforts in Healdsburg focus on its clean and green high-tech business nucleus to provide ways to support existing wine and food industry players and their supply chains, as well as assist startups and entrepreneurs in gaining market traction.

“The technology sector has a larger multiplier effect on the local economic and adds diversification with low infrastructure and environmental impacts,” according to Jennifer LeBrett, director of business and membership development for the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.

The chamber is working with a city council economic development steering committee task force, led by Assistant City Manager David Mickaelian, to consider potential initiatives.

For example, space for a proposed incubator has been identified at the Community Development Center near city hall. The center would be relocated.

He said that while some startups need inexpensive space and infrastructure facilities, others may only require counsel on how to develop business pro forma plans, etc.

 “Our goal is to figure out what works best for Healdsburg and then to develop a plan,” Mr. Mickaelian said.

“The current One Stop development program, established a year ago, streamlines the development and permitting process for business seeking to relocate, get established or expand. We are currently looking at ways to reduce and/or defer capacity charges and impact fees.”

He said monthly open forum meetings are also held with business leaders and the community to address economic issues, discuss town policies and identify resources.

Ms. LeBrett said the chamber is looking at a variety of customer service oriented best practices to support new businesses coming to town, while also assessing the assets and benefits associated with locating a business in Healdsburg.

The chamber and city are also reviewing ways to leverage county programs and how to collaborate with others to attract new firms.

The next task force meeting is set for Jan. 14 to establish a timeline for this effort. Results from this session will go to the steering committee for review and action.

“When an area has an excess of service jobs it can put a strain on the local economy. Finding ways to grow the technology sector will help start and expand new enterprises and also add higher level, higher paying jobs to the mix that help create a more sustainable economy,” Ms. LeBrett said.

She said to have the most economic impact, the city should also target and help grow companies that create tech products and services that can be sold outside of the immediate area -- as well as help firms already here.

Healdsburg’s economy is primarily agriculture and tourism based. However, this community has also become home to an increasing number of innovators and technology-minded inventors that have established software, clean manufacturing and technology enterprises.

“One of the many approaches we are studying is the plug and play technology center in Sunnyvale that not only provides an incubator for some 300 small businesses, but also facilitates access to angels and funding resources,” Ms. LeBrett said.

“There are also possibilities for micro-funding as well as financial support and advice from a large group of retired and experienced innovators living in the area.”

The local Healdsburg tech hub today includes firms such as General Dynamics, Max Machinery, Lithiumstart, Firefly Creative Services, Freerun Winery Services, E&M Electric, Pure Power Solutions and Left Coast Marketing, as well as hosted-services providers Metier, Fusion Technology Solutions and Artisan Cloud, Inc.

Artisan Cloud is scheduled to offer its new fully integrated digital media and marketing software solution utilizing the latest cloud hosting technology beginning in January.

[caption id="attachment_67202" align="alignleft" width="180"] Dan Chapin[/caption]

“For as little as a few hundred dollars a month a small business can leap frog over traditional infrastructure costs by utilizing cloud services rather than spending thousands up front for hardware, software and an IT technician on site,” said Dan Chapin, a technology consultant and founder of Artisan Cloud.

His company provides essential hosted content aggregation services for wineries to participate in sales channels as well as online wine marketing support. 

“The era of the full-time IT manager in every firm is evolving toward hosted services, expanding the range of potential customers and geography that can be covered. Some firms begin by adopting a hybrid model with an onsite server and applications supplemented with backup services in the cloud for disaster recovery.”

Hosted services include e-commerce direct-to-consumer applications for wine and food industries; access to winemaking software; point of sale I-pad sales tools to replace the cash register and provide email receipts; online accounting systems; project portfolio management (PPM); enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions that track manufacturing and logistics, as well as customer resource management (CRM) software to help manage the client database (provided by Microsoft CRM, SalesForce.com and ACT and others).

Scott Schulze, CEO of Fusion Technology Solutions, a firm offering an array of affordable, managed IT cloud solutions, sees advantages for business owners that move to a "op ex" model, versus "cap ex," by getting assets off their books.

He said this is especially attractive to small businesses as they work to minimize tax burdens relative to new fiscal policies trickling down from D.C.

“More firms are putting entire corporate networks in a managed services environment so they don’t have to worry about installation, hardware, ongoing monitoring, trouble-shooting, maintenance and data backup," Mr. Schulze said. "Fusion is prepared to offer these services to Healdsburg accelerator participants to help provide such an infrastructure and office-based access.”

Mr. Schulze believes Healdsburg can become a hot spot for small entrepreneurial companies.

“We know a number of angel investors and venture capital firms, such as Open Ventures in Boston, who can help startups who do their homework and can produce viable business plans with budgets showing reserves on their balance sheets,” he said.

Many, including business owners in other areas, are drawn to the lifestyle quality of the North Bay, and more are considering relocation, according to Mr. Schulze.

"If Healdsburg wants to be a commercial business center, and not just a tourist and wine town, we have to answer the question of how to entice firms and entrepreneurs by creating a critical mix of policies, support services and processes enabling them to locate here and prosper,” Mr. Schulze said.