BEST spurs new coalitions for Sonoma County food, tech

After helping to form an industry group for Sonoma County's advanced manufacturers in late 2011, Sonoma County Building Economic Success Together -- BEST -- is coordinating a similar gathering of executives from the county's top players in food and beverage manufacturing that participants hope will spur further growth in that sector.

The effort follows a wave of interest in how those sectors help drive the region's economy, and feeds the economic development group's larger goal of helping to create 4,100 jobs in Sonoma County in five years.

[caption id="attachment_48809" align="alignleft" width="180"] Carolyn Stark[/caption]

"The purpose of the Food Industry Group is to establish an executive leadership group that will work to leverage their cumulative strengths for action and to be a resource for business development and business success in this sector," said Carolyn Stark, executive director of BEST.

With a first meeting planned for late February, the "FIG" will include some of the region's largest employers, with input from financial firms and others that work closely with the industry. While efforts like the Sonoma County Food System Alliance focus more on policy, the new group is largely centered around growth opportunities for local businesses.

Early participants include Sebastopol-based tea maker Traditional Medicinals and Petaluma-based dairy Clover Stornetta. Blair Kellison, CEO of Traditional Medicinals, and Marcus Benedetti, CEO of Clover, serve as co-chairs.

Other potential participants include companies like Petaluma-based Amy's Kitchen, Santa Rosa-based La Tortilla Factory, Healdsburg's Costeaux French Bakery and Forestville's Kozlowski Farms, among others.

Mr. Kellison, a member of BEST's board of directors, said that he anticipated the gathering would be a first step in the formation of a centralized brain trust for the thriving North Bay sector.

[caption id="attachment_68351" align="alignright" width="200"] Blair Kellison[/caption]

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