Economic developers look to keep '12 momentum

Following a year when Sonoma County businesses provided some of the fastest job growth in the nation, local economic development groups are rolling out initiatives to continue the momentum in 2013.

[caption id="attachment_68706" align="alignright" width="330"] Carolyn Stark, Ben Stone, Ingrid Alverde[/caption]

The county's newest economic development group -- BEST -- said its assistance to Sonoma County companies resulted in the creation of 841 jobs last year. Called Sonoma County Building Economic Success Together, the group will spend this year on efforts that include responding to the needs of individual businesses and coordinating a new industry group for the county's specialty food manufacturers, according to Executive Director Carolyn Stark.

Those efforts will seek to compliment the work of other groups like the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, which plans to hold a number of new conferences this year while boosting its offerings in direct business assistance and economic research of sectors like the region's growing roster of craft breweries, according to Ben Stone, executive director of the group.

"Our work is not done in isolation," said Ms. Stark. BEST collaborates with other economic development groups and coordinates efforts with the Economic Development Board, she added.

BEST, a five-year initiative launched in 2011 as a $3.25 million public-private investment under the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, began the year by launching a regional business retention and expansion initiative known as "100 in 100." Meeting with leaders from more than 100 Sonoma County companies representing nearly 25,000 jobs in 100 days, volunteers sought to determine common needs and concerns among a variety of industries.

That outreach helped fuel a stream of what BEST calls "qualified business assistance requests" for help with issues like permitting, talent recruitment and prospective connections to other companies. BEST responded to 169 companies and a total of 306 requests last year, following each request to its resolution and determining if the work helped to create jobs.

"We were very careful in how we counted those jobs," Ms. Stark said. "If the companies went on to hire people due to that work, we counted that."

The 100 in 100 initiative also involved interviews of Sonoma County executives. Eighty percent called for better customer service from county government and a streamlined regulatory process. A majority said that they were unable to fill vacancies with local talent, and many called for greater connectivity to the east through the Charles M. Schulz--Sonoma County Airport and for a greater number of suppliers in the county, according to the report.

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