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Judging by the recent Impact Marin conference, the outlook for Marin County certainly seems positive: companies are growing and hiring, homes sales are on the rise, and the county just ranked as the healthiest in California.

As someone who spent 25 years of my life in Marin County, I know it is an incredible place to live and work. Still, what I found most startling from a closer look at the results of a recent business survey conducted by the Business Journal and Bank of Marin is that it appears fewer and fewer people actually live and work in Marin County. A lot of people who work in Marin County don’t live here. And a great many people who live in Marin County don’t work here.

These findings came from 200 companies based in Marin -- about 8 percent of 2,300 businesses contacted for the survey. Two-thirds of responding employers said less than 75 percent of their employees live in Marin County. Their employees come primarily from Sonoma County, as well as Alameda and Solano counties.

What about working professionals who are fortunate enough to live in Marin County? Unless they are owners of local businesses or professional services firms, they tend to work in San Francisco and points south down to Silicon Valley.

But here’s the clincher: nearly a quarter of those Marin companies surveyed have open positions they cannot fill. What’s going on here?

For one, I would wager that younger people find less and less to attract them to Marin County. As part of my talent acquisition business, I speak almost every day with professionals. The younger single ones want to be in San Francisco where there are more job opportunities and salaries are 20-30 percent higher. The ones with families look further north for the lifestyle and more affordable housing. Small wonder the population of Marin is graying.

Why does this matter? Young professionals are a vital component of the economic engine: they are the ones who spend the most money on products, services, and housing.

In the same survey, more than half of the companies also indicated they believe it is “necessary” to leave Marin County to expand. Gauging by past history, successful companies have tended to move north, east, or out of state to grow. Businesses say they can't expand in Marin County because of prohibitively steep property costs, lack of affordable housing, and difficulty attracting qualified talent.

 We all know that the factors driving Marin’s higher property values and housing costs are not going to change anytime soon. The majority of the workforce cannot afford to work and live in Marin County into the foreseeable future. Marin-based employers just have to get over that. The real question is: How can Marin County attract and retain the talent companies need?

I do not believe there’s a lack of qualified talent. Every day I talk to well-qualified professionals in the North Bay who are looking for positions yet are having a tough time finding them. The workforce is here. The talent is here. Marin County employers who cannot fill open positions are experiencing more of a disconnect than a dearth.

As inviting as Marin County’s natural beauty and healthy lifestyle is, employers must recognize that coming here to work, much less live, amounts to financial risk for upwardly mobile professionals. It is not enough to offer “competitive” compensation. To attract and retain exceptional talent, employers in Marin County must offer premium compensation packages. By premium I mean: higher than competitive. This includes those companies with the “cool factor” whose name alone used to be enough to attract talented professionals willing to exchange lower salaries for the opportunity.

Marin companies might also consider getting more innovative with office time and telecommuting policies. If less than a quarter of your employees live in the community your company is located, that means a lot of your current talent is spending a significant part of their workday in transit. And since we’re talking about the North Bay, I’m willing to bet most of them drive. Let’s be honest about this. Commuting is almost always uncompensated time your employees sacrifice to work for you. They incur significant expenses between gas and wear and tear on their vehicles. It’s not a healthy or sustainable lifestyle in the long term, either. I’ve mentioned in past columns how highly the next generation of professionals values lifestyle issues in making career decisions. Commuting takes a toll on the productivity and longevity of the most critical resource companies need to execute their missions and flourish: human capital.

There’s no question that improving the business environment in Marin County to attract new companies and hang on to established ones must happen. But Marin companies must also be willing to pay a premium to attract and retain the top talent needed to ensure their own success and growth....Jennifer Laxton is the president of ESA Consulting, located in Santa Rosa www.esa.com. ESA is a consulting company providing talent acquisition, workforce planning and career coaching services. You can reach her at 707-525-1010 or jklaxton@esa.com.