[caption id="attachment_82205" align="alignleft" width="336"] Robert Eyler[/caption]
NAPA -- The second annual Innovation Napa Valley summit, held at the former Copia theater and sponsored by the Napa Chamber of Commerce, served as a forum for exploring creative ways to improve Napa County’s economy in a region where 82 percent of businesses are directly or indirectly involved in wine, tourism and hospitality.
“Innovation as diversification” is one way to achieve long-term success, according to Robert Eyler, PhD, professor and Frank Howard Allen Research Scholar in the Department of Economics at Sonoma State University.
“Next year Napa will experience growth, while slowing a bit, with wine still serving as the driving force with tourism as a close second,” Dr. Eyler said.
He said there is forward momentum and a positive outlook for the North Bay through 2015. The outlook looks good for the real estate market and job growth next year, but the region needs another “tech innovation bump” to experience a real boom, he said.
“When the economy continues to grow for four or five years, expansion typically comes to a natural end, and the economy needs another reason to expand,” he said.
In California, he said Silicon Valley is driving most U.S. technology growth, but that the state’s recovery masks some structural problems -- such as the possibility of a 10 percent to 15 percent stock-market equity cycle correction that could impact the pension system, plus increasing reliance on sales tax initiatives as the new funding source, according to Dr. Eyler.
“The question is, what will continue to grow jobs and fuel exports -- the key driver of GDP -- and how can Napa County build an asset base other than wine and hospitality?” he asked.
He cited the loss of manufacturing other than for wine and asked the 200 attendees to think about what other industries would be a fit for Napa.
Napa County has seen median housing prices rise by about $126,000 -- a sign of a true recovery, Dr. Eyler noted -- and 2,500 new jobs were created since August 2012. At the same time, gross domestic product grew about 3.2 percent in 2012--2013, or by $8.1 billion. However, he cautioned that the region still faces major challenges between 2013 and 2020.
[caption id="attachment_82202" align="alignleft" width="300"] Chris Messina[/caption]
“Our innovation advantage could be lost in this generation with less technology growth and more growth in the services sector," Dr. Eyler said. "At the same time, the state is becoming less business friendly, and there are demographic shifts to a higher cost of living as well as education gaps. Students wonder where they will get jobs when they graduate. Both job growth and stability are needed for a true recovery.”
Napa Chamber of Commerce can help foster continued growth, according to Chief Executive Officer Chris Messina.
“I see the chamber as the dynamic catalyst to help improve the Napa environment while increasing value for chamber members and the community at large,” Mr. Messina told the audience.
He said the Napa Chamber has re-branded itself to stay current, and to focus on programs relevant for progress in 2014 and beyond, such as its 12 at 12 Leadership Luncheons, by focusing on big cluster businesses, a LinkedIn group, Coffee Cup Connection, Leads Over Lunch networking, as well as mixers and other events in the morning, afternoon and evening to accommodate member schedules.