Sonoma County economic outlook 'brighter' than much of U.S., UCLA economist says

ROHNERT PARK -- Sonoma County is part of a wave of technology and innovation that is lifting the economies of coastal California cities above those of many areas of the U.S., a UCLA economist told several hundred local professionals recently.

[caption id="attachment_86466" align="alignleft" width="225"] Jerry Nickelsburg[/caption]

Entrepreneurs as a percentage of total Sonoma County jobs has doubled in the last five years and is similar to what has been seen in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego, according to Jerry Nickelsberg, PhD, senior economist for the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

"It's a much brighter outlook for Sonoma County than most parts of the U.S.," Dr. Nickelsberg said to about 450 business leaders and public officials at Sonoma County Economic Development Board's annual State of the County, held at Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park.

The U.S. economy is "plodding" along like a large, slow-moving elephant, he said. The good news is that the gross domestic product growth has ramped up to around 3 percent going on five years after the economic recession, yet 3 percent growth is just average of upswings and downswings, he added.

With U.S. consumers, who account for 70 percent of GDP, increasing savings to mid-5 percent of income now and projected to move to 6 percent in coming years as aging residents amass savings for retirement.

"It's not just that consumers are not spending, but we are in a fundamental transformation," he said. That transformation from industrial to information and innovation is where Sonoma County and the Bay Area is succeeding, he added.

Despite losing 25,000 jobs since 2008 and $10 billion in tax revenue from home foreclosures, the local economy has bounced back, and county government has tightened its fiscal belt to better tackle persistent problems such as deteriorating roads and budget deficits, county Supervisor Mike McGuire told the audience.

"Sonoma County didn't just survive the recession, but it came out stronger," Supervisor McGuire said. Steps the county has taken to end up with a $10 million budget surplus this fiscal year and excesses projected for the next five years include renegotiating labor contracts to save $170 million over 10 years.

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