Focus on developing workforces for and expansion of certain Sonoma County industry “clusters” as well as creation of an employer housing council are among the recommendations in a Strategic Sonoma Action Plan released Thursday by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.
The board partnered in 2017 with the Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board, Santa Rosa Junior College and the Morgan Family Foundation in hiring Avalanche Consulting, Inc., of Austin, Texas, to prepare the report.
After the October fires, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors extended Avalanche’s contract so this team could assist in developing a year-long, postfire recovery plan.
Recovery from the October wildfires tops the list of six priorities for Sonoma County outlined in the report. The others are building necessary housing, educating and supporting the workforce, being a leader in environmentally-sustainable practices, and improving mobility and access to services.
“This year’s plan is especially relevant to today’s issues,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the EDB. “Some important topics included in prior plans — such as housing — are now an even higher priority, while other concerns must be addressed to further support, revive and maintain the economic vitality of our county.”
He said of all of the ideas listed in the plan’s cafeteria of opportunities, two key project proposals stand out. One is creation of a Sonoma County Employer Housing Council to work on ways to provide more workforce housing and formation of a Target Alignment Council as part of a Sonoma County Cooperative Education Program designed to retain graduates in the county.
“We lose about two-thirds of our college graduates each year who opt to work elsewhere. I would like to see than number reduced to 50% or less over the next five years by working with the employment community to welcome students into their firms full time during the summer and half-time during the school year. SSU, SRJC and Empire College are interested in this approach and I believe it can work with private sector support. Internships and mentoring can provide work exposure and build relationships that can keep our young adults employed locally.”
He said another key objective and outcome from the report is to bring diverse groups together who have never sat down with each other to work through pressing issues and generate fresh ideas.
In developing the plan, the consulting team spoke with 200 local stakeholders representing 140 organizations countywide to collect and analyze their input, examine trends and to prioritize a list of strategic issues vital to Sonoma County.
The key areas, or industry clusters, in the report include advanced technology; agriculture and food; healthcare; hospitality and recreation; outdoor products and craft goods, as well as professional services and IT.
Each of the report’s six strategic goals contains a list of projects and related metrics to help track success moving forward.
Recovery-related projects encompass debris removal — while also addressing environmental health and safety; the implementation of capital improvement plans and assisting local businesses with capital programs and support; establishing a Marketing Task Force; aligning recovery efforts and organizations; developing an online portal providing real-time tracking of recovery progress, and developing an active communications plan around fire recovery.
Metrics for assessing recovery progress involve gathering statistics on the amount of debris cleared, the number of homes rebuilt and businesses assisted, the value of U.S. Small Business Administration and Housing & Urban Development loans granted and approved, as well as the amount of capital investment made for infrastructure.
Sonoma County’s competitive position (2011-2016)
Job Growth: 14%
Population Growth: 3%
Labor Force Growth: -1%
Jobs Paying Below CA Average: 60%
Commuters Using Public Transit: 1%
New Households 6,801
New Homes Permitted 4,441
Homes Lost to Fires: 5,300
White Residents/BA Degree+: 40%
Latino Residents/BA Degree+: 13%
Sources: US Census, EMSI, Avalanche Consulting
Top Sonoma County occupations most at risk of automation (2017 jobs)
Office Clerks, General: 3,906
Secretaries/Administrative Assistants: 3,144
Bookkeeping, Accounting Clerks: 2,719
Landscaping/Grounds Workers: 2.027
Cooks/Restaurant Staff: 1,997
Receptionists/Info. Clerks: 1,593
Packaging Machine Operators: 1,502
Driver/Sales Workers: 883
Shipping/Receiving, Traffic: 870
Team Assemblers: 818
Billing/Posting Clerks: 557
Hosts and Hostesses: 551
Sources: University of Oxford, EMSI and Avalanche Consulting
Benchmark gross regional product growth (2010-2015)
Sonoma County: 28%
Sacramento Metro: 24%
San Luis Obispo County: 22%
Santa Barbara County: 22%
Monterey County: 17%
San Francisco Bay Area: 34%
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and Avalanche Consulting
Sonoma County employment by major industry (2016)
Education/Health Services: 32,490
Professional, business services: 12,710
Financial Activities: 8,270
Natural Resources: 6,160
Sources: U.S. Census, EMSI and Avalanche Consulting