ROHNERT PARK — Headwinds of economic recession appear to be a few years from gathering strength, and North Bay economies mostly are faring better than those of California and the U.S., an economist said Wednesday at an annual conference on the region’s health and prospects.
“As of February 2017, no national or state recession is predicted through 2020,” according to Robert Eyler, Ph.D., professor of economics and dean of the School of Extended and International Education at Sonoma State University.
At the 24th SSU Economic Outlook Conference, Eyler provided a view of national and statewide conditions as well as a look at the North Bay’s economy, higher education, technology and innovation.
The conference, underwritten by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and co-hosted by North Bay Business Journal and Sonoma State University, was attended by more than 260 business leaders, educators, students and local officials. Sponsors included Exchange Bank, Empire College, the university’s School of Business and Economics and Tri Counties Bank.
Presenters included SSU President Judy Sakaki, Ph.D.; Ray Johnson, executive director of the Wine Business Institute at SSU; Chris Waugh, chief innovation officer at Sutter Health; and Wamsi Mohan, director of equity research covering U.S. information technology supply chains for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Eyler said the gross domestic product of the national economy is expected to grow at just over 2 percent this year. California is expected to grow at a faster pace, in excess of 2.5 percent per year. State growth should continue to exceed that of the national GDP to 2019 — assuming no unexpected events that could disrupt this trend.
And much of the North Bay is experiencing even faster growth.
Sonoma County is the region’s economic driver and the most diverse with agriculture, life-sciences, technology, manufacturing and a services hub for all communities above the Golden Gate Bridge, Eyler said. This county has experienced strong job growth, with approximately 8,300 new jobs since 2014.
Manufacturing growth has been seen mainly in the nondurable-goods sector and in food and beverage categories. Sonoma County is evolving to become a California craft beer center, even as the local wine industry continues to grow.
“The question is, what will Sonoma County look like long-term?” Eyler asked. “Will more manufacturing entities come to the county, and will life sciences be its tech play of the future? Ben Stone and the Sonoma County Economic Development Board have been very active in engaging the business community and assisting in its growth.”
Holding the most promise for opportunities among the North Bay’s six counties is Solano, in Eyler’s view. There are elements of the Bay Area in the southern Solano cities of Benicia and Vallejo and of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys in the northern and eastern Solano cities of Vacaville, Dixon and Rio Lindo.
But Fairfield and adjacent Suisun City are focal points for the county economy, Eyler said. The central Solano cities have added more jobs since 2014 than Sonoma County — 8,400.
Attracting people to live and work in Solano — and raising home prices — are Fairfield’s Travis Air Force Base; major food and beverage manufacturers and life-science companies; and those developing logistics assets around these industries.
But the North Bay economic “star” in the wake of the Great Recession is Napa County, since its employment level barely moved during the downturn, Eyler said. While its construction and real estate markets did suffer, investors and developers shifted quickly to hotel properties and restaurants, where costs associated with construction were relatively low.
Editor’s note: An extended report covering the presentations made by all five speakers at the SSU Economic Outlook Conference will appear in the Feb. 27 issue.