ROHNERT PARK — The 24th Sonoma State University Economic Outlook Conference was held before more than 200 students, educators, business leaders and public officials at the Student Center on Feb. 15.

The half-day agenda featured five upbeat and provocative presentations focusing on futuristic views from experts in economics and financial market analytics, education, health care, business IT and technology as well as the wine industry.

‘Aim high, reach wide, educate all’

“The vision I bring to my role as president of Sonoma State University is shaped by my life, my experiences and my values,” said Judy Sakaki, Ph.D. “One of my highest priorities is to enhance relationships and engagements between our university and our surrounding communities. We want to become more integrated into the North Bay with partnerships that help local businesses and the regional economy grow.”

She heads a university with nearly 10,000 students and more than $200 million in annual spending, producing an estimated regional economic impact of over $400 million a year as well as serving as a primary jobs generator for local business and industry. SSU generates $25 million in state and local tax revenues and graduates some 2,000 students annually.

Sakaki was born in east Oakland.

“My grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Japan. My parents, though born here and U.S. citizens, were sent to internment camps during WWII and did not have an opportunity to go to college. In high school, my guidance counselor tracked me into vocational ed, not college prep, saying I would be really good at retail sales.”

Next week at school Sakaki bumped into an outreach counselor who opened her eyes to college possibilities.

“I decided I should go. Each of us has the potential to make a difference in another’s life. I want all students willing to work hard to discover possibilities they might never have become aware of if not for a quality education.”

She announced that SSU has been recognized by the federal Department of Education as a Hispanic-serving institution, a designation for a university with an undergraduate population that is 25 percent or more Hispanic.

“We are currently just under 28 percent, but we need to reach more Latino students.”

“My goal is to help a broader range of prospective students consider coming to our campus. I want SSU to be a collaborative, team-oriented institution, with inclusion and diversity that always puts students first and helps them find their true passion in life.

“I believe in SSU’s founding motto: Aim high, reach wide, educate all.”

Is success when you build a birdhouse, or when the birds come?

Applying innovative technology to health care involves making it inspiring, interesting and engaging, according to Chris Waugh, chief innovation officer and director of North Bay strategy and business development for Sutter Health.

“Let’s face it, for most people, taking care of one’s health is serious, not that fun. However, while people hate exercising, they love Zumba classes,” Waugh said. “Tapping into a person’s self talk, and feedback, can link better health with enjoyable experiences.”

It started when Alberto Perez forgot the regular music for his aerobic class. So he used tapes of lively salsa and merengue tracks he listened to in his car, and his business took off. People enjoyed stimulating Latin rhythms during fast-moving Zumba workouts.

Human-centeredness is being incorporated into the design of bassinets that swaddle infants and play comforting sounds babies like. A new cellphone service plays messages from Elmo (Elmo Calls by Sesame Street, an Android app on Google Play). Scheduled by parents just before bath time, Elmo encourages kids to get in the tub.

“At Sutter, we’re in a constant beta test about how technology will unfold. In San Francisco a program using Uber for Sutter Care at Home employees was launched that helped staff avoid traffic and parking tickets while increasing their productivity while in cars.”

He said healthy eating and diabetes could be a subliminal party theme, as a way to teach cooking from scratch in the style of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” and “Naked Chef” on TV. Jamie’s mission is to empower parents to cook with their offspring to help families thrive, and to give every child food they deserve through healthy cooking classes for kids.

“Call a class ‘Come Learn How to Cook Healthy,’ and few may attend. Chang[ing] the title to ‘Teaching You to Cook Could Lead to Sex’ could fill the room. It’s all about tone and titles that underlie human motivation — food, dating, sex, etc.”

“What if you are a diabetes patient on a first date. Self-talk may say, ‘I’m going to blow my diet tonight and not talk about food.’ But online technology, such as Healthy Out, compiles menu’s with footnotes on things a diabetic can eat and how to talk about diet.”

Waugh said new technologies, like Apple’s Carekit, are available to help people manage their own medical conditions, track care plans, monitor symptoms and medications.

With NimbleRx, a doctor’s prescriptions can be delivered to patients the same day from participating pharmacies.

Velano Vascular’s needleless blood draw technology reduces stress and anxiety during hospitalizations.

“The goal is getting people better engaged and healthy based on human-centered design and emotional satisfaction they want. If a child’s first project is building a birdhouse, is that the desired outcome? No. Kids say, ‘It’s when the birds come.’”

Rise of the machines not a people threat but a ‘supplement to human intellect’

With self-driving cars on the horizon, the advent of “augmented intelligence” technology promising to improve the human condition is exciting, said Bank of America Merrill Lynch Director of Equity Research Wamsi Mohan to the conference audience. He covers U.S. IT hardware and technology supply chains.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) is already here as a supplement to human intellect. They key is in learning how it can change our world and make a positive difference. Only in the movies do robots take over the human race.”

Technology evolution has come in waves – from mainframes to PCs, Internet, smart phones and now AI, which is estimated to be a $2 billion market today rising to $100 billion by 2025 bringing enormous opportunities.”

For example, IBM’s Watson Health is taking a unique approach to solving training problems in partnership with the Mayo Clinic and the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer center using a diagnostic tool that helps doctors prescribe treatments at exponential speeds.

“Doctors can’t keep up with hundreds of monthly research papers, so Watson Health compared 2,000 patient treatment plans by physicians against its own recommendations. In 99 percent of the cases, both were in agreement. However, 1 percent of the time the doctors were wrong and Watson Health was right — saving a life — since it had access to studies many had not seen. In future, real time monitoring of all medical data could be the norm.

Watson Health and Medtronic are collaborating on another way to save lives by being able to predict diabetic hypoglycemic events two hours in advance. Pharmaceutical companies can use AI to synthesize molecules for new drug therapies faster.

Mohan said a “Chef Watson could select ingredients humans like and mix them up in unique ways. Another practical AI application could help us consume less electricity and optimize energy consumption.

“At the Consumer Electronics Show I was amazed at how many devices are Amazon Echo enabled, from cars to washing machines and turning on a microwave oven from miles away. There are privacy and security challenges.

Who do you trust with your data and what do you want these new devices to do with it? There is still a need to block kids from saying something to Alexa and having tons of toys arrive at your door!”

New facility adds to a line of ‘firsts’ for Wine Business Institute

An area hub for wine business research and education is set to open this fall at Sonoma State University.

The Wine Business Institute’s 15,000-square-foot Wine Spectator Learning Center will provide advanced technology classrooms and collaborative meeting space for more than 300 students. At a cost of $9.1 million, the facility will be the home of an entrepreneurship laboratory, have an outdoor study area and a wine business research library, along with a student commons and gardens.

“Our mission is to create extraordinary learning experiences and to serve as the educational nucleus of the California wine business as we focus on the next generation of wine industry leaders,” institute Executive Director Ray Johnson said.

“The institute, within SSU’s School of Business and Economics, is already recognized as a global leader in wine business research. This outstanding facility will be a place where students, faculty, alumni and business leaders can learn from each other and where we can grow our mission to advance the competitiveness of a business so vital to California and the wine industry in the North Bay. Last year more than 700 students studied with us.”

Since 1996, the institute has launched a series of firsts, including the nation’s first bachelor of science degree in wine business strategies (since 1998) as part of the undergraduate degree in business administration, MBA programs (since 2008) in wine business as well as the first executive MBA wine business program in the world starting in 2012.

In addition, there is a Wine Business Entrepreneurship, led by Anisya Fritz, proprietor of Lynmar Estate Winery, an online certificate in Wine Business Management, special studies and internships with local wine industry firms.

No recession. Growth of 2.5 percent. Unless…

California will continue to outperform the national GDP (2.5 percent vs. 2 percent) growth through 2019 as the Golden State approaches full employment.

And then there are the unknowns, said Robert Eyler, Ph.D., professor of economics and dean of the School of Extended and International Education at Sonoma State University. The unknowns include the impact of:

• California’s $10.50-per-hour minimum wage law effective Jan. 1, 2017, is seen as a way to alleviate poverty and detrimental effects of a rising cost of living on lower-income workers.

• The passage of Proposition 64, allowing cannabis to be grown, distributed and sold legally for recreational purposes statewide starting Jan. 1, 2018, bringing public safety concerns, demand for warehousing, office space and agricultural land use, along with retail demand that could shift toward the cannabis supply chain.

• The election of President Donald Trump may affect local labor force availability through changes in immigration policies, impacting port activity, and perhaps current health care systems (such as by unwinding the Affordable Care Act), along with the number of residents who have private or public insurance. President Trump could also rewrite an existing mortgage protection system (by unwinding the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act).

Eyler said inflation is expected to rise 2.5 percent–3 percent per year to 2019, while the Federal Reserve remains “dovish” about imposing interest rate hikes through 2017. Eyler expects two increases before the end of this year. As California nears full employment, job growth will slow to 1 percent from 2017 to 2020 as the unemployment rate reaches a steady 5 percent. Eyler believes housing markets will continue to grow 2.1 percent annually along with taxable sales from 2016 to 2019.

Eyler’s regional forecast highlights:

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.

The county has experienced strong job growth with approximately 8,300 new jobs since 2014. Manufacturing growth has mainly occurred in the non-durable goods sector, and in food and beverage categories, with Sonoma becoming a California craft beer center as the 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?”

Napa County leaders made a conscious decision in 2006 to orient its future as an “adult playground” for the Bay Area and the world for wine and food. That plan continues to pay dividends and Napa is poised for long-term growth.

“The test for Napa County is when there is another recession, how will that affect demand,” he observed. The average daily hotel rate in Napa County has grown from $212 per night in December 2009 to $256 as of August 2016.

Marin County has a solid foundation for the future with its primary strengths in life sciences and proximity to the Bay Area. Income and housing prices have risen since 2011. Slow, steady growth is forecast to continue. Almost 16,000 jobs have come back to Marin since 2012.

Solano County has the most potential among the North Bay’s six counties with the presence of major food and beverage manufacturers, life-science companies and those developing logistics assets. Fairfield and Suisun City are the focal points of the economy with 8,400 new jobs since 2014.

Lake County has been attempting to recover from multiple setbacks, including the recent recession and two devastating fire seasons producing widespread damage. The industry mix, and how its population evolves helps to determine what economic development can do.

Mendocino County still has remnants of the Great Recession characterized by slow employment increases, with services jobs comprising its main growth area. Recreational cannabis legalization is likely to have the largest, initial effect on Mendocino.