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Sonoma County executives hope to put COVID business challenges in the past in 2022

It’s a simple question with a complicated answer.

We asked some of Sonoma County’s most prominent and knowledgeable chief executives and local business owners, “How did things go the past 18 months or so for you business?”

And they reply, “Depends who you ask.”

In the pandemic-inspired economic upheaval, relationships and processes were trashed, revenues either tanked or picked up and “essential workers” manned the front lines while other employees settled into remote work routines.

Back orders of key items became common. In some cases, customers disappeared. But in other cases, consumers came running, seeking services like home remodeling or home-office cybersecurity protection.

Looking forward to 2022, many local business leaders are upbeat, but they know challenges are ahead, such as being able to hire enough staff. Unknown is a boomeranging impact of stress on mental health given the rigors of the past 18 months or so.

Here is the take from several Sonoma County businesses on the effects of the pandemic and outlook for the future. Answers are edited for length and clarity.

Anish Shah is CEO of Siyan Clinical Corporation. (Siyan Clinical Corporation)
Anish Shah is CEO of Siyan Clinical Corporation. (Siyan Clinical Corporation)

Anish Shah, M.D.

CEO, Siyan Clinical Corporation

A psychiatric group practice in Santa Rosa with 31 employees

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

We are a psychiatric practice and saw a significant rise in mental health issues. Our workflow changed to telehealth in just 48 hours after shelter at home orders in 2020. Our community has had ongoing problems with wildfires for the last three years. We saw a further increase in mental health issues with the fires and the Black Lives Matter movement.

What is your outlook for 2022?

Our study of patients clearly showed a rise in alcohol and other substance abuse issues and also a greater impact on families with younger children in the household.

We see a spike in demand for mental health and psychiatric care and believe this trend will continue into 2022 and most likely remain high until the pandemic is over and the economy returns to normal, and as concerns over unemployment, evictions and safety in the workplace decline. In addition, there may be long-term effects on families and children traumatized by events during the pandemic that could expand the need for therapy next year and beyond.

Mark Flaming

CEO, Sutter Instruments Corporation

A scientific instrument developer and manufacturer in Novato with 67 employees

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

We experienced a major downturn in orders early during 2020, but we saw our market come back rapidly since many of our customers are university scientists doing COVID-related research. Our sales numbers are now back to where they were a year before the pandemic. While many firms are finding it hard to find workers, our business has a stable employee base.

What is your outlook for 2022?

We spent a good percentage of our downtime during the past 18 months doing more research and development work. As a result, we will have a number of new products coming out in the near future. Most of those we serve in the neuroscience industry are now back to work as of the end of 2020 due in part to the high rate among university personnel vaccinated due to conservative COVID safety and prevention policies.

A weak spot still exists in on the tech supply side when it comes to obtaining paper, packaging materials and other random items, but we have not seen a computer chip shortage thus far as has been experienced in the automotive industry.

John F. Friedemann, managing partner, Friedemann,Goldberg, Wargo and Hess LLP, April 2020
John F. Friedemann, managing partner, Friedemann,Goldberg, Wargo and Hess LLP, April 2020

John F. Friedemann

Managing partner, Friedemann Goldberg Wargo Hess LLP

A Santa Rosa law firm with 24 employees

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

There were huge, life-altering impacts on the lives of every member of our legal team, but the impact on our business seemed to be far less significant. Our productivity did not drop and, as a team, we proved to be just as effective as we were before the shutdown.

Perhaps one of the biggest effects experienced is that we became more versatile and creative.

We have taken advantage of our newfound ability to seamlessly include team members working remotely and have added a remote attorney presence in San Diego, Oregon, and New York.

What is your outlook for 2022?

Estate planning is more important for people now than ever and we expect that we will continue to face an upsurge of business in this sector. We have watched complex commercial litigation become less expensive as courts have adapted to the use of Zoom, allowing lawyers to avoid mostly wasteful trips to courthouses. Also, depositions are now typically done via Zoom.

We have also seen oral arguments before the Ninth Circuit Court by Zoom. We have been in hiring mode and we expect that expanding our team will become easier as more job candidates come into the workforce and we add more employees working remotely, often spared the high cost of living in Sonoma County.

Christina Z. Hollingsworth, partners at Dillwood Burkel & Millar, LLP (Courtesy photo)
Christina Z. Hollingsworth, partners at Dillwood Burkel & Millar, LLP (Courtesy photo)

Christina Z. Hollingsworth, CPA, CVA

Partner, Dillwood Burkel & Millar, LLP

A Santa Rosa-based certified public accounting firm with 23 employees

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

We learned how to use remote productivity tools like Zoom and Teams. However, working remotely has not been as effective as being in the office and working together in person in some cases, resulting in longer time frames to complete work. We also learned things that have resulted in some permanent changes to our policies and procedures, and enhancements to our flexible work schedule. Things we learned will be beneficial in the long run.

What is your outlook for 2022?

Next year Sonoma County will still benefit from a robust construction industry, as we continue to rebuild from the fires, and try to catch up on the previous demand for housing which existed even before the Tubbs fire in 2017. The stresses on the wine industry will continue to be felt as the damage done by the fires to vineyards through either direct fire damage and smoke taint work their way through the system.

Work in the vineyards to repair and replace damage to the infrastructure will keep the vineyard management companies busy along with winery technology businesses working on solutions to the smoke taint problem.

However, the beneficial effects of having billions of dollars of insurance benefits poured into the economy after the fires, that recipients used to rebuild their homes and businesses and replace personal effects lost in the fires, will not be as present in 2022.

If, as predicted, COVID starts to lose steam in 2022, tourism should see a significant rebound, but perhaps not as much as some might think, as many people have become fearful not only of COVID in its current forms but worry about mutations which the vaccine may not be effective against, and fear of the unknown.

Drea Helfer, president and founder, DH Wine Compliance, Santa Rosa (Mariah Smith Photography)
Drea Helfer, president and founder, DH Wine Compliance, Santa Rosa (Mariah Smith Photography)

Drea Helfer

President, DH Wine Compliance

An alcohol compliance firm with 26 employees based in Santa Rosa.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

Most of our clients fared well and were able to pivot their sales to keep the business going. Some clients did dissolve their businesses, but surprisingly, this number was very low. As a result, our business continued to flourish and grow.

We saw many new wine start-ups, most of whom were focused on the direct-to-consumer and online sales. Existing clients, who have winery sites, quickly submitted applications to extend their licensed boundaries to include new outdoor areas for wine tastings and events. We also saw a few new wine-tasting venues open their doors, which is exciting as it encourages more and more consumers to physically visit and consume.

What is your outlook for 2022?

Our company, and other compliance firms, have project waiting lists. It’s actually an odd position to be in. So many businesses (and people) are struggling to stay afloat while we are just struggling to keep up with demand.

Andrea Griffin, general manager, Hilton Garden Inn-Sonoma County Airport
Andrea Griffin, general manager, Hilton Garden Inn-Sonoma County Airport

Andrea Griffin

General manager, Hilton Garden Inn–Sonoma County Airport

A 90-room Santa Rosa inn and hospitality center with 35 employees.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

The hotel portion of the hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit sectors...during the COVID-19 pandemic with occupancy rates declining from 40% to 60%. We will be recovering from (losses during the pandemic) for a while. However, we did see a lot of positive impact to our operations as well as with the roll-out of the Hilton Cleanstay program and the use of convenient Digital Key technology and Contactless Check-ins.

What is your outlook for 2022?

While it is still too early to forecast what the new year will bring, there are some hopeful signs. For example, with the continued decrease in travel restrictions, we are very optimistic about our future as a key player in the tourist and business travel sector as consumer confidence improves.

Andy Bannister of first-time winner Earthtone Construction receives one of North Bay Business Journal's Best Places to Work awards at Hyatt Regency Sonoma County hotel on Sept. 20, 2018. (GARY QUACKENBUSH / FOR NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL)
Andy Bannister of first-time winner Earthtone Construction receives one of North Bay Business Journal's Best Places to Work awards at Hyatt Regency Sonoma County hotel on Sept. 20, 2018. (GARY QUACKENBUSH / FOR NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL)

Andy Bannister

President and founder, Earthtone Construction Inc.

Home and commercial builders with 55 employees with headquarters in Sebastopol.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

We have been losing employees temporarily due to increased COVID testing. Now with children returning to school, some have brought the virus home to parents. We had seven people sick representing about 15% of our workforce. The semiconductor chip shortage is also impacting a subcontractor’s ability to provide appliances for our construction projects.

Prices have also been rising over the past 18 months for materials and supplies.

What is your outlook for 2022?

Construction bookings have filled a pipeline extending 30+ months into the future for high-end residential projects as more city dwellers want to move into the country and more rural areas of Sonoma and Napa Counties.

Petaluma, CA, USA, Tuesday, January 05, 2021._Sequoia Senior Solutions provides home care to elderly in the North Bay. The senior care providers owned by Gabriella Ambrosi (left) and Stanton Lawson, train caregivers at their facility in Petaluma but have had to move their training online due to the pandemic. (CRISSY PASCUAL/ARGUS-COURIER STAFF)
Petaluma, CA, USA, Tuesday, January 05, 2021._Sequoia Senior Solutions provides home care to elderly in the North Bay. The senior care providers owned by Gabriella Ambrosi (left) and Stanton Lawson, train caregivers at their facility in Petaluma but have had to move their training online due to the pandemic. (CRISSY PASCUAL/ARGUS-COURIER STAFF)

Stanton Lawson

Co-founder, Sequoia Senior Solutions

A provider of in-home caregivers based in Petaluma with 110 employees.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

Sequoia focuses on taking care of vulnerable seniors in dire need of help. Its mission was hindered by fear among the population served about outside caregivers coming into their homes. This (fear of outside caregivers coming into homes) resulted in a 30% drop in business for the company virtually overnight. In addition, some caregivers did not feel comfortable working directly with three or four clients per week if they had children at home or adults with conditions that could be compromised, reducing Sequoia’s workforce by 40%. Total employees fell from a high of 150 to about 110, with some still counted on the books but not willing to work.

To address these concerns, Sequoia adjusted its care program to only 20 hours per week serving just two clients and set a standard that all caregivers would have to be vaccinated by September 15 as a condition of employment.

What is your outlook for 2022?

It has to be better than 2020. Right now, we are cautiously optimistic about the future, but it all depends on the direction the pandemic takes. We have to treat this as if it were a war and take whatever steps are needed to stop the spread if we are to protect vulnerable populations and our workers.

Gregory D. Beale, former owner of Gregory Beale Construction, forms Builders' Studio in Sebastopol in 2017.
Gregory D. Beale, former owner of Gregory Beale Construction, forms Builders' Studio in Sebastopol in 2017.

Gregory Beale

President and CEO, The Beale Group LLC

A Sebastopol headquartered management services consulting firm with 25 employees.

How did COVID-19 affect your company during the past 18 months?

As a construction company, we had to approach scheduling very differently during the pandemic, making sure that our staff wasn’t on site at the same time as subcontractors, and we were unable to book multiple subcontractors at the same time. This affected our ability to generate revenue by drawing out the progress of our projects, but we made the decision to put safety first, and we will never regret it.

What is your forecast for 2022?

2022 is looking like it may be the best year yet for our family of companies. Builders’ Studio of Sebastopol (our architecture and engineering firm) has a very nice backlog of work, as does Thrive Construction Group (our general contracting company.) Now that tech companies are allowing their employees to work from anywhere, we have seen an uptick in inquiries from recent Bay Area transplants considering remodels and additions for their new homes.

Larry Dashiell, owner and CEO of Santa Rosa-based Summit Technology Group (PROVIDED IMAGE)
Larry Dashiell, owner and CEO of Santa Rosa-based Summit Technology Group (PROVIDED IMAGE)

Larry Dashiell

President, Summit Technology Group

A Santa Rosa tailor-made technology solutions designer with 65 employees.

How did COVID-19 impact your company during the past 18 months?

Luckily, we were able to keep everyone employed and used any down time for training sessions. We continue to deal with is supply chain issues. We order product in advance and still have to wait months for it to arrive. This has required us to change our inventory procedures and try to better anticipate what we will need and stock up on it if we can. In some ways, it has impacted our ability to finish a job or even start a job since we are waiting on product.

What is your outlook for 2022?

We don’t see 2022 slowing down. Jobs continue to be booked six-to-nine months out. People are traveling less and staying home more, so they are taking the money they would have spent on vacations and investing it in their homes. We are seeing a lot of technology requests for better networks, home entertainment, security and of course given where we live, lots of interest in renewable energy. Our renewable team is practically booked solid for the next year. Everyone wants to be able to power their homes during Public Safety Power Shutoffs.

Jill Ziedrich Gaylor, president, Healdsburg Lumber Company & Hudson Street Design, Healdsburg
Jill Ziedrich Gaylor, president, Healdsburg Lumber Company & Hudson Street Design, Healdsburg

Jill Ziedrich Gaylor

President, Healdsburg Lumber Company

A provider of lumber, building tools and materials since 1875 with 92 employees.

How did COVID-19 impact your company during the past 18 months?

Initially, we cut back our hours and implemented other cost-saving measures, such as temporary furloughs. However, we soon returned to business as usual as home-projects took off and home-construction continued.

Today, we are facing the same challenges as other businesses across a range of industries: Material and labor shortages. The Shelter in Place decree meant our suppliers were lacking workers onsite to process lumber and products — which drove costs up to historic highs. It will take time for our vendors to get back to normal.

What is your outlook for 2022?

We anticipate a busy couple of years ahead, for which we feel extremely grateful. Fire-rebuild construction resumed almost immediately at the beginning of the pandemic, however, shortages of materials and the sky-high price of lumber put some projects on hold. We expect the fire rebuilds to continue for a few more years. There has also been an increase in construction of other dwellings to alleviate the housing shortage, which was only exacerbated by the wildfires. We’re seeing more affordable-housing projects going up, as well as a rise in the number of ADUs (accessory dwelling units, i.e., studios, granny units, etc.).

Ryan Harding, vice president, Eleven Engineering, Inc.
Ryan Harding, vice president, Eleven Engineering, Inc.

Ryan Harding

Vice president, Eleven Engineering, Inc.

A general construction/environmental mediation firm in Petaluma with 16 employees.

How did COVID-19 impact your company during the past 18 months?

As a contractor, we were lucky to be able to continue with projects; however, we saw a dramatic shift of funding as the pandemic ensued. Projects were put on hold as the financial uncertainty caused pause and reassessment. We were fortunate to acquire PPP funding, and worked through our backlog, keeping employees working and receiving paychecks. Our biggest stress was securing future work as the economy slowed to a halt.

What is your outlook for 2022?

Project owners are clearly comfortable with the economic lookout and have opened the floodgates of spending, trying to catch up for lost time. We are extremely busy and are involved with a higher-than-normal volume of work. The concern for us, is whether to grow and accommodate, or to not invest in growth as there is uncertainty that the construction economy will continue to boom.

Soni Lampert, principal and CEO of KLH Consulting Inc., Santa Rosa (COURTESY IMAGE)
Soni Lampert, principal and CEO of KLH Consulting Inc., Santa Rosa (COURTESY IMAGE)

Soni Lampert

CEO, KLH Consulting, Inc.

Offering enterprise resource planning systems in Santa Rosa with 33 employees.

How did COVID-19 impact your company during the past 18 months?

We have seen a 20% growth in demand for security for remote workers over the past 9 to 12 months using enterprise resource management solutions. Our company has been instrumental in helping clients transition from an office environment to remote setups by providing IT engineering, tools, enterprise software, security systems and support needed to establish and safeguard distributed infrastructure links and provide secure connections to the home.

We have enjoyed good relations with our supply chain partners for more than 40 years but it’s still a challenge to get equipment in a timely manner when we need it. Once the delivery would come on the next business day, now we see back orders lasting months with slower turnarounds. It is also more difficult to find experienced customer service consultants with technical expertise when and where they are required.

What is your outlook for 2022?

Sorry to say, we expect to see COVID, and its new variants, continue to be with us, or perhaps produce a resurgence next year. Business growth in the security space will also continue to ramp up, along with the demand for tools to help employers communicate effectively with their people and make working at home safer. A rise in the use of application technology for remote transactions is expected to continue. All of this will be driven by a more educated business community aware of security concerns and potential safeguards.

Guerrero Fernandez Winery’s Olga Fernandez and Martin Guerrero are childhood sweethearts who grew up in the same town in Mexico – Morelia, two and a half hours northwest of Mexico City.
Guerrero Fernandez Winery’s Olga Fernandez and Martin Guerrero are childhood sweethearts who grew up in the same town in Mexico – Morelia, two and a half hours northwest of Mexico City.

Olga Fernandez

CEO and co-owner, Guerrero Fernandez Winery

Windsor-based boutique winery established in 2004 with two employees.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

The biggest issues for us were having to shut our doors for months and not being able to qualify for financial assistance.

We are a small family-owned winery operated by just the two of us, myself and my winemaker husband. Our business had been growing steadily prior to the pandemic and our wines are served in several restaurants. Rather than expand production now we have focused on building our wine club business for our handcrafted, small batch varietals and blends aged in new French oak barrels.

What is your outlook for 2022?

We are seeing a lot of new customers and expect 2022 to be a great year – certainly better than 2021, now that the economy is beginning to open up. People are beginning to look at the future through a new lens. There is more consumer optimism and we are signing up additional wine club customers. We are participating in more community events to get the word out and seeing growth through organic marketing. Our wines are now available in the Sonoma Wine Shop and La Bodega Kitchen (in Sonoma and Sebastopol), as well as Wilibees Wines and Spirits in Santa Rosa.

Jaime Delgado, CEO, Co-Founder, Sustainable Living Builders, Inc.
Jaime Delgado, CEO, Co-Founder, Sustainable Living Builders, Inc.

Jaime Delgado

CEO and co-founder, Sustainable Living Builders Inc.

Residential/commercial roofing, solar & HVAC services with 20 employees in Santa Rosa.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

Last year we saw a dip in business and closed down for a few weeks. The second and third quarters were good as customers wanted to install solar to offset rising energy costs in colder months, but demand fell in the fourth quarter.

This year, we were mostly back to normal except for a two-month dip in July/August —which is usually our busy season. Finding employees with air conditioning experience is another issue. However, in September we did hire one person and 6 interviews are scheduled. Materials are also in short supply and expensive. In 2020, we had 15 resource options to choose from, now we’re down to two or three. We also had to decline an 89-unit project when our costs went up $300,000 over budget.

What is your outlook for 2022?

Our solar business has been steadily growing since we first opened in 2019 and is expected to continue to expand in 2022. By 2024, a new law requires solar panels on all new-home construction, but this requirement does not include battery systems needed to store energy for release after dark.

We are partnering more with general construction companies to come in as a subcontractor on housing developments to provide solar, roofing and HVAC installations. We also expect that this continuous flow of business will continue next year through the summer and early fall so work is completed before winter.

Pauline Block, Marketing & Development DirectorCornerstone Properties
Pauline Block, Marketing & Development DirectorCornerstone Properties

Pauline Block

Marketing and development director, Cornerstone Properties

A property development and management firm in Petaluma with 15 employees.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

Not much has changed over the past 18 months, but now we are seeing an increase in activity and tours coming through to view commercial office and warehouse space. Most of the influx to Sonoma County has come from Marin County and the East Bay when it comes to those interested in small and large office spaces (from 2,000 to 10,000-15,000 square feet) and warehouse space (from 200 to 50,000 square feet).

What is your outlook for 2022?

Many people have pushed potential office moves into next year if there are fewer COVID-19 cases and the pandemic is trending down. While a growing number of those coming into the market are “looking,” we are still waiting for definite commitments. There has also been an uptick in interest for co-working space given fears associated with the Delta Variant. The hesitation in making a firm decision is due to the volatility of the economy, the pandemic as well as changing policies on working at home or returning to an office environment.

Don Tomasi, principal of TLCD Architecture, designer of the American AgCredit headquarters building completed in early 2016 north of Santa Rosa, discusses the project at the Business Journals Construction Conference at DoubleTree Hotel in Rohnert Park on May 18, 2016. (Jeff Quackenbush / North Bay Business Journal)
Don Tomasi, principal of TLCD Architecture, designer of the American AgCredit headquarters building completed in early 2016 north of Santa Rosa, discusses the project at the Business Journals Construction Conference at DoubleTree Hotel in Rohnert Park on May 18, 2016. (Jeff Quackenbush / North Bay Business Journal)

Don Tomasi, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB

Principal, TLCD Architecture

An architecture and interior design firm in Santa Rosa with 32 employees.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business in the past 18 months?

Productivity and profitability at TLCD Architecture actually increased during the pandemic, but younger employees struggled without the daily, in-person mentorship that is a critical to professional growth. The challenge has been maintaining our culture and staff connectivity in a remote work environment.

What is your outlook for 2022?

We anticipate another strong year in each of our key market sectors including multifamily housing, health care, educational, municipal and private projects. The architecture industry as a whole is remarkably busy, and most firms are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to hire new employees.

Susan Puga,  CEO & Owner, A&M Center
Susan Puga, CEO & Owner, A&M Center

Susan Puga

CEO and owner, A&M Center

A packing, shipping, scanning, copying and fax center in Sebastopol with 2 employees.

How has your business been impacted by the pandemic over the past 18 months?

The pandemic was good for business since many people chose to ship packages for special events and at Christmas rather than deliver them in person. It was the best, and busiest, holiday season I have seen in five years. However, after the rush, I had to let two employees go and found myself working reduced hours alone for seven months (March to October 2020) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. rather than our usual 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. hours. During the slow recovery, it has been hard finding workers. I rehired one employee part time. Boxes have been on back order with the minimum order requirement doubled from before, but at least per box costs have not increased, as yet.

What is your outlook for 2022?

Honestly, I can’t complain. We are seeing a steady stream of customers today. Business is good right now, but I can’t predict what the economy will be like next year. We are an essential business and see a rise in customer traffic. We have been sanitizing our pens, copy machines and other surfaces customers touch after each use, but with a reduced staff this overall process may have to be modified. We provide sanitizers and ask customers to use them before and after their visits and to also wipe down our machines.

GC Micro Corporation CEO Belinda Guadarrama is pleased to have her company be a part of the Artemis program. (courtesy of GC Micro Corp.)
GC Micro Corporation CEO Belinda Guadarrama (courtesy of GC Micro Corp.)

Belinda Guadarrama

President & CEO, GC Micro Corporation

Sourcing IT for Fortune 500 firms/government agencies from Petaluma with 32 employees.

How has your business been impacted by the pandemic over the past 18 months?

When Shelter in Place order came down, 98% of our staff had to work remotely, meaning a lot of our procedures and processes had to change. No one went into the office for a few days. We had to find new ways to reach customers who were also offsite and get their home or cell phone numbers and email addresses.

As a sales organization, everyone missed socializing at work and felt isolated. We typically exchange hard copies of orders, etc., with each other on the job, but found that paper documents involving transactions for information technology products sent overnight were not being received at our office, or items sent by us were not being found in client mailrooms or by their reception personnel if no one was at the workplace.

We are an essential business, meaning I along with a receptionist and our shipping manager had to be in the office to check on deliveries and process documents. The biggest need by our customers was for laptops for their workers at home to use for Zoom meetings and to conduct business. Demand exceeded supply and the fulfillment cycle slowed down. We also attempted to order touch-less faucets to prevent direct contact and discovered they, too, were on backorder.

What is your outlook for 2022?

I believe 2022 will be a much stronger year. As of (Sept. 13), 98% of our staff was back in the office for the first time in 18 months, and we are much more productive. Our customers are telling us that they expect to have a majority -- if not all -- employees back to work in January or February. When they come back, I am confident that our sales will also come back.

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