Recruitment, retention remain Marin County's greatest challenges, experts say

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Low unemployment rates in Marin County and across the state and country are creating difficulties for employers to attract and retain new talent and high costs of living foster other challenges, according to presenters at a conference put on by Marin Economic Forum.

Presenters at Tuesday’s event put on by the nonprofit economic development organization in San Rafael included Robert Eyler, director of the Center for Regional Economics at Sonoma State University, and Craig Nelson, who chairs the San Rafael-based Nelson Family of Companies.

With the second lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2.2 percent and rising home values, Marin’s economic outlook is generally positive, Eyler said. Even slowing job growth recently is in part expected with such a low unemployment rate.

Unemployment rates in California and nationally stood at 4.2 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively.

While unemployment was low in the county, many skilled professionals worked outside of Marin but would prefer to work in the county and could not because of a smaller employer base relative to other Bay Area cities, according to forum CEO Mike Blakely.

Buying or renting real estate could also be challenging, Eyler said, noting that real estate website Zillow placed the median home value in Marin at $1.1 million in September.

In terms of the rental market, rates in Marin reached the highest median price in the state briefly in October, at $4,400 per month, Eyler said.

Analysts expected an economic slowdown nationally in 2020 or 2021, he added.

While there had not been much recent change in the job markets in Sonoma or Napa counties, it was important to watch how the recent wildfires would impact the regions’ population, particularly after insurance money runs out, Eyler said.

Eyler questioned how potential “outward migration” caused by the fires and their impact on home stocks could impact housing supply and demand in the region.

A panel discussion followed, featuring Eyler as well as Elizabeth Pratt, dean of career and technical education and economic workforce development at the College of Marin, and Bruce Wilson, executive director of the Workforce Alliance of the North Bay, which operates a network of career centers and employment and training programs.

The discussion focused on the importance of working with business and educational institutions to train students for next generation jobs in fields like life sciences, agriculture and hospitality.

Much of the event focused on the economy of Marin County as well as Sonoma and Napa counties, but Craig Nelson’s keynote address focused on the results of a study done by his staffing company on how to attract and retain workers, gleaned from surveys of hundreds of their clients.

California companies named talent acquisition and retention as among the biggest problems facing employers in the state, Nelson said, noting the candidate-friendly job market.

He also noted that “73 percent of companies reported losing a candidate or having to pay more because of rising housing costs.”

In Marin, in particular, employers would have to incentivize potential employees to overcome barriers like long commutes with benefits like flexible schedules, expanded benefit plans, gym memberships and other perks, he said.

“People come to the job for the money and stay for the culture,” Nelson said.

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