Smartt Principles

Smartt Principles (nbbj.news/SmarttPrinciples) is a column by Nicole Smartt, an author as well as co-owner and vice president of Star Staffing, based in Petaluma.

There’s no question but that Northern California is “legit” Wine Country.

As a tourist destination, it’s right up there with the best the world has to offer. Got tourists covered? Check!

What remains is making sure we haven’t become such a sexy destination that we can’t afford to live or work here. As someone who interacts with people every day to link the right talent with strong local employers, I have a unique perspective on what I see as being necessary for business success in this market.

First, let’s look at unemployment, which, in our area, is low. The latest statistics, as reported in the North Bay Business Journal in May, put Sonoma County’s unemployment rate at 3.2 percent and Napa’s at 3.4 percent. To put it simply, it’s getting hard for employers in the wine industry to find the talent they need — for both public-facing jobs and in the fields and warehouses.

But how to fix it? Let’s start with the obvious — compensation.


It’s time for employers to dig as deeply as possible to pay something approaching a living wage. Next month, we plan to publish next month our first annual PayBook, in which we’ll outline going rates for particular positions. I strongly recommend that companies pay attention to these figures, so that as they market themselves as a good employer, they’re being competitive.

Paying competitive wages not only attracts higher-caliber talent, it helps ensure the talent stays, even as others in local industries offer longer-running, nonseasonal working options and benefits.


There’s another former trend that it’s time to quash — expecting to find everything you need in an applicant. Employees have more flexibility to pick and choose where they work, so chances are, you won’t always be looking at the crème de la crème when you peruse resumes. Instead of trying to find an exact match, read between the lines as recruiters do. If, for instance, a resume says, “worked at Safeway stocking shelves,” that person may have learned about forklifts and may have the requisite strength to work in a warehouse.

Something else you can do is train your own talent. Build money into the budget for a longer “onboarding,” as we say in staffing. Yes, you spend a little more investing in a new hire who may or may not go the distance, but you gain a worker who learns your unique style. Also, the act of having one or more employees train another adds a mentoring and team-building component that can pay off in the long run.

Housing, of course, is a more difficult hurdle. Sonoma County made the list of 10 areas in the U.S. with the most extreme housing shortages. Wineries are doing what they can to combat the problem. Balletto Vineyards in Santa Rosa offers about a dozen farmworker families a subsidized rate to live on their properties.

Napa County established three facilities that house up to 180 workers. The workers pay $14 a day to live dorm-style and get three meals. Every vineyard owner pays a certain amount per acre to help cover costs. But the centers are running at 100 percent occupancy, and they’re not addressing family housing.


Those of you who have read my book or follow me on social media know of the importance I place on networking. It often truly is about who you know. As an employer, try to open a dialogue with current and potential employees about their living situations. Perhaps, you can help share housing needs with your contacts — the Rotary club or chamber of commerce, perhaps — or start a housing board where employees can share housing needs. Or maybe you get political and start attending council and supervisor meetings where these topics are being discussed. It’s a real problem, and employers can help take the lead in finding solutions.

Smartt Principles

Smartt Principles (nbbj.news/SmarttPrinciples) is a column by Nicole Smartt, an author as well as co-owner and vice president of Star Staffing, based in Petaluma.

Until we can adequately house our own workers, we may have to help them commute here from other areas. If you can help subsidize tolls, trains or bus fees, that may help. In addition to gas costs, old cars require a lot of repairs. Can you contract with a local shop for reduced rates or rides back and forth while repairs are done? If the schedule permits, allow flexible working hours so that employees can avoid the most congested commute times.

These are small things that may or may not hit the bottom line, but in opening the dialogue, you show your workers that you care about their quality of life and want to help. In terms of retention, showing employees you care goes a long way!

To get a free copy of our soon-to-be-released PayBook or to receive recruiting assistance, contact Star Staffing.