Friday, February 16, 2007

View From Fhe Summit

View From Fhe Summit
Collaboration is Key to Success
By Erin Pursell/Staff Writer

Thousands of new jobs, improved transportation systems and a burgeoning housing market are key to the future of Solano County's economy.
That is what local and regional leaders, members of the local business community and other interested residents agreed on Thursday at Solano's first-ever economic summit.

"The objective today is to channel the wisdom gathered in this room into a collective vision for the geographic county's economic future that each facet of our Solano community can embrace and push for in their own way," said county Supervisor Mike Reagan, who is spearheading local economic development efforts.

Perhaps the broadest theme that emerged from the daylong, facilitator-led discussion was that Solano County should strive to be a place where people can live, work, learn and play.

Formulating a vision that embodies that theme will be essential to ensuring the vibrancy of the economy for future generations, participants said.

Solano's population has increased 7 percent since 2000 and is projected to grow faster than any other county in the Bay Area, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments.

With that, the agency expects Solano's economy to grow steadily, adding an estimated 70,000 jobs by 2030, up to a 9 percent rate in job growth per year.

Where those growth opportunities lie was a key point of discussion at the summit.

Participants noted that four of the top 10 largest private employers in the county are medical facilities, and that biotech also is growing. Small firms also are a key force with more than 80 percent of the firms in the county having fewer than 20 employees. In addition, some 42 percent of employed residents commute outside of the county for work and public institutions such as Travis Air Force Base remain major employers in the region.

Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Solano, highlighted the great economic oppor-tunity that has arisen as a result of the state infrastructure bonds that were passed in November.

Those bonds will allow the county to apply for millions of dollars that could be applied toward things like traffic congestion reduction, road repairs, housing development and flood protection, according to Wolk.

"We cannot let that opportunity go by," she said, and speculated that Solano is "well positioned" to secure some of those dollars.

The diverse group of more than 150 people expressed a broad range of positive visions and opinions regarding other economic opportunities.

"I think Solano County holds tremendous promise for the future," said Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council, a business-backed public policy organization. "It has the potential for a combination of industry, housing, agriculture and open space like no other place in the region."

Agriculture, long a bedrock of Solano's economy, remains an important part of the local economic scene, summit participants agreed. "In 2005, about 75 crops were grown in the county including fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains, seeds, nursery stock and livestock," noted organizers of the summit in a summary handed out to participants. "In that year, the county exported nearly $239 million worth of crops and is estimated to have more than 10,000 jobs directly or indirectly related to agriculture."

Many of the speakers highlighted the need to find equilibrium between jobs and housing, noting that many Solano residents have to commute to neighboring counties to work.

"It is not our intent to embrace a lot of the policies that exist," said Vacaville Mayor Len Augustine, who estimated that in San Francisco there are six jobs for every housing unit, an example of how "out of whack" the ratios often are.

County Supervisor Jim Spering echoed those concerns.

"You're not going to attract large employers and people without housing," he said. "We need to address those needs."

But none of the ideas on the table can come to fruition without investment in transportation infrastructure, Spering said, which will also create permanent jobs.

And, he added, Solano's seven cities need to collaborate to bridge the divide between their separate visions. This divide has led to what he called "economic separation," which could be narrowed if the county served as more of a common thread between the cities.

The input gathered at Thursday's event will be used as the foundation to begin building a collective vision of economic development throughout the county. The effort will continue at future economic summits, according to Reagan.

Erin Pursell can be reached at

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