Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Good Jobs, Affordable Homes in Solano County

Solano County - Good Jobs, Affordable Homes
Published: July 15, 2007
By Rich Heintz

Solano County is a job market poised to explode. Located between two economic engines – the Bay Area on the west and Sacramento on the east – this wide-open county has thousands of acres of vacant land already zoned and approved for office and industrial use.

Many companies have relocated from the Bay Area to take advantage of Solano County’s relatively affordable housing costs for their employees. "Companies are moving to Fairfield to be where their workers already live," explains Sean Quinn, director of Community Development for the city of Fairfield. "This greatly improves their worker’s quality of life since they are no longer on the road."

Remaining employees who find they must relocate are pleased to discover that they can sell their 1400-square-foot home in the Bay Area and buy a 2500-square-foot home in Solano County and "still have money left in their pocket." Vigorous Growth Quinn points out that the region has a seemingly limitless diversity of jobs, from entry-level manufacturing, back-office and executive jobs, to technical positions.

Mechanical skills are in particular demand, along with biotech credentials. Through the ten years ending in2014, the Employment Development Department estimates Solano County will add a total of 24,500 jobs, an increase of 17.7 percent.

Based on their predicted rates of growth, professions offering the most opportunity include registered nurses (up 48 percent), carpenters (up 38 percent), truck drivers (up 34 percent), customer service reps (up 33 percent), nursing aides (up 32 percent), first-line supervisors (up 29 percent), and construction laborers (up 27 percent). Other occupations offering plentiful openings include retail salespersons, cashiers, waiters and waitresses, office
clerks, and food preparation workers.

Another plus according to Quinn: The region offers a wide array of training programs, from community college programs linked to employers, to apprenticeships in the trades, including carpentry and plumbing.

Biotech Base

To Michael Ammann, president of the Solano Economic Development Corp, the future of the region rests in its ability to continue to attract the biotech industry. Thanks to neighboring UC Davis and its status as a biotech center, Solano County has attracted a solid biotech base led by industry giant Genentech. The local community college also provides biotech training.
Yet Ammann, in an essay on his nonprofit organization’s website, bemoans the
fact that "the state of California has woefully failed to provide the dollars and incentives necessary to compete for this booming industry.

"Today, it no longer is a national competition to attract and maintain major employers in the biotech field – it is now an international competition. And the promotional dollars are flowing at enormous rates. Singapore and Scotland are two examples of how competitive the biotech field is worldwide."

In Singapore, Ammann notes, output from drug factories has jumped more than 30 percent in the past year alone, to a record $14.8 billion. Singapore has poured resources into academic and industry education, creating a pool of skilled
labor. It is graduating some 3500 university students each year, and another 3000 trained technicians. This has attracted four major companies in the past year: Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline, Lonza and Schering-Plough.

Ammann points out that Scotland is another example of a nation’s all-out effort to attract the biotechnology industry. Solano County Bristol-Myers Squibb recently broke ground in Devens, Scotland, for a $660-million bio-manufacturing plant. Insiders report that Scotland is working diligently to bring more major companies to the region.

"Solano County relies on its Economic Development Corp and local economic professionals to attract business," according to Ammann. It’s also got location, location, location, being situated between two major metropolitan areas
and two of the top research universities. The universities both receive financial support from private industry and are expanding their biotechnology research capabilities even more. Solano County also has a built-in workforce, with many well-paid commuters just waiting for good local jobs so they won’t have to continue driving to the Bay Area or state capital.

"But, compare Solano County with Boston, for example, and it is easy to understand why we are facing a battle for the economic future," warns Ammann. "Boston is also an attractive place to live and it too has a solid bio industry."
At the Bio 2007 trade show last month, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council spent $1.2 million to create a pavilion. To Ammann, that's cause for concern because it’s "almost twice the annual budget of economic development
expenditures in Solano County."

Strategy for the Future

He believes that Solano County’s future for economic development will depend on three things: A recognition from cities, county officials and private industry that biotech is good business. A strategic game plan to attract firms. Solano EDC, working in partnership with government and the private sector, must build on its current marketing campaign plan to create a long-term strategy to pursue biotech

Adequate funding to compete in this market. "The stakes are high, the payoffs are tremendous, and our professionals need to be armed with the best marketing tools we can afford." Ammann stresses the need for cooperation and not competition between Solano cities. "We all must recognize that if a major employer selects a city in Solano County for expansion, the entire county has the opportunity to benefit."

Genentech, for example, recently chose Dixon for its new research and development facility. "It will generate more interest in Solano County, which means a greater chance for another firm to move to the area.

"Biotech firms tend to cluster together," he notes, "to share and attract suppliers and a labor force." Solano County and its workers are ready to respond.
Rich Heintz is the senior editor at California Job Journal. Contact him at RichH@JobJournal.com.

(California Job Journal) http://www.jobjournal.com/thisweek.asp?artid=2071

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