Close Look At Solano Economy
By Cathy Bussewitz/Staff Writer
An analysis of the state of agriculture in the county, brainstorming toward creating a countywide lobbying group for the business community - and lots of coffee.
Those were the ingredients in the third annual Solano Economic Summit on Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfield.
The favorite of the business leaders, city planners and elected officials who gathered was a presentation by Kurt Richter, a Ph.D. student at the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, who talked about the need for diversified, smart growth in agriculture.
"The food grown in Solano County goes into your Heinz ketchup and ends up on your plate at Chez Panisse," Richter said. "That's a lot of diversity."
Richter pointed out that in 2006, the county's 360,000 acres of farm land generated more than $243 million.
"We have to understand that agriculture is a for-profit business," Richter said. "It must be viewed that way. The farmers are out there to make a buck."
To that end, researchers at the issues center identified the top 10 commodities by value that Solano's agriculture industry produces. Nursery products were first, followed by cattle, hay and alfalfa.
The researchers spent the summer driving throughout the county, input the data they collected into a GIS mapping system, and then identified nine agricultural regions in the county, and calculated each region's value per acre.
The Dixon Ridge area, Suisun Valley, and an area near Winters were identified as leaders in producing agricultural retail value in the county
"Now we're beginning to figure out where the real engines are for Solano County agriculture," Richter said. "The central question is, what does Solano County want their agriculture to be?" Richter said. "I'm not just talking about the supervisors or the agriculture community. I'm talking about what urban people want."
Mike Ammann, president of the Solano Economic Development Corporation, talked about using maps and data to highlight the county's other successful economic developments.
His office is working with Collaborative Economics, a Mountain View-based consulting firm, to generate an annual index that will measure the economic strength and health of the county's communities.
Ammann said they're also developing an analysis of Northern California's growth clusters, which will focus on life sciences, alternative and renewable energy, and "advanced" food and beverages, like vitamin-enhanced "sports beans." They're hoping to deliver preliminary results in a workshop this spring.
"I have been on a personal mission to get us on the biotech map," Ammann said. "Yeah, everyone knows Vacaville, everyone knows Genentech. But they don't know that there's a biotech corridor stretching from San Jose to Sacramento."
More than $500 million in research is contracted to UC Berkeley and UC Davis every year, Ammann said. And he pointed out that with 900 biotech companies, Northern California has the largest biotech cluster in the nation. The region employs 90,000 people and generates $6 billion in annual payrolls, boasting an average wage of $68,000.
County business leaders are also in the process of developing a business council for the sole purpose of advocacy. Dan Sharp, of Sharp Public Affairs, said the council would differ from existing agencies like Solano EDC and local chambers of commerce because it would be directed and funded by private interests, and would be able to lobby on politically divisive issues like land and water use. The goal is to have an initial meeting in February 2008.
"Not only are we at the point where the size of our county is big enough to sustain it, but in fact, we need it," Sharp said. "We are bigger than Anaheim. We are bigger than Oakland. If we harness the strength of those numbers, we can have a much greater impact in Sacramento and D.C."
Cathy Bussewitz can be reached at email@example.com.
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