Following completion of the 2016 Sonoma-Mendocino CEDS, the Sonoma County Economic Development Board (EDB) identified a need for a Sonoma County-specific Action Plan. The EDB partnered with the Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board and Santa Rosa Junior College to hire Avalanche Consulting, Inc to assist in developing this Action Plan, titled Strategic Sonoma.
Strategic Sonoma began in June 2017, and midway through Phase 1, the October wildfires occurred. Recognizing the importance of focusing on the immediate needs of county residents and businesses, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors extended the contract with Avalanche Consulting to assist in developing an Economic Recovery Plan. Focused on the first 12 months after the fires, the Economic Recovery Plan is designed as the first year of Strategic Sonoma.
Inclusive Economic Development was a primary theme of the 2016 Sonoma-Mendocino CEDS, and Strategic Sonoma has worked towards inclusion from initiation. Through the planning process, the consulting team spoke directly to nearly 200 individuals representing more than 140 organizations from across the county. Continued efforts towards
inclusion will be necessary throughout implementation of Strategic Sonoma. Developing Strategic Sonoma occurred in three phases:
Phase 1 – Competitive Assessment
During this phase, Avalanche Consulting and the EDB engaged with stakeholders throughout Sonoma County to hear their stories; conducted an extensive data and benchmarking analysis; examined national and international trends to monitor; refined the 2016 CEDS SWOT analysis; and developed a prioritized list of strategic issues facing Sonoma County.
The following strategic priorities were identified:
- Housing - Before the fires, pricing and availability of housing were a top concern in Sonoma County, and after the fires, this has become a crisis. Addressing housing needs is a top strategic economic priority that, if left unaddressed, will constrain future growth and create social and economic instabilities.
- Workforce & Education - Sonoma County has an incredibly tight labor market, and employers across industries face challenges hiring new workers. Sonoma County must work to ensure residents have access to the education, skills, and career pathways necessary to provide rewarding careers and support the local economy.
- Business Diversification - Sonoma County’s economy is more diverse than many realize, but it is still heavily weighted towards tourism. Too much weight towards one sector makes the economy vulnerable to disruption, as seen during the October fires, and continued diversification will be necessary to build resilience.
- Sustainability - Natural resources and climate are two of Sonoma County’s greatest assets – drawing residents, businesses, and visitors alike. As climate change continues to affect the globe, Sonoma County is positioning itself as a leader in sustainable practices, products, and business development.
- Transportation - With its population spread across a diverse geographic landscape, connecting Sonoma County’s residents to services, education, and employment centers is a challenge. With intensifying traffic, a rapidly aging population, and many disconnected residents, the County must develop creative transportation solutions.
- Fire Recovery - The October 2017 fires made a significant mark on Sonoma County – destroying 5,300 homes, numerous businesses, and impacting thousands of lives. Rebuilding a stronger, better, and more sustainable community will take years of coordinated effort from the public and private sectors.
Phase 2 – Target Clusters
Phase 2 presented a more detailed Sonoma County industry cluster analysis; recommended target clusters of opportunity for local economic and workforce development; presented profiles of those clusters; and offered an inventory of supportive resources. The following Sonoma County target clusters and niche sectors were identified: