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:
- Additive Manufacturing
- Medical Technology
Agriculture & Food
- Agriculture Technology
- Local Food
- Specialty Food
- Wine & Beverages
- Healthcare Providers
- Performance Medicine
Hospitality & Recreation
- Athletic Training
- Creative Arts
- Outdoor Recreation & Environmental Education
Outdoor Products & Craft Goods
- Cycling Products
- Locally-Made Products
- Outdoor Apparel & Equipment
Professional Services & IT
- B-Corps & Non-Profits
- Banking & Personal Finance
- Freelancers & Entrepreneurs
- Software / IT
Phase 3 – Strategic Sonoma Action Plan
The Strategic Sonoma Action Plan represents the conclusion of Phase 3 and includes a vision statement, strategic goals, and recommended projects to address Sonoma County’s strategic priorities and create a more resilient, vibrant economy. Utilizing a collaborative framework, the Action Plan includes a discussion on implementation, suggests partner organizations to be involved with each goal, and offers metrics to track progress and provide accountability.
The Action Plan is focused on a shared vision for the future that says, Sonoma County is a resilient, inclusive, and economically diverse community. Achieving this vision will require Sonoma County partners focus on six goals:
- Recover from the October 2017 fires.
- Build necessary housing.
- Educate and support our workforce.
- Diversify existing business clusters.
- Be a leader in environmentally-sustainable practices.
- Improve mobility and access to services.
The Strategic Sonoma Action Plan coordinates a range of projects and partners under each goal with related metrics to help track success moving forward. A high level summary of projects is included below and on the following page:
- Complete debris removal and address environmental health and safety.
- Implement capital improvement plans.
- Assist local businesses with capital programs and assistance.
- Establish a Marketing Task Force.
- Align recovery efforts and organizations.
- Develop an online portal that provides real time tracking of recovery progress.
- Develop an active communication plan around fire recovery.
- Debris Cleared
- Number of Rebuilt Homes
- Number of Businesses Assistedo
- Value of SBA Loans
- Value of HUD Loans
- Capital Investment in Infrastructure
- Establish a permanent Sonoma County Employer Housing Council.
- Engage in a campaign to vote yes to the proposed $300 million housing bond.
- Explore solutions for short-term workforce housing.
- Establish a “30K by 2025” communications campaign.
- Inventory priority sites for new housing development.
- Lobby the State of California to ease state regulatory burdens.
- Establish an advisory group that can guide others through development processes.
- Update public policies to expedite the development of new housing options.
- Building Permits
- Housing Units Created
- Retained Working Age Residents
- Establish a Talent Alignment Council.
- Establish a construction skills training center.
- Create a Sonoma County Cooperative Education Program.
- Develop industry sector partnerships around Sonoma County’s target clusters.
- Expand the WIB’s Dislocated and Incumbent Worker Training programs.
- Expand scholarship offerings and provide support programs for students.
- Engage retirees as volunteer mentors, educators, and career coaches.
- Education Attainment Disparities
- Student Testing
- High School Graduation
- Post-Secondary Enrollment
- Post-Secondary Awards
- Students Qualifying for Free Lunch
- Labor Force Participation
- Create Sonoma County AgTech Innovation and Manufacturing Alliance initiatives.
- Develop an annual, county-wide Business Retention & Expansion report.
- Explore a revolving loan fund focused on specific strategic objectives.
- Proactively market the availability of existing financial resources.
- Explore feasibility of a R&D center for applied technologies in target clusters.
- Facilitate a gap analysis of commercial real estate in Sonoma County.
- Prepare businesses for the future through topics such as adoption of new technologies, utilization of Commerce tools to sell products online, and upskilling of existing workers to increase productivity.
- Target Cluster Employment
- Small Business Startups
- Woman- & Minority-Owned Businesses
- County Average Wage
- Income Disparities
- eCommerce Sales
- Capital Investment
- Explore developing a public crowdfunding platform for sustainable businesses.
- Develop incentives that encourage environmentally-sustainable building practices.
- Support the “30K by 2025” communications campaign by engaging environmental organizations to proactively engage, listen, and educate the public.
- Continue efforts to convert all government fleets to electric vehicles.
- Meet with research universities to explore opportunities for local field research.
- Begin planning to host a global conference focused on green technologies, practices, and services.
- Work with local employers to develop incentive programs to reduce vehicle usage.
- Water Quality
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Electric Vehicle Adoption
- Renewable Energy Adoption
- Open-Space Preservation
- Environmental-Business Employment
- Support Access Sonoma Broadband’s efforts to close the digital divide.
- Collaborate with the regional planning organizations to ensure Sonoma County is leveraging regional transportation networks and resources.
- Continue to review and update comprehensive transportation plans and explore creative Last Mile solutions.
- Work with private employers, non-profits, & educators to establish shuttle services.
- Explore public-private partnerships to create affordable transportation solutions.
- Ensure transportation and capital improvement plans include efforts to make transit stops safer and more attractive.
- Commute Times
- Population Served by Public Transit
- Public Transit Ridership
- Hike/Bike Trail Mileage
- Transit-Oriented Development Square Footage
- Infrastructure Capital Investment