It started with a Letter to the Editor. In June 2016, Don Schwartz, assistant city manager in Rohnert Park, wrote: Have you considered an article on the “Best Business-Friendly City” in the North Bay? It would certainly be interesting to see what local businesses think.” Hmmm…
We put our thinking caps on and quickly realized that the “business friendly” concept was way too large to be easily defined: How should we decide what criteria would apply?
After many discussions, we narrowed our focus to four categories, each of which must be addressed—together—for a community to truly welcome new business and enable established companies to remain and thrive.
First, encouraging economic growth is key. Following the Great Recession, the North Bay (like most of the rest of the nation) has struggled to regain its financial footing. In Marin County, recovery means courting new companies to join its growing life sciences hub; it’s an industry well matched to the county’s educated workforce. Napa County is finding success by doubling down on its wine/food/hospitality trifecta with new wineries and hotels approved and underway. Sonoma County’s strength lays in its diversity, including agriculture, innovative manufacturing and artisan foods.
Of course, available financing and incentives don’t go very far if there’s nowhere for a business to set its roots. Zoning and land use have long been hot button topics in the North Bay, whether referring to areas designated as commercial, industrial or residential. In-fill construction may be the short-term answer, but as our population grows at all economic levels, the region is going to have to tackle big questions about skilled workforces and affordable housing.
Among the toughest challenges involves the North Bay’s reputation as a rural-meets-sophisticated destination. Residents and tourists alike value the vast swaths of open space—whether vineyard, farm, forest, river, mountain or ocean—that surround our urban centers with beauty and bounty. How do we balance the needs of residents with those of the land and wildlife we all hold dear?
Finally, navigating the permitting labyrinth can make or break a business before it’s even really started. Counties and city’s each have their own sets of regulations, and a successful business startups (or expansions) must tread carefully to arrive safely at their destination. We’ll spotlight a few North Bay municipalities going the extra mile to ensure success.
As you read through this special issue of NorthBay biz, I hope you’ll come to appreciate all the North Bay has to offer, both as a place to make a living and as a place to live.