Monday, March 31, 2014

Solano business leaders, officials hear positive economic news

 

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Dr. Robert Eyler speaks during the Solano Economic Development Corporation breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfield, Friday. Eyler spoke about the index of economic and community progress. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)
 
By
March 29, 2014        
FAIRFIELD — Solano County is seeing, by and large, positive economic and community growth and that trend should continue into the future.

Those are the encouraging words local business leaders and city officials heard Friday at the monthly Solano Economic Development Corp. get-together at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Robert Eyler from Economic Forensics and Analytics said the Great Recession is over but there is still room for improvement.

His sixth annual Index of Economic and Community Progress covers changes in the local economy and community in relation to California as a whole and select areas such as the Bay Area, the North Bay and metropolitan Sacramento. The expansive index of data delves into such items as wages, unemployment, local jobs, housing, population growth and projections, home prices, high school dropout rates and city overviews.

The good news included the fact that Solano County is growing as a whole, unemployment numbers are falling, tax revenue is rising as are home prices, but there are still concerns. Those include the sustainability of the slow but steady growth, the standard of living is still lagging and while Solano County is growing, it’s not growing as robustly as other California counties.

Eyler also cautioned that the unemployment change is not because of job creation and it’s unknown if some are moving into unemployment or simply dropping off the grid. He said this isn’t strictly a Solano County issue – it’s happening all over the United States.

Vacaville Councilwoman Dilenna Harris said she was encouraged by the positive housing news, which she called a critical component to enticing growth, but at the same time she raised concerns about not knowing whether the change in unemployment numbers translated into entrepreneurial endeavors or if “something else is happening.”

“It would be nice to have those numbers,” she said.

Both Harris and Suisun City Councilman Mike Segala said this type of information gives them a direction for the future.

(Eyler) shows us where we came from and where we’re going,” Segala said. “I like that he doesn’t focus on what we’re doing right now . . . but projects (for) the future.

“He gives us the tools we needs as elected (officials) to take back to the cities – this is what we need to look at.”

Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or swinlow@dailyrepublic.net. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Wagner talks about Solano County winery

 

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Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards speaks at Thursday's Solano Economic Development Corp. luncheon at the Hilton Garden Hill in Fairfield. (Barry Eberling/Daily Republic)
 
 
 
By
 January 31, 2014
FAIRFIELD — Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards in Napa Valley found that he really liked the grapes being produced by growers near the Solano County border.

“It makes one wonder, ‘What’s in a county line?’ Not much,” Wagner said.

Wagner Family of Wine is expanding its winemaking endeavors to include Solano County. Last year, the county approved permits so the family can build a winery, bottling and distribution complex on the 178-acre Hopkins Ranch along rural Cordelia Road. The winery is to be by far the largest in Solano County.

Wagner used Thursday’s Solano Economic Development Corp. 31st annual meeting to introduce himself to the community. More than 300 civic and business leaders attended the lunchtime event at the Hilton Garden Inn.

His great-grandfather homesteaded in Solano County’s Elmira area in 1861. But his great-grandfather then moved to the Napa Valley and the Wagner family became established on a farm near the small town of Rutherford.

Wagner described his youth in Rutherford as going hunting and fishing with his dog. Then, as a high school freshman, he got called into the office. His father, Charlie Wagner, had been shot by a disgruntled former employee, but not fatally.

“Even as a freshman in high school, I felt a need to help,” Wagner said.

Six years later, his father and mother asked him if he would help them launch a winery. If not, they said, they would sell the Napa farm and move to Australia. He said he would.

Caymus Vineyards was born. The family planted 55 acres of grapes, with Wagner, his father and another man doing the pruning. In 1987, his father appeared on the cover of Wine Spectator with the blurb, “Best Damn Cabernet in California.”

“With this, the phone began to ring,” Wagner said. “We began to produce more wine.”

Wagner worked with his father at Caymus Vineyards for 30 years, until his father died. Today, the Wagner family grows grapes in four counties and is about to add Solano County.

Climate is all-important to growing wine grapes, Wagner said. He called Solano County’s climate “amazing.”

“I don’t know if I’ve seen a place you can get on the highway and the temperature can change one degree a mile,” Wagner said.

California has five viticulture regions based on heat. Wagner said the regions in Solano County “smear” together, as opposed to having distinct boundaries.

Another plus for Solano County is its water supply, Wagner said.

Cities and farms in the county are just about the sole recipients of water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s massive Lake Berryessa in Napa County. Napa County opted out of the project before Monticello Dam was built in the late 1950s and gets none of the water.

“We can’t get it from the other side, but we can get it over here,” Wagner said to laughter.

Solano County also has rich soils, perhaps richer than they should be for quality wine, Wagner said. Vines in rich soils produce berries in greater quantities, but of lower quality, he said. Struggling vines produce smaller but higher quality berries.

Napa Valley shares the problem, Wagner said. He didn’t see it as serious.

Wagner Family of Wine will begin planting a vineyard on the Hopkins Ranch within a few weeks, Wagner said. This will be root stock. There’s another year to decide what variety of grape will be grafted on, which means determining what variety is best for this site.

“I’m not sure,” Wagner said.

He praised the friendly people he’s found in Solano County.

“I love Napa, but there is sometimes a little pretentious quality to our valley,” Wagner said.

Wagner didn’t profess to come to Solano County knowing everything about the wine business.

“There is no such thing as perfection in our business,” Wagner said. “It is very difficult.”

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Travis’ roots in Solano County pervasive, deep

By Ian Thompson
January 31, 2014


FAIRFIELD — Solano County would be a much different place if Travis Air Force base wasn’t here.

Businesses such as Travis Credit Union, which started as an on-base business, would not exist. The same goes for a good number of other businesses attracted here by government contracts or the workforce of trained former military members the base generates.

“They have a lot of good job skills that they have put back to work,” Fairfield City Manager Sean Quinn said Thursday of Travis service members, who range from aircraft mechanics working at San Francisco International Airport to fliers who established successful travel agencies.

Air Base Parkway would not exist. Nor would much of the commercial development along North Texas Street, such as the car dealerships that “were a beehive of activity” thanks to paychecks from Travis airmen and their families, according to Travis Community Consortium member and retired Air Force Col. Bud Ross.

Neither would Travis School District exist, which almost exclusively served military children when it was formed and now serves students in parts of eastern Fairfield and southern Vacaville.

Fairfield, Vacaville and Suisun City would be nowhere as diverse as they are now, thanks to the families that came here from around the world and stayed on in the area after the military breadwinner retired from the Air Force.

“A recent study showed we are the single most ethically diverse area in the country and that is one of our strengths,” said Sandy Person, president of the Solano Economic Development Corp.

Until Travis was established, Solano County’s main population center was Vallejo, thanks to Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Person said.

“We would be a much smaller town, more heavily dominated by agriculture,” Quinn said of Fairfield.

When Person pitches Solano County to a potential new business, Travis is part of that. She points out its labor pool. Travis’ presence was one of the reasons the light aircraft maker Icon may decide to locate in Vacaville, Person said.

Neither would the communities be as large as they are without the retired military, veterans and base workers who cluster here because of the base, its employment and its services.

David Grant Medical Center, and the Veterans Affairs medical clinic located with it, is a major reason so many military retirees chose to stay here, Ross said. That facility also generated a good crop of doctors, dentists and other medical professionals who stayed here to practice medicine once they took off their uniforms.

The base affected how far east Fairfield and how far south Vacaville can expand their development, based on the communities’ Travis Protection Plan to ensure encroachment doesn’t doom the base if the Pentagon and Congress decide to once again close bases.

Quinn, Person and Ross, all Travis Community Consortium members, agree that the area has done and continues to do as much as it can to protect Travis.

“There will be more opportunities to partner with Travis and we need to take them,” Quinn said of the ongoing work to meet the base’s needs.

That includes keeping down the costs of Travis doing business in the state as much as possible, Person said. Ross added that work needs to be done to streamline the processes the base goes through to build projects such as the recently completed assault landing strip.

“We need to make sure that we never take Travis for granted,” Quinn said. Person said that current leaders need to cultivate that support of the base in future residents.

“A lot of Solano County businesses don’t realize how their business and lifestyles are so dependent on Travis,” Ross said.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or ithompson@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.

Solano EDC optimistic about area economy in 2014

By Melissa Murphy/ MMurphy@TheReporter.com
Posted: 01/31/2014 01:01:32 AM PST

The glass isn't half empty or half full.
 
In Solano County, the glass is more than halfway full, and that continued optimism will carry into 2014, according to Solano Economic Development Corp. President Sandy Person.
 
"We're Team Solano," she said Thursday at the annual meeting of the Solano EDC. "Working together, we make the magic. ... I feel the energy and it's exciting."
 
She highlighted several successes in each city and the county during 2013.
 
Vacaville saw growth in the biotech industries at Genentech and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., a company of Johnson & Johnson. Fundraising for the Doolittle Center/Jimmy Doolittle Air and Space Museum has begun, and the Nut Tree will continue to see businesses and restaurants open this year.
 
Also, ICON Aircraft still has Vacaville on its radar as a place to relocate its business. ICON is known for its prototype A5, a two-seater, gas-powered recreational plane that can take off and land on water, turf or runways. It costs upward of $180,000 and has a waiting list of buyers. The business is considering making Vacaville a destination for A5 and other aircraft enthusiasts, as flying lessons could be held at a facility yet to be built near the Nut Tree Airport. An estimated 500 jobs would be created.
 
The highlights in Dixon, according to Person, include the groundbreaking on the West B Street undercrossing at the railroad tracks for pedestrians and bicycles, and the completion of Heritage Commons, a 60-unit, affordable senior housing complex.
 
Solano County shared in victories too. It will open the Stanton Correctional Facility this summer and it's producing a study on how to diversify Solano County's economy in areas other than Travis Air Force Base. At the same time, the county is looking at ways to update land-use plans to protect operations at Travis.
 
Additionally, the entire county stands to benefit from Caymus Vineyards setting up shop on the old Hopkins Ranch on Cordelia Road.
 
Chuck Wagner, a Rutherford resident and Caymus's owner, was Thursday's keynote speaker. He said he looks forward to expanding the family's Napa County business into Solano County.
 
The Wagner family has ties to Solano, he added. His great-great-great-grandfather homesteaded in Elmira in 1861, and the winery already uses some grapes grown in Solano County. He said he plans to create a label unique to the county.
 
Solano County's climate is great, as is its rich soil and plentiful water, he said.
 
"You're very lucky here to have sufficient water," Wagner said. "It's a gorgeous area and a gorgeous area for grapes."
 
Caymus's move comes after a legal settlement with Napa County for exceeding the permitted production capacity at the company's Rutherford winery. In an effort to comply with Napa regulations, the Wagners looked to Solano for a place to bottle and ship.
 
He said Napa is known for its cabernet sauvignon and Sonoma County is known for a variety of other wines, and what Solano County will be known for remains to be seen.
 
"There is a verve that I want to be associated with here," he said.
 
Follow Staff Writer Melissa Murphy at Twitter.com/ReporterMMurphy.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Solano's economy looking up

Solano's economy looking up

By Melissa Murphy/ MMurphy@TheReporter.com
Posted: 11/09/2013 01:01:27 AM PST

Solano County's economy is improving and one sure sign is that housing prices are rebounding, according economic experts who spoke to county business leaders Friday.
 
During the State of the Solano County Business Climate, hosted by the Business Journal, Robert Eyler, an economics professor at Sonoma State University, told an audience of business and community leaders that housing prices are up.
 
"Generally speaking, Solano will recover a little bit faster than California," he said, adding that the rebound is driven by construction and services in the county. "We caught a little fire in our housing market."
 
He said housing prices are expected to rise 6 to 8 percent in 2014.
 
Patsy Van Ouwerkerk, president and CEO of Travis Credit Union, said she's not surprised to see that the housing market has improved.
 
"There is a sense of optimism, but caution," she said. "Most believe that the worst is behind us and it's time to take managed risks."
 
Eyler said it remains to be seen if Silicon Valley will produce another technology bump to remain No. 1 in the World. He said the United States economy is still feeding off the technology boom from the last decade.
 
Meanwhile, Eyler said that nationally unemployment will drop to 6.5 percent by the end of 2014, perhaps under 6 percent by the middle of 2015. Housing prices are expected to rise 6 to 8 percent in the country, while inflation will increase 2 percent in California.
 
A survey conducted by the Business Journal, that garnered 100 responses from local businesses, shows a snap shot in time, said Brad Bollinger, publisher of the North Bay Business Journal.
 
The survey results showed that local businesses believe that manufacturing and health care are the top industries in the county. Nearly 65 percent ranked the overall business climate as "very favorable" or "favorable."
 
Bollinger noted that the survey was finished before the announcement that Genentech is expanding in Vacaville and that Caymus is moving its business to Solano County.
 
Additionally, about half of the businesses in Solano plan to expand within the county during the next five years, the survey found.
 
Sandy Person, president of the Solano Economic Development Corporation, said she's seen improvement as well.
 
"The past 18 months have been extremely dynamic," she said. "Frankly the past 5 years sucked."
 
She said other businesses have been in the trenches with them, doing more with less and losing staff.
 
"You have to want to be in California in order to do business in California," Person said.
 
Van Ouwerkerk said Travis Credit Union has seen more requests for business loans and increase in lines of credit.
 
"There have been investments in not just equipment, but people," she said.
 
Concerns from the audience were voiced about the roll out of the Affordable Care Act and its impact on local businesses.
 
Eyler said that even though it's still stumbling, he doesn't think it's changing the short or middle terms, but it will have more of an impact on the long term.
 
"We're going into an experiment together to see how it will impact us," he said.
 
Follow Staff Writer Melissa Murphy at Twitter.com/ReporterMMurphy.

Solano business forum sees improving economy

Solano business forum sees improving economy

business climate 11_7_13
From left to right, Rob Eyler, Sonoma State economics professor, Sandy Person, Solano Economic Development Corporation president, Patsy Van Ouwerkerk, Travis Credit Union president and CEO, and Brad Bollinger, North Bay Business Journal publisher, hold a discussion at the Impact Solano conference on the business climate in Solano County Friday at the Hilton Garden Inn. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)
 
 
 
 
By
From page A3 | November 09, 2013 | 2 Comments
FAIRFIELD — A Solano County business forum on Friday depicted a local economic outlook that continues to brighten, even if reasons for caution remain.

Look for the United States gross domestic product to grow 2 percent to 2.5 percent in 2014, said Robert Eyler, chairman of the economics department at Sonoma State University. California’s economy is forecast to grow 3.2 percent, he said.

“Generally speaking, Solano County is probably going to grow a little faster than California next year,” Eyler said.

Eyler was among the speakers at the Impact Solano forum produced by the North Bay Business Journal and Solano Economic Development Corp. The morning event took place at the Hilton Garden Inn inside a packed conference room.

Eyler added some caveats for California’s economy. The state is getting less and less business friendly. Technology in Silicon Valley is driving much of the economy, but it’s unknown how much longer this can be the case. The state has tax code issues, he said.

The forum also announced the results of a survey of 100 local businesses.

Forty-three percent of respondents said the business climate will be better in a half-year, 50 percent said it will remain the same and the remainder said it will be worse. Almost 65 percent said the local business climate is friendly.

Travis Credit Union President Patsy Van Ouwerkerk said the credit union is starting to see more requests for business loans. The business market is picking up, though there remains a sense of caution, she said.

Solano Economic Development Corp. Chief Executive Officer Sandy Person said that, even though it’s hard for her not to be enthusiastic, given her personality, the past five years have been lousy.

But she has reasons for enthusiasm these days. She pointed out that the Fairfield industrial vacancy rate has fallen to 5.1 percent, about half of the number a year ago.

Among the projects underway is Buzz Oates of Sacramento building two warehouses on Cordelia Road in Fairfield. Encore Glass is moving its winery supply business into one of the buildings.

“We haven’t seen build to suit or spec in a long time,” Person said. “We’re going to see more than that.”

Roger King, president of the Suisun Valley Vintners and Growers Association, talked about the wine industry. The local wine scene got a boost with the recent announcement that the owners of Caymus Vineyard of Napa Valley will build a winery on Cordelia Road that could produce 5 million gallons of wine annually.

Caymus will be doing such things in Suisun Valley as packaging juice from its Monterey County vineyards and shipping, King said. He pointed out that the local wine economy extends beyond local vineyards to such enterprises as wine bottle capsule manufacturing.

Genentech recently announced it will add 200 jobs to the 400 jobs already at its Vacaville plant. Jon Reed, vice president and general manager of the local plant, gave a presentation.

Genentech owns 97 acres in Vacaville and 65 acres are developed. There are 10 buildings with 956,000 square feet of space, he said. The plant operates 24 hours a day manufacturing such pharmaceuticals as Herceptin for breast cancer and Rituxan for rheumatoid arthritis.

The company has two cell culture plants at the Vacaville site. The latest was built in 2007 and decommissioned in 2010 because of too much supply. The announcement in October that this second cell culture manufacturing plant is reopening led to the 200 hires.

Rituxan will be the first product to be produced there, Reed said.

Person asked Reed if Genentech is having trouble finding 200 people to hire. Reed said no, that Genentech as received “tons” of resumes and is conducting about 150 interviews a week.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.