Monday, November 24, 2008

Solano County study lays out economic challenges, in-out commute patterns

Solano County study lays out economic challenges, in-out commute patterns
Monday, November 24, 2008

FAIRFIELD – Napa County employers rely on nearly 11,000 commuters from Solano County, where economic development and political leaders are committing themselves to creating more high-paying jobs and reversing alarming education statistics on the next generation of workers.

The data is part of a new report that demonstrates the interdependence between the entire Bay Area and Solano County. Traditionally a bedroom community for Sacramento and the Bay Area, the report demonstrates somewhat of a shift in that role as Solano has become home to major life sciences and other industries.

For instance, there were more than nine jobs for every 10 homes in the county in 2006, the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures available in the 48-page report prepared for the Solano Economic Development Corp., or SEDCORP. The report prepared by Collaborative Economics of Mountain View is the county’s first economic index, paid for under a three-year, $484,500 contract from the county of Solano, and intended to provide a long-term strategy for sustaining more high-paying jobs in the county.

That ratio is an improvement over the 10 years of data analyzed in the economic index, but it lags the jobs-housing ratios for the other eight Bay Area counties, which was 13 jobs per 10 homes in the same period.

Nearly 75,000 Solano County residents commuted out of the county in 2006, with top destinations being the East Bay, Napa and San Francisco. One of the top destinations for several hundred of the nearly 11,000 commuters going to work in Napa County is pharmaceutical maker Dey Labs LP, which employs 530, according to SEDCORP CEO Mike Ammann. Mylan, Dey’s parent company, in September announced it would wind down Dey’s operations.

Life sciences companies such as Dey and Genentech, which has a large plant in Vacaville, top the list of five groupings of similar business types, called industry clusters, predicted to be job-growth areas in coming decades. “I think biotech jobs will double in Solano in the next 10 years,” Mr. Ammann said. The life sciences cluster employed 2,300 in 2006.

Another target cluster is logistics and transportation because of the proximity of the county between the state capital and the Bay Area, according to Mr. Ammann.

“Our job is to get higher-paying jobs in industry clusters to settle this outbound commuting down somewhat,” Mr. Ammann said.

More local high-paying jobs also will take pressure off thoroughfares such as Highway 12 between Fairfield and Napa and interstates 80, 580 and 680 into the East Bay, he said. SEDCORP plans to release a report on the life sciences cluster in February.

More than 30,000 commuters entered the county daily in 2006, according to the economic report. Contra Costa, Sacramento, Yolo, Napa and Alameda were the top five counties from which the workers came.

The new county index was presented last week at the fourth economic summit held in recent months. One of the findings to be addressed was the outlook for work force education, which showed a 31 percent high-school dropout rate in Solano vs. 24 percent for the state in the 2006-‘07 school year. Eighty-two percent of jobs in the county require at least a secondary-school diploma, according to the new economic report.

“If you try to develop an economy with a skilled work force, this is a troubling statistic,” Mr. Ammann said.