Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Solano's economic future

Solano's economic future
Start preparing now
Published By The Reporter
Posted: 02/05/2010 08:23:59 AM PST

Solano County hasn't escaped the economic crisis that has enveloped the nation, but in many ways it has been able to weather it better than other communities, according to a new report issued last week.

Yet, the study cautions, unless Solano schools do a better job of preparing its youngest residents, the area's economy could falter.

The 2009 Index of Economic and Community Progress is the second of three reports to be issued in as many years as a result of a collaboration between the county, the Solano Economic Development Corporation and community leaders. The ultimate goal is to attract new businesses and industries here, especially those that pay well.

Since Solano's economy entered the recession in 2007, it has continued to be bolstered by Travis Air Force Base, which pumps about $1.6 billion a year into the economy. Local leaders have long advocated protecting the air base, and this is a good reminder of why.

Also to be nourished are small businesses. The report notes that between 2007 and 2008, more than twice as many establishments (2,536) opened or moved into Solano County as closed or moved out (1,246). Most of those were small businesses, more than a few started by residents who decided to work for themselves after being laid off.

Solano residents have suffered job losses, but they have done so at a slightly lower rate than the state as a whole. The area's diversified economy has helped buffer the region. While some industries, such as construction,have been hit hard, others, such as health services, have grown.

In the report, Michael Ammann, president of the Solano Economic Development Corp., suggests four goals for the near future: doubling the number of life science jobs; attracting more energy businesses; retaining and even expanding Travis Air Force Base; and expanding agricultural processing to meet the Bay Area's growing demand for locally produced food. These are worthwhile objectives, and cities and the county should do what they can to encourage their achievement.

Many of those potential new jobs will require an educated work force. That's where the warning comes in.

While Solano has seen a rise in the percentage of workers with bachelor degrees, that progress could come to a screeching halt if schools don't do a better job of preparing young people. Solano's dropout rate is declining but, at 22 percent, it is still higher than the statewide average (19 percent). Of more concern is the number of Solano graduates who are prepared to enter either of the state university systems (27 percent) - well below the statewide average (34 percent). A trend also appears to be developing in which significantly fewer students are enrolling in upper-level science and math courses. That does not bode well.

Local government and business leaders can do their part to lure lucrative businesses to Solano County, but without an educated workforce, their efforts will be for naught.