Sonoma State University economics professor Robert Eyler, right, talks to Bob Linscheid before the Solano Economic Development Corporation breakfast Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)
FAIRFIELD — Solano County communities got some advice Thursday on how to attract and retain businesses, including to have a multiple-year vision and to take a hard look at the area’s strengths and weaknesses.
Robert Eyler, an economics professor at Sonoma State University, spoke at the Solano Economic Development Corporation breakfast. The event took place at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Solano EDC President Sandy Person started the meeting by noting the county had recent good news in the “green energy” sector that it has targeted for growth. Altec decided to expand its Dixon assembly plant for hybrid utility vehicles and Coda has a new Benicia assembly plant for electric cars.
Then Eyler talked about how to grow these type of business sectors. He talked of having a solid vision for where the county wants to be in five years and looking at which assets are present and which are missing. Assets can range from the local financial markets such as banks and credit unions to the labor force.
Solano County also has to showcase its uniqueness, Eyler said. Everyone is trying to build a niche, he said.
“These businesses have choices all over planet Earth to move,” Eyler said, adding that this “showcase piece” is really about building a long-term competitive advantage.
He asked the more than 100 civic and business leaders in the room to name Solano County’s competitive advantages. Answers included the transportation provided by the area’s freeways and highways, the area’s open spaces and natural beauty, affordable housing of all types and both demographic and geographic diversity.
Eyler also asked whether the business community views city and county governments as assets or constraints. He noted that elected officials were present, but said it’s good to have the cards on the table.
More hands went up for “constraints” than “assets.” Among those voting “constraint” was Solano County Supervisor Mike Reagan.
“It’s changing,” Reagan said after the breakfast.
He noted the county updated its General Plan and has come up with visions for rural middle Green Valley and Suisun Valley. It worked to change the culture in how it issues permits and has taken other steps. More work remains, he said.
Eyler said that Solano County can next do such things as create an asset inventory by talking to local businesses to see what they need and to set goals.
The key is to set goals everybody believes in, he said.
Eyler also talked about film producer George Lucas’ failed attempt to build a digital media production studio in Marin County, even though he owns the land and has been planning the project for 16 years. Complaints among 18 neighbors who got legal representation, issues involving creek restoration and the potential for lawsuits led to Lucas deciding to build in some other location.
Mare Island has been mentioned as a possible site for the Lucas studio. But Eyler said the probability of this happening is low. Lucas does not want delays and the environmental impact requirements are statewide, he said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.