Thursday, September 27, 2012

Expert says 2013 economy could look like 2012’s

By Barry Eberling
FAIRFIELD — More of the same.
That’s what Robert Eyler sees for the economy next year. Eyler is chairman of the Economics Department at Sonoma State University and director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis.

“I do see recovery next year,” Eyler said Wednesday. “I see it continuing to be slow.”

He spoke at Impact Solano, an event presented by the North Bay Business Journal and Solano Economic Development Corp. More than 100 people attended at the Hilton Garden Inn.

“It’s very tough to make the statement next year will be much different than this one,” Eyler said.

At least, until the end of 2013. Then signs of what he called a “mild” recession might appear.

Solano County continues to see economic improvement, though that improvement can be slow. Eyler noted that 60 percent of August home sales in the county were distressed sales. Still, that compares to 71 percent a year ago.

“It’s not that low, but you’ve got to try to make lemonade out of lemons,” he said.

Eyler talked of various strategies Solano County leaders can take to improve the economy. For example, economic growth doesn’t have to come by recruiting a big business with 1,000 employees, he said. It can also come by attracting 1,000 small businesses with a few employees, businesses that have the potential to grow, he said.

Internet technology startup companies are a possibility for Solano County, he said. He noted the county’s location near such assets as UC Davis.

“The key about Solano County is it’s a nice geography for that to happen,” he said.

He stressed that Solano County should look beyond trying to attract certain clusters of businesses, such as life sciences and health care. It should also look at having a cluster’s supply chain located locally.

The event included several other speakers who had what Solano EDC President Sandy Person called “good-news stories.”

Kevin Finger, general manager of the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fairfield, showed a slide saying the local brewery produces 12 main brands. That’s actually up to 20, he said.

“We’re as aggressive as we possibly can be,” he said. “When the company needs something done, we want to be the ones who do it.”

David Fuller of Blu Homes talked of his company’s growth in Vallejo. The company builds prefabricated homes inside of an industrial building on Mare Island.

Blu Homes builds a module each week, he said. It expects that number to triple next year and triple again the following year, he said.

Jack Horn, chief executive officer of Partnership Health Plan of California, said the Fairfield-based nonprofit should grow from 300 employees to 500 employees over the next few years.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or Follow him on Twitter at

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New wind farm does more with less in Solano County

September 25, 2012        
MONTEZUMA HILLS — Lisa Schubert took a marker and wrote a message on a 147-foot-long wind turbine blade that lay on the ground near the newest wind energy farm in the Montezuma Hills.“May many more blades follow this one in the sky over the green, clean earth,” she wrote.

Schubert and a couple hundred other people left their marks Monday on the blade, whether it was a signature or short message. That blade will soon be mounted on a 262-foot-high white tower that is part of EDF Renewable Energy’s Shiloh IV wind farm.

Shiloh IV will bring 50 new energy-generating white turbines to the Montezuma Hills. About 800 turbines already stand there in various wind farms that have various owners. But this latest project is a case of addition by subtraction.

“We’ll be replacing 235 of the old, lattice machines with 50 of the latest, greatest machines,” said Mark Tholke, vice president of southwest development for EDF Renewable Energy.
Fewer turbines but more power. The new version of this wind turbine farm is to generate 10 times the electricity as the old version, about 100 megawatts, enough to power 40,000 average homes. Electricity will go to the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power grid.

The $300 million project is to be finished by year’s end. More than 200 people attended Monday’s celebratory ceremony, which included speeches and the blade-signing opportunity.
The old, lattice turbines were installed in 1989. The new turbines are four times the height.

Shiloh IV will be the last big wind project in the Solano County wind resource area, Tholke said. There’s no room for another single project that would generate 100 megawatts, he said.
Solano County has looked at the possibility of extending the wind resource area to the north side of Highway 12. Tholke didn’t rule out EDF Renewable Energy someday building a project there.

“Our business model is to put up as many of these projects as we can,” he said. “We have a long-term commitment to this area.”

But he called any possible projects north of Highway 12 “speculative.”

County Supervisor Mike Reagan attended the ceremony. There is still room for smaller wind turbines projects at various locations in the wind resource area south of Highway 12. Whether wind turbine projects ever get built north of Highway 12 depends on Travis Air Force Base, he said.

Air Force officials in recent years have expressed concern that spinning turbine blades can cause the base radar to miss small, private planes. Travis, the Air Force, Solano County and wind turbine companies have worked to find solutions for turbine projects south of Highway 12.

A technical solution will be found so the blades don’t blind the radar, Reagan said. Still, turbines north of Highway 12 would have to be placed so the towers aren’t in areas where Travis planes maneuver, he said.

Federal wind energy tax incentives are also an issue. Existing tax credits expire in December. Tholke said the wind industry hopes a lame-duck Congress will extend the credits to keep the playing field level with fossil fuels and solar power.

For now, EDF Renewable Energy is celebrating the wind farm it is about to complete.
Schubert attended the event in part because she is Tholke’s sister. But the Los Altos resident is also a teacher and is making a film of the project with an iPad to show to her kindergarten class. As indicated by her written comments on the blade, she sees wind energy as green energy.

“We’ve got to start early,” Schubert said.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or Follow him on Twitter at

Fairfield brewery hosts manufacturing forum

Manufacturing Forum at the Anheuser-Busch Fairfield Brewery
Various local business owners take a tour of the Anheuser-Busch Fairfield Brewery during Monday's Manufacturing Forum. Regional business leaders shared their experiences with manufacturing resources available to regional businesses. (Conner Jay/Daily Republic)
September 25, 2012 
 FAIRFIELD — A manufacturing forum at the Anheuser-Busch brewery Monday had a “Made in America” bent.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, gave the keynote speech. The event also included panel discussions on manufacturing strategies and a tour of the brewery.

“We can make it in America,” Garamendi told the audience of about 80 people. “We really can.
American can once again become the great manufacturing power it was — it still is, but we don’t have the same intensity we once had.”

Twenty million Americans worked in manufacturing 25 years ago, he said. That’s down to about 11.5 million.

Garamendi has proposed legislation that would require transportation projects paid for with federal tax dollars to have 85 percent of the goods and equipment used manufactured in the United States. Federal legislation for Amtrak trains had a similar clause and a company that got the work opened a manufacturing plant in Sacramento, he said.

He has proposed similar legislation for energy.

“Public policy makes a difference here,” Garamendi said.

Harry Moser spoke on behalf of Reshoring America. Its goal is to get American companies that have moved operations to other countries to return the jobs to America.

Companies went to other countries because they followed each other “like a bunch of lemmings,” Moser said. But they didn’t take a close look at the total costs, he said. He believes that 25 percent of companies that have left the United States should come back based on their total cost of ownership.

Among the group’s tools is an online total-cost-of-ownership estimator. The group also publicizes companies that return jobs to the United States in an attempt to start a trend in that direction.

About 50,000 manufacturing jobs have returned to the United States since January 2010, Moser said.
He sees potential for 2 million or 3 million more.

Bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States has such benefits as reducing the federal budget deficit and unemployment, Moser said. He encouraged those attending the forum to spread the word about Reshoring America. Please go to for more information.

Marion Aiken of the Solano Workforce Investment Board was among those taking part in the panel discussions. He talked about the board’s role as a link between employees and the job sector.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or Follow him on Twitter at

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Business leaders say collaboration key to Solano’s future

Monday, September 17, 2012, 5:45 am

Local economy encourages growth, adapts to challenges
By Eric Gneckow, Business Journal Staff Reporter
Regional leaders in business and economics said that a continued synergy among industries and policymakers in Solano County will be crucial to maintaining its diversity of industries and continued growth.

“In these times, economic challenges have forced more people to work collaboratively,” said Sandy Person, president of Solano Economic Development Corporation. “Solano County has been doing that for a long time. I think Solano County is doing it better.”

Speaking in advance of North Bay Business Journal‘s second-annual Impact Solano conference on Sept. 26 in Fairfield, Ms. Person and other conference speakers said the county’s economy continues to evolve and encourage opportunities for growth while responding to a changed landscape following the worst periods of the economic recession.

Part of those efforts have included leveraging the assets of Solano County municipalities to attract companies across a variety of sectors, including biotechnology, energy and food processing.
Centrally located in what economic professionals call the Northern California Megaregion, Solano County sits at the intersection of several major freeways and railways and has a commercial port, Benicia.

“We’re between the political powerhouse of Sacramento and the business powerhouses of San Francisco and Silicon Valley,” Ms. Person said.

The county also has ample natural gas reserves and weather conditions that have allowed for wind-power developments that will soon exceed 1 gigawatt of annual electricity production — enough to power approximately 1 million California homes.

Despite those assets, Solano’s economy has not been immune to the effects of the recession. Construction, one of the largest among seven industry clusters tracked by the Solano EDC, has been particularly strained.

Yet in that changing landscape, other clusters have thrived. Ms. Person said that the concentration of development in Solano County’s urban areas has allowed for a corresponding concentration of infrastructure, such as wastewater treatment. Those facilities have allowed for a cluster of international biotechnology manufacturers to develop in Vacaville and for Anheuser-Busch to operate a brewery round the clock in Fairfield.

To help provide that workforce, Solano Community College has begun to offer certificate programs in mechatronics (combines mechanical, electrical, computer, software, control and systems engineering), wastewater technology and biotechnology. Such training is a collaborative approach to supporting the regional economy, which also draws an educated workforce from surrounding universities that include the University of California at Davis and California Maritime Academy, according to Ms. Person.

And local business is taking notice. “From a workforce standpoint, there are a number of outstanding colleges in the area,” said Kevin Finger, general manager of Anheuser-Busch’s Fairfield brewery and a conference speaker.

The demand for workers among those employers and others has grown, Ms. Person said. While 75,000 residents commute outside of Solano for work, 30,000 now commute into the county.
As those industries continue to evolve, Solano still maintains its longtime largest employer, Travis Air Force Base. The base employs 15,000 service members and civilians.

“One of the things that Travis lends itself to is not only being a large employer, but funneling federal dollars into Solano County,” said Robert Eyler, Ph.D., chair of the economics department at Sonoma State University and director of the institution’s Center for Regional Economic Analysis. Dr. Eyler is the conference keynote speaker.

While its role in the overall regional economy has waned amid growth in other sectors, the Air Force base still drives growth in other industries in the county. The base has turned toward the local economy for assistance in its own growth, recently holding an “industry day” to gather ideas on sustainable energy production and development of land at the site.

The base infused $1.4 billion into the Solano economy last year, according to Ms. Person.
Solano County had a net gain of 3,700 jobs in July from a year before, according to the most recent job data from the state Economic Development Department.

Trade, transportation and utilities sectors had the highest growth, with 1,300 new jobs. That was followed by 1,000 in leisure and hospitality, 900 in education and 700 in business services.
The overall Solano unemployment rate was 10.3 percent in July, down substantially from 11.9 percent in 2011.

Some challenges are on Solano’s horizon, Ms. Person cautioned. Those include limited space for wind-energy development, which is currently restricted to areas in the Montezuma Hills.
“It’s a very diverse economy,” Dr. Eyler said. “It’s just that they will need to figure out how they will look in the future.”