Monday, December 7, 2015

Area companies earn Spirit of Solano awards

Area companies earn Spirit of Solano awards

By Kevin W. Green From page C1 | December 06, 2015

FAIRFIELD — Ten area companies were honored Thursday during the 20th annual Spirit of Solano luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn.

The program, sponsored by Westamerica Bank and the Solano Economic Development Corporation, recognizes companies that embody the spirit of Solano County. Chambers of commerce in the county chose the honorees.

Businesses selected for this award have two things in common, said David Payne, chief executive officer for Westamerica Bank.

“They run very efficient businesses, and they provide leadership in their communities and their chambers,” he said.

“Because of their individual commitment, they’re also the kind of people who inspire their employees to give back whenever anything is needed,” Payne said. “Because of them, Solano County continues to be a beacon for business, demonstrating best practices for success. They represent what Solano County is and how we choose to do business.”

The Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce presented two awards. The Fairfield business honored was Texas Roadhouse, with Randy Blankenchip taking the award. Blankenchip shared his experience of rebounding after being financially wiped out before starting his restaurant in Fairfield.

For Suisun City, the spirit award went to Republic Services-Solano Garbage Company, with Travis Armstrong accepting on behalf of the company. Armstrong talked about the role his firm has played in the community, telling how one driver got involved in a child’s life.

Tony and Sherry LoForte of Zio Fraedo’s of Vallejo received this year’s spirit award from the Filipino-American Chamber of Commerce. With his wife at his side, Tony LoForte spoke with pride about opening his business and becoming part of the Vallejo community.

The Solano County Black Chamber of Commerce honored businesswoman Elease Minor with its award. The chamber pointed to her passion for helping mothers and children.

The Solano Hispanic Chamber of Commerce bestowed its honor to Miriam Sammartino, of the Law Office of Miriam Sammartino. She was recognized for her service to her community and the positive influence she has had in people’s lives.

Stars Recreation Center received the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce award, honoring Ernest Sousa and Ken Sousa. Stars was noted for its service to local youth.

The Dixon Chamber of Commerce honored second-generation florists, Dixon Florist & Gift Shop, with its spirit award for this year. Courtney Kett, Melissa Taylor and Dana Martin accepted the award for the family owned business that opened more than 50 years ago.

Touro University received the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce spirit award, which was accepted by Marilyn Hopkins, the school’s provost and chief operating officer. The university was recognized for its service to the community, which includes free health classes and a student-run health clinic for uninsured residents.

The Benicia Chamber of Commerce honor went to Todd Bigelow and his Round Table Pizza. Bigelow was recognized for his generosity and loyalty to the community.

Jim and Shirley Lira of Lira’s Supermarket received the award from the Rio Vista Chamber of Commerce. Lira told those in attendance at the luncheon of the opportunity his partner, Bill Dutra, provided in purchasing the market 25 years ago.

Reach Kevin W. Green at 427-6974 or

Matt Miller: Special businesses do indeed show the Spirit of Solano

Matt Miller: Special businesses do indeed show the Spirit of Solano

By Matt Miller, The Reporter, Vacaville

Posted: 12/05/15, 5:18 PM PST | Updated: 1 day ago

The Spirit of Solano was indeed alive and well on Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfield as the county’s business community gathered for its annual luncheon honoring companies that thrive among us.

The stories were warm and genuine from this year’s recipients in regards to their love of the region and the humbleness to which they credit their success. Local chambers honored 10 businesses in this the 20th anniversary gala sponsored by Westamerica Bank and the Solano Economic Development Corporation.

Vacaville’s Chamber of Commerce honored Ernest and Ken Sousa this year from Stars Recreation Center. It was more than appropriate to honor this family that has brought family entertainment to the county for more than 50 years. The Sousa family opened Stars in 1998 and who among us hasn’t spent time on their lanes and in their arcade sharing time with our own families.

“It’s a true honor,” said Bill Bollman, the bowling center manager who accepted the award along with banquet manager Kelly Thaanum. “This is really great fun. It’s what we do. We sell fun.”

The Sousa’s opened Fairfield Bowl in 1957 before moving to Vacaville and opening Vaca Bowl in 1986. Stars is greatly involved in the community through events like Grad Night, Girls Scout lock-ins and the Gotcha program that honors some of the top middle school and high school students in the district.

Bollman talked about the Special Olympics athletes that bowl every Saturday in preparation for an upcoming tournament. The joy they exude is contagious and he said it is what make his job so much fun.

Dixon’s honoree this year was the famed Dixon Florist & Gift Shop. Kevin Johnson from the Dixon Chamber was amazed and a bit apologetic that this community icon hadn’t been honored before with its 50 years of exceptional service. Courtney Kett runs the business with her sisters Melissa Taylor and Dana Martin as a proud family venture. Step into the store at times of the year like Christmas and it is a winter wonderland.

The Dixon Florist and & Gift Shop also gives to multiple causes in the community. As one customer said in their biographical information in the program, “You come in as a customer, but you go out as a friend.”

The Spirit of Solano stories were endless. Elease Minor was honored by the Solano County Black Chamber of Commerce for her construction company Important Details Inc. Minor retired as an executive at the University of California, San Francisco to fulfill her dream of owning her own construction company.

Minor not only has a passion for her business, but she also has a passion for helping mothers and children and giving back to the community. She assists with Heather House to improve their operational structure and assist clients with work and stability.

Miriam Sammartino lived with her family in the United States for many years without legal status. After a career in microbiology and quality control, she now practice law with a focus on Children, Family and the Law, as well as Public Interest-Elder Law. Sammartino has a law office in Fairfield and was honored by the Solano Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Randy Blakenchip was at a crossroads in his life. He asked for financial assistance from family and opened a Texas Roadhouse franchise in Fairfield. He now serves an amazing 32,000 guests a month at the popular restaurant and out of the 450 Texas Roadhouse franchises his is ranked No. 6.

Blakenchip hasn’t forgotten his community, either. Among the many service projects he has taken on is serving more than 1,000 veterans this past Veteran’s Day and hosting a dine-in event for firemen and families that were involved in the California wildfires.

The Vallejo Chamber of Commerce honored Touro University and its amazing growth at historic Mare Island. Rio Vista’s Chamber recognized Lira’s Supermarket, owned with love by Jim and Shirley Lira. It is indeed a family business with the Lira children now involved.

Other winners included Tony and Sherry LoForte of Zio Fraedo’s of Vallejo by the Filipino-American Chamber; Travis Armstrong and Republic Services-Solano Garbage Company by the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber; and, Todd Bigelow from Round Table Pizza of Benicia by the Benicia Chamber.

Congratulations to all the recipients.

The author is managing editor of The Reporter. E-mail him at

Friday, December 4, 2015

Chambers of Commerce present Spirit of Solano awards

Chambers of Commerce present Spirit of Solano awards

Kimberly K. Fu — The Reporter Bill Bollman, right, and Kelly Thaanum with Stars Recreation Center in Vacaville accepted a Spirit of Solano award from the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce. Stars was among several businesses honored by various Chambers of Commerce throughout Solano County.

Gumption and a dedication to the community are qualities shared by 10 businesses honored at Thursday’s 20th annual Spirit of Solano ceremony at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfield.
The gala event was sponsored by Westamerica Bank and the Solano Economic Development Corporation.
The awards, given by Chambers of Commerce throughout Solano, honor businesses believed to embody the “Spirit of Solano.”
Sandy Person, Solano EDC president, spoke about the spirit of giving each recipient possesses. “These stories, when you hear them, will make your heart sing,” she said. “Bravo to everyone.”

Dr. Marilyn Hopkins with Touro University accepted an award from the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce.
She spoke of a dedication of excellence through education, of service through graduating caring, knowledgable students ready to hit the ground running.
“We are very proud to be part of this community and very proud to be part of this today,” she said to thunderous applause.
Ernest and Ken Sousa, owners of Stars Recreation Center, were honored by the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce for a 19-year community partnership and a dedication to the county’s future.

“This is really great and really fun to do what we do,” advised Bill Bollman, bowling center manager, who accepted the award with Kelly Thaanum, banquet manager.
He spoke of the people he’s met through the years and emphasized that his experiences have been a blast.
“It’s great to see people come ... and wreck the place,” he joked.
Kevin Johnson with the Dixon Chamber of Commerce described Dixon Florist as a community icon.
“For 50 years they’ve been doing what they’re doing,” he said, explaining the business’ uniqueness and the owners’ deep community involvement.

“They bring love and care to everything they’re doing,” he continued.
Courtney Kett, who owns the business with her sisters, Melissa Taylor and Dana Martin, said the family is proud to be a part of Dixon.
“Life’s good and we are so very fortunate,” she said.
Kett shared a truism passed down from her parents: “You don’t just live in a community, you actually create the community you want to live in.”
Other Spirit of Solano award winners include:
• Law Office of Miriam Sammartino, Solano Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

• Important Details Inc., Solano County Black Chamber of Commerce.
• Lira’s Supermarket, Rio Vista Chamber of Commerce.
• Zio Fraedo’s of Vallejo, Filipino-American Chamber of Commerce of Solano County, Inc.
• Republic Services - Solano Garbage Company, Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce — Suisun.
•Texas Roadhouse, Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce — Fairfield.
• Round Table Pizza of Benicia — Benicia Chamber of Commerce.

The Spirit of Solano evident in annual event

The Spirit of Solano evident in annual event

A crowd of more than 300 schmoozes Thursday just before the start of the 20th Annual Spirit of Solano Awards event in Fairfield. Rachel Raskin-Zrihen — times-herald

When Zio Fraedo owners Tony and Sherry LoForte, first decided to open a restaurant in Vallejo, people wondered why, Tony LoForte said during his remarks as a recipient of a Spirit of Solano Award on Thursday.
“It’s a tough town, they said,” LoForte said. “And, it is a tough town, but we’re tough people.”
But Vallejo and its people have welcomed the couple and their business, he said.
“People love us,” he said. “They see we work hard and when they get a chance, they come see us.”
The LoFortes were selected by the Filipino-American Chamber of Commerce of Solano County, Inc., as its Spirit of Solano Award winner at the 20th annual luncheon event, held at Fairfield’s Hilton Garden Inn. More than 300 people squeezed into a banquet room there for the event, and officials said some 30 people had to be turned away.

The room in which the event was held was dressed up for the holidays, with two decorated Christmas trees and tables festooned with poinsettia center-pieces.
The venue also overflowed with local, regional and state elected officials or their representatives, business leaders and other dignitaries from all Solano County cities and chambers of commerce.
Each chamber selects a business that exemplifies its ethos of great customer service and community service, to receive this honor each year. Images of this year’s winners, and winners from the past were projected onto a screen at the front of the room during the event, which was co-sponsored by WestAmerica Bank and the Solano EDC.

A common thread among the winners seemed to be a love of and a commitment to their communities.
Vallejo Chamber of Commerce board president Carol Larson introduced Marilyn Hopkins of Touro Universtity, the chamber’s selection for this years honor, which she described as a local “gem,” and 15-year chamber member.
In that time, Touro, which, she said, “was founded on the Jewish traditions of valuing social justice, the pursuit of knowledge and service to humanity,” has been “a great neighbor and community partner.”

Accepting the award on Touro’s behalf, provost Marilyn Hopkins said school officials are aware of Mare Island’s storied history and are working to create a new history on the site by conducting important research on subjects like obesity and preparing people for careers in Osteopathic Medicine, pharmacy, teaching and nursing as well as holding free health clinics, blood drives and more throughout the community.
The Vacaville Chamber of Commerce named Ernest and Ken Sousa of Stars Recreation Center as its winner this year, which began as a Fairfield bowling alley in 1957, and moved to Vacaville and expanded in 1986.

“It’s fun and easy to do what we do, because that’s what we do – we sell fun,” Sousa said.
The Law Office of Miriam Sammartino was the Solano Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s pick this year.
“Miriam was a microbiologist when she was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease,” and decided to go with her passion — helping Hispanic community members with their immigration issues, a chamber board spokeswoman Andrea Garcia said.
“The chamber has really encouraged me to provide the services that I do,” Sammartino said.

Elease Minor of Important Details, Inc. — the Solano County Black Chamber’s honoree — used the unique opportunity to plug her new woman-owned, environmentally conscious construction business during her remarks, after chamber spokeswoman Peggy Cohen Thompson enumerated a long list of community service work Minor’s done over the years, particularly in helping homeless families.
Travis Armstrong accepted the award for Republic Services-Solano Garbage Company — motto: We’ll handle it from here — the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber’s Suisun City honoree, while Randy Blankenchip, accepted for Texas Roadhouse — the Fairfield honoree.

Blankenchip described his opening the franchise restaurant six years ago as “a miracle.”
After 30 years in the restaurant business, Blankenchip changed careers, but about 8 ½ years ago, lost his job, his home and his father-in-law in rapid succession. At about that time, the Texas Roadhouse company asking if he’d consider opening a location.
“I prayed about it and promised if He helped this happen, I’d give back to the community,” he said. “God’s blessed us and I’ve kept my promise.”
The spokeswoman for the Dixon chamber’s selection, Dixon Florist & Gift Shop said hers is a family business since 1962, with a tradition of community service.

“Our parents taught us that you don’t just live in a community, you create the community you want to live in,” she said.
Benicia’s Todd Bigelow of Round Table Pizza said he and his father have been partners in the business for 24 years, and it’s “been a heck of a ride.”
Jim Lira of Rio Vista’s Lira’s Supermarket said he was born there to a dairy farming family and in 1965 went to work in a supermarket — an experience he “cherishes.”
In 1990 the store went bankrupt, and a friend, Bill Dutra, “wrote me a check for $750,000,” to resurrect it.

“He gave me a chance and he’s still my partner.”
The store now is run by Lira’s son and daughter and they all remain committed to their employees and the community, he said.
“Our community put us where we are today and anything we can do to help our community, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
Contact Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Solano reps pitch Travis on Capitol Hill

By Todd R. Hansen From page A1 | October 22, 2015

FAIRFIELD — The future of Travis Air Force Base – from expanded missions to new development projects and water – was on the agenda of area representatives who lobbied Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

“Another base realignment and closure (debate) is inevitable,” Fairfield Mayor Harry Price said from the nation’s capital. “And that’s why we are doing what we are doing to keep Travis off that list.”

The discussions marked the need to maintain the KC-10 Extender mission, and perhaps expansion with the KC-46 aerial tankers, the community partnership efforts that include two development projects and the less-sexy but vital talks about securing a reliable water source for the base.

Price said he was encouraged by the local group’s meetings with Reps. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, as well as their meetings with staff members for Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

Perhaps even more rewarding, Price said, was the discussions they had with Gov. Jerry Brown’s office staff in Washington, D.C. Price said Brown’s staff surprised him with their knowledge of the Travis situation.

“I think we were encouraged by the governor’s role on the military council,” said Price, adding the local representatives also met with professional staff members from the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services.

The group, which was scheduled to meet Thursday with Pentagon officials, includes Mayor Len Augustine and Councilwoman Dilenna Harris from Vacaville, Fairfield City Manager David White and Solano County Economic Development Corp. executive Sandy Person.

Harris is there as chairwoman of the Travis Regional Armed Forces Committee. Augustine spent 28 years in the Air Force, including assignments at the Pentagon and nearby Andrews Air Force Base.

The trip was funded through the Travis Community Consortium. The cost of the trip was not immediately known.

Price said it is critical that the KC-10 tankers remain at Travis, and if they were to be replaced by the new KC-46, then that mission be assigned to the 6,383-acre base located about 3 miles east of Fairfield.

Price said it is the Air Force’s position is that both the KC-10 and KC-46 tankers are necessary.

“And Travis has land space for both of them,” Price said.

Two development projects were also on the agenda.

The first is the on-base development of a new central civil engineering facility to replace more than 50 scattered and sometimes antiquated engineering operations and buildings. Officials said it would make the base far more efficient.

Augustine said the general budget for the project is between $20 million and $30 million. He said it would not only centralize those operations, but also free up space needed around flight operations on the base.

What is most unusual about the proposal is it would be funded through the Solano County bonding capacity, rather than the base trying to qualify for federal construction funding, which is not available at this time.

There is no specific time line for the project, officials said, but they would prefer sooner than later.

“Our plan is we want to move forward with the base as quickly as possible,” White said.

The group also received encouragement for the concept of developing about 70 acres not far from the Fairfield-Vacaville train station project, also part of the Air Force Community Partnership Initiative. If the plan moves forward, it could provide additional revenue for base operations through lease of the land.

“Nothing is on paper, so anything is possible,” Augustine said. “But I don’t think it would be housing. It would more likely be commercial and maybe some light industrial.”

While expansion on and around the base is vital, Price said, it is just as important to establish regulations that prevent negative impacts by future development, everything from solar and wind turbine projects to meteorological towers.

Also at the forefront of the discussions was the need for Travis to secure a more reliable water source.

The base gets its water from Vallejo and on-base wells. Eventually, the Vallejo Lake Frey and Lake Madigan sources will end, and the plan is to develop more groundwater resources.

White said Travis officials are in discussions with Fairfield and Vacaville to supply a secondary water source to the base in the event there are short-term problems with a well, or as yet to be determined by an ongoing groundwater study, the overall impact on the regional aquifer.

A $1 million infrastructure project has been outlined. White said the base has available funds to pay for the work, which would be completed by Fairfield.

“It’s important to get your project to the top of the list,” Augustine said of the trip. “And it renews (Washington officials’) confidence to know that there are people who support Travis Air Force Base.”

Reach Todd R. Hansen at 427-6919 or

City leaders carry message of support for Travis Air Force Base to Washington D.C.

By Melissa Murphy, The Reporter, Vacaville

Posted: 10/21/15, 10:23 PM PDT | Updated: 7 hrs ago

A trip to Washington D.C. by local leaders this week was all about Travis Air Force Base.

“We’re here to show our support for the base as part of our community,” said Vacaville Mayor Len Augustine. “We want to maintain that relationship.”

Augustine was joined by City Councilwoman Dilenna Harris, who went representing the Travis Regional Armed Force Committee, Solano Economic Development Corporation President Sandy Person, Fairfield Mayor Harry Price and Fairfield City Manager David White.

Augustine said the group is there to show the leaders in the Senate and Congress that the entire county supports Travis.

“We want to show that we work together to provide assistance to the base and that the base supports the community,” he said.

Also, they were there to meet with leaders and their staff to discuss their ideas for the future at the base and to voice some concerns.

He explained that they met with the staff of Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, Congressmen Mike Thompson, D-Solano, and John Garamendi, D-Solano, as well as Gov. Jerry Brown’s Washington D.C. staff.

With a goal of helping the base be more efficient, the Mayor said that building one civil engineering complex would pull several offices together that are scattered throughout the base. Additionally, moving the passenger terminal near the cargo terminal would be helpful.

We want to see changes that will allow for more opportunities that will help the administration and the mission of Travis, Augustine said.

“We want to make sure that Travis Air Force Base not only stays open, but adds missions,” he said.

He added that there are certain things that are of concern and that includes the lack of money and authorization for new projects as well as continued threats of sequestration.

Meanwhile, Augustine said leaders are focusing on the KC-46 aircraft scheduled to replace the KC-10, both are refueling jets.

The mayor emphasized that Travis wants to be considered for the next procurement, but at the same time make room available at the base. The replacements don’t necessarily mean that they’ll be at the current bases of the KC-10. If the jets aren’t replaced then it’s important that the remaining KC-10s continue to receive financial support for maintenance at the base.

Also, the group of leaders wants to make sure that nothing stands in its way of conducting its mission, not wind turbines, not solar developments, not housing developments, nor bird strikes.

Solano County has a moratorium on the new development of wind and solar projects until an Airforce Land Use Compatibility Plan is in place.

“Moratoriums run out, we want something more permanent,” Augustine said.

While the schedule for the short trip — the group left Tuesday night and will return this evening — has been busy he said the government leaders on the East Coast have been very receptive and supportive.

Harris said taking the trip is more beneficial than just talking over the phone from Vacaville.

“There is strength in numbers,” she said. “It’s been a very productive trip.”

“Coming here shows them that we’re working together and that we’re committed and making the sacrifice for the trip,” Harris continued. “It’s always easier to sit down across the table with the staffers, that way they can see the genuine passion and commitment. It does make a difference when you’re face to face.”

Augustine agreed and added that while they were there to share a message of support of Travis, they also gained a lot of information.

“We want to protect the base,” he said. “It adds to the economy of our entire county.”

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Local congressman, CEO share insight into success

The Reporter

By Kimberly K. Fu,, @ReporterKimFu on Twitter
Posted: |

Congressman Mike Thompson, D-Solano, was keynote speaker at Friday’s breakfast of Solano Economic Development Corporation members. Kimberly K. Fu — The Reporter

Shelley Berkley, CEO and senior provost of Touro University Western Division, was a guest speaker on Friday at the Solano EDC breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfield. Kimberly K. Fu — The Reporter

Powerhouse leaders Congressman Mike Thompson, D-Solano, and Shelley Berkley, CEO and senior provost of Touro University Western Division, shared insight on success at Friday’s Solano Economic Development Corporation breakfast gathering.

With humor and heart, the pair — once coworkers in Washington, D.C. when Berkley served Nevada’s 1st congressional district — detailed their pathways to high-powered positions.

Thompson, a Vietnam veteran, talked about growing up in a middle class St. Helena neighborhood and being a high school dropout who thought he was too cool for school.

The real world taught his younger self otherwise, he said, especially when he joined the Army. So when he got out, he obtained his GED, got his bachelor’s, then his high school diploma, and, finally, his masters. It was a backwards way of getting his education, he said, but it worked for him.

He entered politics to make a difference and focused on creating and growing jobs.

“I feel very privileged and highly honored to go to Washington and represent the people of my district,” Thompson said.

When at his office in Solano County, Thompson enjoys visiting local businesses, learning more about them and lending a hand when he can.

“I think we can do more,” he pledged.

Berkley, meanwhile, spoke of being the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants.

Her family — which included a waiter dad and homemaker mom — moved from New York to Las Vegas when she was a child.

“They spoke no English, had no skills, no money. The only thing they had when they came to these shores was a dream,” she said. “Their dream was that their children and their children’s children would have a better life.”

Berkley said she always wanted to be in public service, so that’s what she pursued. She entered politics and served in the Nevada State Legislature beginning in 1983. Decades later, she retired. And was called out of retirement to serve at Touro.

“What I’m doing now is the thrill of a lifetime,” she said. “Touro University is nothing short of amazing.”

Next to the University of California system, Touro graduates the most doctors in the U.S., she pointed out.

For more information on the Solano EDC, visit

Thompson, Touro CEO talk of origins

By Ryan McCarthy From page A3 | October 17, 2015                                                                 
Daily Republic
Congressman Mike Thompson speaks at the Solano Economic Development Corporation breakfast, at the Fairfield Hilton Garden Inn on Friday. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)
Congressman Mike Thompson speaks at the Solano Economic Development Corporation breakfast, at the Fairfield Hilton Garden Inn on Friday. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD - The high school dropout who became a congressman from Northern California spoke Friday at the Solano Economic Development Corporation breakfast – and so did a former congresswoman from Nevada who said she often thinks of herself “as my grandparents’ American dream.”

The “Modest beginnings to national spotlight” event brought U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Shelley Berkley, a congressional representative from 1998-2013 in Nevada, who is now chief executive officer of Tour University Western Division, to talk about their youths.

Thompson’s 5th District includes part of Solano County.

Thompson said he dropped out of high school after the last basketball season, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, went to Napa Community College and received a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Chico.

He talked about growing up in a middle-class family in St. Helena.

“I thought I was in pretty tall cotton,” Thompson said at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfield. Berkley, elected to Congress the same year as Thompson, said she is the granddaughter of immigrants who came to the United States to escape the Holocaust during World War II and arrived in America with no money or skills. All they had was a dream, Berkley said.

Her father took the family from upstate New York in the 1960s with plans to work in Southern California as a waiter, and stopped in Las Vegas for a night.  “We never left,” Berkley said.

Fewer than 100,000 people lived then in Las Vegas Valley, which is now home to about 2 million residents.

Berkley spoke about her work as CEO and senior provost for Touro University Western Division.

“I visited Mare Island,” she said of the university campus in Vallejo. “I thought, this is the most extraordinary place on Earth.”

“We love what we do at Touro,” Berkley added about the campus in Solano County, one of 32 Touro facilities in the world, including others in Jerusalem, Berlin and Paris.

A total of 135 medical students are admitted yearly from 6,300 applicants, she said. Touro has pharmacy, nursing and education programs as well.

“We are creating professionals who are going to take care of all of you for a generation to come,” Berkley said.

Thompson spoke about the mix of industries in Benicia, the business home of Muscle Milk and where equipment for oil refineries is also manufactured.

The congressman said the most recent fiasco in Washington, D.C. is talk about shutting down the government to end funding for Planned Parenthood. “When you shut down the government everything comes to halt,” Thompson said.

Solano County, he said, receives about $1.4 billion yearly via the federal government – $770 million in Social Security, $370 million in Medicare and $200 million in veterans benefits.

Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or

Friday, October 2, 2015

Solano County seeks firm for economic diversity study

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen, Vallejo Times-Herald

Posted: 10/01/15, 11:20 PM PDT

Solano County officials expect to have a specific plan for diversifying the countywide economy by 2017, ensuring it’s not overly reliant on Travis Air Force Base or any other one industry, they said.

To do that, the county has issued a Request for Proposal seeking qualified consulting firms to conduct a comprehensive study of the local economy, with a focus on developing a countywide strategic approach for diversifying the economic base. The submission deadline is Oct. 19, county officials said.

This is the second phase of the Moving Solano Forward Economic Diversification Study project begun two years ago with another study that identified four main most promising industry “clusters” in the county, spokesman James Bezek said.

The first phase identified the clusters — energy, food chain, medical and life sciences — and set a five-year time frame to study those, said Bezek, managing analyst administering the project for the county.

“They had another grant opportunity and we applied for and got that,” said Bezek.

The grants are from the U.S. Department of Defense, Office of Economic Adjustment.

The $369,860, 2013 Phase One grant paid for a study that identified not only the county’s important industry clusters, but also 13 strategies for retaining and expanding existing businesses and recruiting new ones in those clusters, Bezek said.

The $453,460 Phase Two grant is for a new study to build on those, he said.

“The Department of Defense routinely goes out and works on economic diversification of communities around their bases,” Bezek said. “People who work at the base often live in the surrounding cities and there is a potential resource for our economy to benefit from that.”

The process should take about 18 months, until February, 2017, said Bezek and Solano Economic Development Corp.’s Sean Quinn, who is involved in the project from that agency’s side.

“At the end we should have a better understanding of the county’s assets and how they can be showcased to recruit desired businesses,” Quinn said. “It will also develop a comprehensive data base for the public, identify key needs within the clusters and how to meet those.”

The first study determined what’s needed in terms of a labor pool, real estate and other specifics and how best to address them so officials can retain, expand and attract new business within those clusters, and the types of ancillary enterprises that support them, Quinn said.

“It’s a very hands-on approach to coming up with implementation efforts,” he said. “Getting down to individual sites. It’s not pie-in-the-sky at all.”

The study should also produce an assessment of countywide strategic projects and what improvements are needed along transportation corridors, Quinn said.

“And it will look for infrastructure improvements we can do to improve the prospects for private sector investment and then look for funding sources for achieving a lot of the goals,” he said. “Phase Two actually looks at key sites in the county and what it would take to development them to help diversify the economy,” Quinn said. “At the end, the county will have a comprehensive specific plan on how to diversify the economy and tools identified and individual sites prioritized.”

The Solano County Board of Supervisors approved the grant application in June and the grant officially started Sept. 1, Quinn said. The next step is the Request For Proposals, he said.

“The goal is to finalize the search process by mid November and make selection soon after that,” he said.

Anyone interested in receiving the RFP or finding out more about the project should contact James Bezek, Sr. Management Analyst with Solano County at (707) 784-6112 and

Contact Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Consulting firm sought for study of Solano County’s local economy

Solano County has issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking qualified consulting firms to conduct a comprehensive study of the local economy with a focus on developing a countywide strategic approach for diversifying the economic base.

The deadline for submission is Oct. 19.

The purpose of the study is to develop specific actions to help reduce the reliance and vulnerability of the Solano County economy to fluctuations in defense spending associated with Travis Air Force Base. The intent is to create economic development activities and projects that grow the countywide economy.

“The County is committed to working with the Solano Economic Development Corporation and the seven cities to grow the local economy and create jobs for our residents,” said Solano County Administrator Birgitta E. Corsello. “Solano County has a lot to offer to help existing businesses expand and to attract new businesses.”
As the second phase of the Moving Solano Forward Economic Diversification Study, the comprehensive study aims to focus on implementation of activities and projects to grow the local economy.
The Solano Economic Development Corporation is a partner with the County in this project. The project is funded by a grant from the U.S Department of Defense, Office of Economic Adjustment.
Anyone interested in receiving the RFP or finding out more about the project should contact James Bezek, senior management analyst with Solano County at 784-6112 and

Friday, September 18, 2015

Water, economy topics at Impact Solano conference

By Kevin W. Green From page A3 | September 18, 2015

FAIRFIELD — Water and the economy were the major topics at the fifth annual Impact Solano business conference presented Thursday by the North Bay Business Journal at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Micah Weinberg, who heads the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, discussed the economy in the Bay Area and Solano County; while Wade Crowfoot, deputy cabinet secretary and senior adviser in the governor’s office, addressed water issues.

Forecasters are optimistic of continued growth in the region, Weinberg said of economic conditions in the region. The area has experienced a steady period of economic growth, rather than a spike, he said. Some forecasts predict the Bay Area economy will get even hotter, he said.

What happens with the economy during the next two to three years will greatly affect Solano County, Weinberg said. Large projects and some things that were anticipated prior to the Great Recession could come back into focus, he said.

One of the industries leading the way in job growth in the Bay Area is construction, which is also doing well in Solano County, he said. Housing permits, however, do remain well below peak amounts experienced in the 1970s and 1980s, he said.

Bright spots for Solano County include construction, agriculture, aircraft construction, falling unemployment and decent per capita income growth, Weinberg said.

Two major issues faced by the overall region are a lack of affordable housing and the lack of a comprehensive transportation plan, he said.

In wrapping up his presentation, Weinberg talked of a mega-region that would extend from the Bay Area to Sacramento. Solano County would be in the heart of such an area, he said. The county would be well positioned to take advantage of a mega-region, he said.

Water and the drought

Much of Crowfoot’s discussion centered on the drought. He also pointed, however, to climate change as a major issue contributing to the situation.

Droughts come in cycles and the state has endured them in the past, Crowfoot said. What has changed now is the climate, Crowfoot said. In addition to rainfall, California’s thirst for water has been sustained through dry months by the snowpack in the mountains. But now there isn’t a snowpack because it’s warmer, he said.

The situation has also affected the way major fires have spread, Crowfoot said.

Incident command teams that determine a strategy in battling a major fire develop computer modeling, running hundreds of forecasts in terms of how the fire will behave, he said. Those forecasts determine where they deploy assets, he said.

The Rocky Fire, the Valley Fire and the Butte Fire spread completely outside of the computer modeling that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had done, based on all the historic data, he said.

Crowfoot also pointed to the spread of the King Fire nearly a year ago.

“That fire made a 15-mile run in one day, which completely stunned the most seasoned Cal Fire veterans in the state,” he said. “Those are the conditions now that we’re facing fighting fires and those are some of the impacts of a changing climate.”

Crowfoot acknowledged the politics of the issue.

“Climate change is, obviously, a political football in Washington, D.C., certainly in the presidential primary – but I can tell you from somebody who’s living the impact day to day, it’s real and it’s impacting Californians,” he said.

Crowfoot also talked of the human impact of the drought.

While residents in Solano County and other regions have made big cutbacks in their water usage and experienced browning lawns, they have not felt the weight of the drought in the same manner as residents in San Joaquin County or parts of the Central Valley.

About 5,000 to 10,000 people there don’t have running water in their homes because domestic wells have gone dry, he said.

Crowfoot also discussed what El Nino might mean to Californians. Despite the predictions of El Nino, it won’t necessarily bring rains to Northern California, he said. The message is clear that we need to continue to conserve, he said.

While officials are pleased with the 30 percent reduction in water usage that has been reached in the state, they want to maintain that level, he said.

“We want to make sure when it does rain again that we don’t revert back,” he said.

Continued restrictions will be needed to assure there will be enough water for the future, he said.

Questioned about the distribution of water, Crowfoot said about 80 percent goes for agriculture and 20 percent goes to communities.

Growing food takes a lot of water, he said. It’s a major part of what is driving the economy in many parts of the state, he said.

He pointed out, meanwhile, that agriculture is working to be more efficient in its water use.

Also participating in Thursday’s business conference was a panel, representing three Solano County businesses. Panel members were Ron Lanza, vice president of Wooden Valley Winery; Brooks Pedder, senior managing director of the commercial real estate firm DTZ; and Kent Fortner, founder, Mare Island Brewing Company.

The conference was co-hosted by Travis Credit Union and underwritten by NorthBay Healthcare and Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty. The conference is produced in collaboration with the Solano Economic Development Corporation.

Reach Kevin W. Green at 427-6974 or

Experts discuss Solano’s economy, drought

By Kimberly K. Fu,, @ReporterKimFu on Twitter

Posted: 09/17/15, 6:43 PM PDT | Updated: 2 hrs ago

The future of Solano is unpredictable.

So said two experts Thursday morning brought in to discuss economics and drought at an Impact Solano event sponsored by the North Bay Business Journal and Travis Credit Union.

“People ask, ‘What’s going on with the economy?’ I have a dirty little secret to tell you — I have no idea,” joked Micah Weinberg, Ph.D and president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, who spoke on economic trends.

Wade Crowfoot, deputy cabinet secretary and senior advisor to Gov. Jerry Brown, talked about the drought.

In the Bay Area, the tech industry “is absolutely insane,” Weinberg said, but not so much in Solano County.

Part of the issue, he said, is a lack of affordable housing for employees and, well, housing in general.

“Housing permits are well below peaks of the 70s and 80s,” he pointed out.

Job growth has been decent in the past year, he said, with bright spots for Solano including construction, agriculture, falling unemployment and decent per capita income growth.

Challenges include competitors in the Mountain West region and transportation issues.

There’s also the “Megaregion” aspect, that of Solano sandwiched between the Bay Area and Sacramento. There’s a potential here to be mined, he said.

Crowfoot, meanwhile, discussed the drought.

Droughts are not uncommon, he said, though this one has seen two of the warmest winters on record and brought no snow melt this year.

The situation is also having a negative impact on firefighting, he said, and “fires are behaving differently than they ever have in California.”

Solano is well-positioned water-wise while in places like San Joaquin County, residents are running out of water, he said. Even worse off, apparently, are people with domestic wells.

“Five to 10,000 people turn on their faucets and nothing comes out,” he emphasized. “Emergency support is in place but there’s no permanent solution.”

The agriculture industry, meanwhile, is adapting, he said. Producers who can are moving to areas where water is available and there are strong markets for products. But, there are still challenges here, as well.

“If it (the drought) continues, 18 species of fish could become functionally extinct,” he said, indicating well-known species such as Pacific Salmon.

As a whole, Californians are remarkable when it comes to water conservation, he said.

As for El Nino, there’s no way to predict what it will bring, Crowfoot explained.

In other matters, a panel of three — Ron Lanza with Wooden Valley Winery, Kent Fortner with Mare Island Brewing Company and Brooks Pedder with DEZ spoke on the county’s winemaking and beer brewing booms.

“This is a growing, growing, growing industry for Solano County,” said Sandy Person, president of Solano Economic Development Corporation.

“We are poised for accelerating into the blue skies ahead,” she mused.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Manufacturing Day information

Manufacturing Day is a celebration of modern manufacturing meant to inspire the next generation of manufacturers. Although Manufacturing Day officially occurs on the first Friday in October—this year is October 2, 2015—any day can be a Manufacturing Day. For more information visit:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Small Business Boost Conference August 26, 2015

Solano EDC working with Congressman John Garamendi to collaborate on the Small Business Boost Conference at UC Davis

 WHAT:    Solano EDC  in collaboration with Congressman John Garamendi and 40 public-private partners will host the Small Business Boost Conference to help small businesses in our local region grow. At the conference, small business owners will learn about:

·        Best practices on developing a results-oriented business strategy

·        Cutting-edge tips on marketing techniques, operational optimization, and business-to-business networking

·        Special programs and resources for women and veteran business owners

·        Resources available through Covered California, our regional Workforce Investment Boards, and local Small Business Development Centers

·        Educational opportunities at UC Davis Graduate School of Management and Sacramento State College of Business Administration

·        Financing opportunities available through traditional lenders, alternative lenders, government lenders, crowdfunding, venture capital, the Small Business Administration, and more…
Conference participants will receive a Small Business Resource Manual, and be encouraged to complete a Business Strengths Assessment & Strategic Plan worksheet. With ample opportunities to network, all conference participants are encouraged to bring business cards. People unable to attend the Small Business Boost Conference can also stream a live webinar. More information will be available at closer to the event.
WHO:                   Participating organizations include:

                             U.S. Small Business Administration
                             University of California, Davis,

                             Capital Region Small Business Development Center,

                             Sacramento State College of Business Administration,

                             Constant Contact,

                             Third District Chambers of Commerce,

                             .…and many more regional business organizations

WHERE:             UC Davis Conference Center, 550 Alumni Lane, Davis
WHEN:              Wednesday, August 26

8:30am – 1:00pm
SCHEDULE:      8:30am - Coffee and bagel networking session
9:00am - Business strategy presentations by Pierre Balthazard, Dean of the Sacramento State College of Business Administration; Andy Hargadon, Professor at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management; and Alec Stern, Vice President of Strategic Innovation at Constant Contact
10:00am - Panel Discussion, “Accessing Capital for your Small Business”
11:00am -Workshop boot camps on business operations, marketing, and networking
12:00pm - Small Business Resource Fair & Networking

RSVP:                Business owners interested in attending should RSVP at (530) 753-5316 or by email at The conference is complimentary, however seating is limited. Therefore, RSVP today. As a small business owner, you’re busy and may not have the time to attend in person. If you aren’t able to get away from the shop, join in by webinar at

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