Friday, September 18, 2015

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.