Solano County polishes ‘business first’ message

Robert Eyler, Economic Forensics & Analytics

By Gary Quackenbush
North Bay Business Journal

Key industries and a military base powering $19.6 billion in annual gross regional product, Solano County is increasing promotion of itself as a premier business location.

Funded by a $453,000 grant from the federal Office of Economic Adjustment and local funding from the county of Solano, the “Moving Forward Solano” effort is “an inclusive partnership of public–private stakeholders led by the county and the Solano EDC to develop a forward-thinking strategy based on extensive research, data and engagement,” said Sandy Person, president of the Solano Economic Development Corporation.

“Business first” is a key message of the campaign’s next phase.

It includes a robust website, serving as a one-stop information clearinghouse that will assist businesses, local governments brokers and site selectors. It is set to provide economic and demographic data, and dynamic mapping showcasing unique market locations, all county business parks, mega-sites and specific properties.

Tools and services will be offered to cities, including the identification of public–public and public–private financing opportunities that can be used to invest in infrastructure to attract economic activity.

Person noted that Solano is strategically located 16 miles from Napa, 22 miles from Sacramento, 25 miles from the Port of Oakland, 31 miles from San Francisco and about an hour from San Jose. The county has 2.8 million workers in the labor market, including 168,000 who commute into and out of the area, as well as 6,700 acres of land available for businesses.

Economist Robert Eyler, Ph.D., president of Petaluma-based Economic Forensics and Analytics and professor of economics at Sonoma State University, is part of a four-member consulting team for the project.

“Solano County had a strong 2016 with personal income and wages rising fueled by continued growth in the wake of the recession,” Eyler said. “With regional housing and commercial real estate prices increasing, the question is how can Solano gain from some of the exodus as workers migrate to this county from other areas. Other questions include how to identify the businesses that will come to Solano, how supply chains will be affected and the ability of the county to plan around these variables.”

Eyler said Solano has specific industries that drive its economy. A wide array of advanced-materials manufacturing, including biotechnology and petrochemical firms, is the largest private-sector contributor, representing 24.9 percent of the county’s gross product.

This large business category is followed by Travis Air Force Base, split between military and civilian workers on the base, that generates about 10 percent of the economy; health care, including for profit and nonprofit hospitals, health organizations and outpatient care facilities, 9.7 percent; Real Estate and Rental Businesses, 8.9 percent; Retail Trade, 6.6 percent; Construction, 5.1 percent; Professional Services, 4.7 percent; Wholesale Trade, 4.6 percent; Logistics and Financial/Insurance Services with 3.3 percent each; along with Agriculture and Information Services with 1.1 percent each. All other services collectively account for the remaining 16.8 percent of Solano County’s gross product.

“Retail and construction were larger contributors before 2010 and are likely to become a larger part of the Solano County economy as the recovery continues,” Eyler said.

He said five industry groups act as a foundation for driving the regional economy due to their ability to offer higher than average wages, an export market focus, relatively large multiplier effects, their “industry fit” and niche in Solano County as well as their location quotient.

Since the close of the Great Recession, the Solano advanced-materials sector has experienced the greatest growth, expanding from 189 firms in 2010 to 210 in 2016. Advanced materials includes machine manufacturing, repair and maintenance; engineering and scientific services; waste management; and some logistics.

Examples of advanced-materials firms are Fairfield’s Tencate Advanced Composites, which manufactures aerospace and industrial materials, and Dixon’s Powerscreen, manufacturing equipment for mining, quarrying, crushing, screening, demolition and recycling.

Some representative businesses in the food and beverage group include Caymus Winery, Mare Island Brewery, Napa Smith Brewery, Critelli, Formaggi Di Ferrante, Gold Star Foods and Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Napa Valley-based Wagner Family of Wines, maker of the Caymus brand, plans to move much of its production to a new Fairfield bottling plant and upgrades to fermentation tanks and grape processing.

Based in Vallejo are Mare Island Brewery and Napa Smith Brewery. This year, Mare Island Brewery is expanding into its own taproom. Napa Smith Brewery has expanded to Mare Island and is opening a brewery in Tennessee.

Critelli fine olive oils and vinegars just opened a Fairfield facility with tasting of wine and its Sonoma Harvest Food brand. Formaggi Di Ferrante makes fine Italian cheeses in Fairfield and is adding organic products with a tasting room and restaurant. Gold Star Foods, Inc., in Dixon prepares K–12 school lunches each day for 300 school districts in Northern and Central California.

Anheuser-Busch InBev is expanding its Fairfield brewery, adding a restaurant to its taproom.

The logistics sector has firms such as Acorn Paper Products, which recently moved its distribution center to Vacaville from Napa Valley, and Vacaville’s ACX Global, an exporter of alfalfa hay, forage and roughage products.

“Looking ahead, labor market projections from the EDD and our own EFA calculations indicate that the advanced-materials cluster in Solano County will see 2.9 percent growth between 2016 and 2024, adding 2,117 more workers,” Eyler said.

In the same eight-year period, he said, the food and beverage industry could grow by 2.3 percent with 463 new positions; biotech/biomed by 2.6 percent, with 588 more employees; and logistics could expand by 5.6 percent, adding 1,189 new workers.