Chris Thornberg, founder of Beacon Economics, spoke as he does every year at the annual Sonoma County State of the County breakfast, hosted by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. After the obligatory patting-self-on-back remarks by a couple of elected officials, Chris took to the podium to tell us, “We’re all all right.”
California is steadily recovering from the great recession, Thornberg says, and Sonoma County is actually better than the state overall. He predicts the following:
- Even with the end of Quantitative Easing, interest rates will stay low
- Housing prices are increasing
- Wine production is good.
- California is a strong economy; Sonoma’s is stronger than the state’s.
- The labor market is heating up.
- The stock market is not a “bubble.”
Sonoma County added 4,000 new jobs last year and our current unemployment rate is around 5%; the state’s is 7%.
Housing has not rebounded the way we all would have liked, Thornberg says, in part because there is still a surplus of single family dwellings. The flurry in home-buying a couple of years ago was investor buying, not family buying, and did not lead to a need for new home construction. Construction used to be 6% of the national GDP and it still hasn’t reached 5%. There is a lot of construction work, though; a lot of it is remodeling.
Even with the dry cycle and water shortage, agricultural jobs grew by 8% in the county and we added 29 new wineries. (I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.)
Thornberg says consumer confidence shows in increases in consumer credit, a 5% increase year-to-year from last year. This shows that people aren’t afraid to borrow. They think they’ll still have a job in a year.
County payroll gains are up $250 thousand per month year-to-year from last year, and the job opening rate is 3.5%. Incomes show an annual rise of 4%.
All of this shows that we are finding our way out of the dark woods of 2007 – 2010, but Thornberg warns that Sonoma County’s problem is “lack of growth.” He thinks the county should be an economic powerhouse, getting the benefits of the Bay Area’s growth, and that our problem (said humorously) “is Marin County.” He believes the SMART project, a commuter train from Sonoma County to the Larkspur terminal and BART, will make a huge positive difference. Housing costs are cheaper in Sonoma, but with gridlock on Highway 101, it is not easy to get to the city. SMART will definitely help; the continued widening of the highway will help some.
This time I really did get up at an outrageous hour; 5:30. It was just like the old days; stumbling about in the dark so I don’t wake Spouse, putting on uncomfortable shoes, etc. Ah, good times. I ran into several friends from the office, and learned a few more things that are going on in the county:
The county has hired a half-time manager to work with Sonoma County’s “creative community” to put our arts on the map in as big a way as our wine and food is. Her name is Nancy Glaze (sp?) and they would never call her anything as disrespectful as an “art wrangler;” that’s all me. One of her first tasks is he “Creative Sonoma Forum” November 12 at 5:00 pm at the Wells Fargo Center. I might even go.
The Access to Capital project and its micro-loan component are up and running. Call (707)565-6428 to see how your microbusiness (five employees or fewer) or small business might benefit from this, or from other tools the EDB offers.
The county has spent $91.1 million on road repair. This is good if you live near one of the 100 miles of road prioritized for repair. Most of these are in Santa Rosa or on the 101 corridor. Since those are the population centers, this only makes sense. The ongoing Highway 101 project, funded largely by federal dollars, will top $2 billion by the time it’s done.
Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) is on target for 2016. It will run from Windsor to the Larkspur Landing ferry terminal.