Solano business conference finds some bright spots – By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD — Solano Economic Development Corp. Interim President Sandy Person found some numbers to smile about Wednesday amid the slow economy. Four recent business endeavors will bring 200 new jobs and a half-billion dollars in investment to the county, she said. Those are the Shiloh III wind project by enXco in the Montezuma Hills, the planned Altec Industries public utility equipment company expansion in Dixon, the Coda electric car company in Benicia and the Blu Homes prefabricated, eco-friendly homes plant on Mare Island. The challenge for Solano County, as explored during the Impact Solano conference Wednesday, is to keep this type of momentum going. The morning conference sponsored by the North Bay Business Journal took place before more than 100 people at the Hilton Garden Inn. Even more development projects are coming to Solano County. Gary Passama, president of NorthBay Healthcare, said NorthBay could begin work on a $120 million VacaValley Hospital expansion within the next half-year. The state must still approve the project. Person also noted some projects that the Solano EDC has under way. Among them is an economic study of Highway 12 to show, among other things, where all of the truck traffic goes. The Solano Transportation Authority will use the study to try to get more federal and state highway improvement dollars. “We don’t know much about Highway 12,” Person said. “It serves some tremendously important industries in this county.” Robert Eyler, economics department chairman at Sonoma State University, was the keynote speaker at the conference. He sees some encouraging economic news for California amid the bad news, such as growth in personal income among Californians. “Is California as a state recovering? Yes,” he said. “Is it a slower recovery than we want? Of course.” Solano County is creating jobs. It has some demand in the housing market, however weak that might be, he said. He talked of county strengths, such as its location between the University of California, Davis, and UC Berkeley. The county needs to communicate with them, to get the science done there to result in Solano County jobs, he said. Person later said she is going “full throttle” in her contact with UC Davis. “We have some amazing opportunities to collaborate there,” Person said. “Stay tuned.” Eyler praised the county’s decision to focus on economic clusters: life sciences, the food chain and energy. He talked about the county’s weather and microclimates as a plus. But he warned against cities fighting among themselves over who gets what firm, something that could drive away companies the county is trying to woo. “Don’t worry where it lands,” Eyler said. “Worry about how you feed off it after it lands.” And he cautioned local leaders to watch what’s going on in other communities that want to compete with Solano County. Eyler ended his part of the conference with words of encouragement. He urged local economic and civic leaders to “keep at it” and to stay engaged. Then the county will do fine, he said. Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646, ext. 232, or beberling@dailyrepublic.net.