Solano’s economic future may be a revolution from tradition

January 31 2019

Daily Republic

By Todd R. Hansen

FAIRFIELD — The economy created by freelance entrepreneurs will surpass the traditional employer-employee economy in the next decade – with 50 percent of Americans in the workforce being independents by 2027.

That was just one of the “coming to Dylan” moments at the 36th annual Solano Economic Development Corp. luncheon meeting. It appears the times are still a changing.

Matt Gardner, chief executive officer of the California Technology Council, told the gathering of about 250 business and government leaders that how the economy will grow is very different from the traditional pathways of growth.

He noted how individuals can self-educate and self-train, and can find financing for their ideas – lessening the need for them to follow the typical university pathways. Nor do they have to work in the traditional tech centers such as Silicon Valley.

Gardner said in the technology innovation sector there is a great demand for data scientists, but those individuals are not taking the jobs being offered, but rather choose to sell their skills project to project.

“The poorest child in the poorest community could deliver themselves to a technical career in many forms of science plus technology through self-directed training, open-source resources, existing streams of funding, and existing infrastructure,” said Gardner, referring to the statement as the theory of change.

He also noted that there is such a huge skill gap for cybersecurity that companies are looking “to build” the personnel they need because the universities and other resources will never be able to fill that gap.

Gardner said that it is easy to understand how accepting such changing workforce concepts could benefit Solano County.

“If you can find out what your population is capable of, you can have a very different growth model,” Gardner said.

In a later interview, he emphasized the need to teach critical thinking and problem-solving skills in school, and said that traditional financing options such as banks may not be the more progressive resources that are available for economic growth.

However, he had no issue with the EDC strategies and even noted at the start of his presentation that the “storming attitude” echoed by Bob Burris, executive director of Solano EDC, is going to be needed to compete in the future.

Gardner’s message dovetailed well with the message of change Solano EDC officials offered prior to his keynote presentation.

Outgoing Chairwoman Louise Walker, president and chief executive officer of First Northern Bank Corp., called the past two years “transformative,” a shift in leadership and marketing focus. She is being replaced by Barry Nelson, president and chief executive officer of Travis Credit Union.

Burris discussed the Solano EDC’s more aggressive approach of going outside Solano to increase awareness of what the county has to offer, and not waiting for potential interests to come to them.

“We are hitting the road. . . . We are meeting companies out on their own turf,” said Burris, who also said the EDC is becoming more involved in industry associations and having a greater presence at conventions and other events featuring the kind of target industries Solano County may attract.

“We are proud to say a lot of these prospects are because we went out to get them,” Burris said.

Moreover, he said the interest in the county is diverse, and specifically noted that manufacturing as well as research and development firms are high on the list. That is a break from the warehousing and logistics companies that also have focused on this area.

Affordability – housing, property and workforce costs – remains one of the top attractions to those firms.

Burris said he also thinks there is a great resource of talent that lives in Solano County, but works outside the county, a resource that could benefit incoming companies, or might even be the next start-up business if the Solano EDC can find a way to help them.

Alaine Gjertsen, a marketing consultant who contracts with the business group, told the gathering that the Solano EDC is also expanding its social media footprint and developing other marketing materials, such as new videos, to get a consistent message out.

She said the response has been far-reaching, from simply educating people about what the county has to offer, to increased interest from companies across the country and even Europe.