A plan to help grow Marin’s economy and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic was approved by county supervisors on Tuesday.
“I am thrilled to present the first-ever long-range economic plan for Marin County,” said County Administrator Matthew Hymel.
The “Marin Strategic Economic Vitality Plan” was funded by a federal grant of $133,000 and just over $32,000 in county money. It was created over a 10 month period by the Marin Economic Forum with the help of consultancy firm James Gollub Associates.
The Marin Economic Forum is a not-for-profit public-private partnership designed to foster local economic growth. It is funded by Marin County, contributions from businesses and individuals, and revenue generated from economic reports prepared by the forum.
The creators of the strategic plan have identified six target industries that they believe are most likely to generate employment and income growth in Marin County over the next three to five years. These industries are life sciences; information technology/multimedia; tourism and hospitality; health care and aging; climate-related businesses; and a new category called “remote work opportunity”.
“We need to align our training with the target sectors because that’s where the growth is going to happen in the professions,” said Mike Blakeley, CEO of the Marin Economic Forum. “They also have mid-wage and higher-wage jobs, which is where we need to see job creation in Marin County.”
The plan also recommends the pursuit of five flagship initiatives to grow Marin’s economy: developing and integrating the county’s workforce infrastructure; increase the size of the county’s entrepreneurial ecosystem; fostering the growth of climate solutions and climate-related businesses; increasing the economic mobility of county residents; and formalizing county-wide economic development activities.
Blakeley said unlike every other county in California except Napa, Marin does not have state-funded economic development staff. He said that made it difficult for Marin to respond to the economic impact of the pandemic.
“We knew we had to be a little more intentional about how our economy was going to recover and what that meant for us going forward,” Blakeley said. “Our organization has floated the idea of creating a long-term strategy that would not only focus on recovery, but also on setting up the economy for the longer term.”
In addition to presenting a long-term growth strategy, the new plan also includes an assessment of the impact of the pandemic on local businesses and the recovery of the economy.
According to the plan, commercial vacancies have increased during the pandemic, leaving some downtown areas in Marin with vacant street-front properties. Foot traffic in some downtown areas has not recovered, hurting businesses that rely on in-person drinking.
Downtown business districts and main streets, with a high proportion of in-person and locally serving markets, remain exposed to economic shocks, including current inflationary pressures.
The plan says staffing continues to be difficult, with low-wage jobs being the hardest to fill, in part due to Marin’s small workforce able to accept below-the-wage salaries. decent” at $24 an hour. Other factors such as supply chain disruption, inflation and increased consumer preferences for online consumption have created an environment of uncertainty for small businesses to question their planning and investments.
Nonetheless, the plan found that Marin’s economy rebounded from the pandemic faster than the economy of four similar counties: San Luis Obispo, on the Central Coast; Kitsap County, Washington; Boulder County, Colorado; and Westchester County, New York.
“We’ve recovered well, especially compared to our counties we benchmarked against,” Blakeley said. “What we found was that Marin got jobs back faster, our health impacts were lower, and our sales tax revenue recovered faster.”
Still, Blakeley said the plan includes shorter-term actions that can be taken to help Marin’s economy recover more fully from the pandemic. Each of the flagship initiatives has several action items.
Blakeley said one of those actions would be to expand existing training programs to provide more openings for residents displaced by the pandemic.
Another short-term action, Blakeley said, would be for the county to provide matching grants to local municipalities and chambers of commerce to boost economic vitality.
Hymel said, “We have been talking with cities and towns about opening up to Economic Development Matching Grants to help support their efforts.”
Hymel said the county has set aside $600,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds it received for economic development, some of which could be used for that purpose.
A longer-term action suggested in the plan is the creation of a private company, similar to SRI International in Menlo Park, which could help Marin residents bring innovative ideas and technologies to market.
“Marin has had some success with individuals who have built businesses,” consultant James Gollub told supervisors, “but what you don’t have that your competitors have are institutions that prime the pump, that create innovative ideas and do the marketing.”
Another long-term action recommended in the report is the creation of an agency similar to MCE, formerly known as Marin Clean Energy, to aggregate demand across Marin for large-scale climate change projects.
Chris Yalonis, president and founder of VenturePad, a co-working and meeting center in San Rafael, said, “An example of a particular project that would be ready to go would be the electrification of our buildings.