The San Rafael Chamber of Commerce held their Forecasting the Future Economic Conference a few weeks ago, and from where I was sitting, the future looks bright. The annual conference features expert speakers discussing local, regional and global issues impacting businesses in Marin County. This year, the conference had an explicit focus on the region’s push to attract Life Science businesses to Marin.
The morning began with a sunrise breakfast at Embassy Suites San Rafael. Marin County corporate stalwarts such as Bank of Marin, Kaiser Permanente and Toyota Marin (a Diamond Certified company) rubbed elbows with government officials and hardworking Marin-based nonprofits. I was lucky enough to sit next to Laurie O’Hara of Working Solutions, a nonprofit that provides Bay Area entrepreneurs with the capital and resources they need to start small businesses. During our brief chat over coffee, I got to learn a little more about how micro-financing actually works to support small businesses in Marin (in short: it works great).
The formal proceedings began with an economic State of the Union—or in this case, State of the County—by Dr. Robert Eyler, CEO of the Marin Economic Forum. According to Dr. Eyler, Marin County is fully recovered from the recession, and job growth in many industries is on the rise. The graying of Marin County continues; one useful topic raised in the Q&A is how we can take advantage, through employment, of an older population.
Subsequent speakers included Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke, who talked about the efficacy of internships for Marin teens, and a series of Life Science experts. BayBio CEO Gail Maderis, Sanovas, Inc. founder Larry Gerrans; and Chris Stewart, the Novato Chamber of Commerce economic development manager, discussed the North Bay Life Science Alliance: a 3-year, $1.5 million marketing campaign to bring Life Science businesses to the region. In courting Life Science businesses, the alliance hopes to capitalize on the region’s strengths: an educated workforce, resources such as The Buck Institute for Research on Aging and a supportive tax structure.
As Dr. Eyler pointed out, with an aging population, Marin runs the risk of becoming an economy based on wealth rather than income—a problematic fate experienced by retirement communities across the nation. Transforming Marin into a Life Sciences hub will promote job creation and growth, allowing the county to remain vibrant. Along these lines, Larry Gerrans concluded the morning with a rousing call to action: “Many life science professionals live in Marin and commute to San Francisco or the valley. We have to bring ’em back!”
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