Greetings from your Interim CEO
As we enter into the last month of the second quarter of the year, the staff at Marin Economic Forum has been focused on providing economic vitality to Marin County by focusing on fundraising, engaging the Board, and re-invigorating the working groups. I am excited to report that through these activities, and your support, MEF is poised to provide value in terms of ensuring Marin County’s economy continues to thrive.
Our revenues are increasing due to additional sponsorship monies, and our working groups are busy tackling some key initiatives for the organization. Here are some key highlights we have accomplished since the beginning of this year:
• Both Glassdoor and Sterling Bank have joined our organization. Zachary Kushel, head of Business Development for Glass Door, and John Harty, Head of Wealth Management for Sterling Bank, have recently been invited to join our Board of Directors. Both John and Zachary are Marin County residents and are extremely well versed in the economic attributes of our County. I would like to welcome them to Marin Economic Forum.
• In terms of Advocacy, at the March Board meeting, our Board approved support of the City of Novato’s General Plan update for the Bel Marin Key’s Bio Life Science Campus Amendment. This proposed amendment to the General Plan is needed in order to increase the height limit from 35 feet to 64 feet on commercial buildings; these changes are necessary to keep Bio Marin and Ultragenyx in particular to continue to have a strong footprint in the County, but also to attract other life-science companies. Both companies expect to increase life-science jobs for Marin County from the current count of 2,000 jobs to 4,000 jobs over the next twenty years.
• Our Innovation/Entrepreneurial Working Group is also in the process of partnering with Dominican University to create a Small Business Service Portal. Primarily this portal will be able to provide support and vital resources to the 46,000 plus small businesses that currently consider Marin as their location. In essence, the portal will exist on MEF’s website that will provide a list of entrepreneurs and small business owners and service providers (business planning, finance, Internet providers, legal advice, etc.) Each service provider will be able to enter a brief summary of each of their services. When a small business owner later submits a request for a particular service completed with a subject matter, the portal is expected to provide a listing of all offerings. Stay tuned as we provide more information as this portal is being developed.
Lastly, I am happy to report that Dr. Rob Eyler and I presented an annual update to the County Supervisors on the successes Marin Economic Forum has had this past fiscal year. As a result, MEF received its $150,000 annual matching contribution from the County based on a unanimous vote in favor by the County supervisors. A special thank-you to Judy Arnold and Damon Connolly for helping us in this effort.
In closing, I want to personally wish you and your families a very safe and happy summer. Please let me know if there is anything I or MEF can do to support your business.
The Marin Economic Forum (MEF) is a public-private partnership, serving as the platform for collaborative efforts on improving Marin County’s economic vitality while seeking to enhance social equity and environmental protection.
Chief Economist, Dr. Robert Eyler
Preparing for SMART Travel: Expectations and Efficiency
We need to ride the SMART train when it starts to make it a success. SMART is expected to announce on June 7 when they will be taking passengers. After years of debate, an election, planning, construction, car purchases, sales tax rates rising and falling, and economic recession and recovery, the North Bay is about to get a train to move people. I was fortunate enough to be asked my opinion many times along the way by proponents, pessimists and all kinds of people, and I am still asked regularly. The economics of public transportation systems should not have the same expectations as private systems (which rarely exist for mass transit) or of a private market setting. Three tenets exist:
• The train must provide riders with an incentive to take the train, either through price or time saved or both;
• The train must solve “last-mile” problems in Marin and Sonoma counties due to the dispersion of the population from the train stations; and
• The public needs to recognize this is a public good, with a large cost of exclusion and a small cost of inclusion.
Being a public good means there is a tradeoff of equity and efficiency. Because prices are subsidized to remain low and provide an incentive to ride for all income levels as possible, the efficiency of the system may not be perfect. We need to form expectations that there may be delays now and then, just like when we use a taxi or Uber, versus our expectations.
One of the new markets that act as both a substitute and a complement for SMART that arrived on the scene after the 2008 election and approval was the “sharing” economy taking off with businesses like Uber and Lyft. Potential riders of the SMART train may be torn at times between Uber, Lyft, a taxi, the train, a bus, or driving by themselves. The beauty is that such a sharing business could solve the last mile problem or at least mitigate it in such a way that a private market acts as a complement to the public one. The SMART leadership has seen this and we hear that such partnerships may be coming. This is a classic business move: partner with competition or be undermined by it when there are few players in town.
We also need to keep our expectations in check in terms of traffic flows and reducing the number of cars on the road due to ridership levels on the SMART train. Traffic conditions are an economic phenomenon: we supply roadway space that is demanded by drivers. We live in a single-driver car culture in the North Bay due to the spaces between major towns and cities, and a lack of historic options. It is ok that traffic will still exist; riders of the SMART train will create open space on the road and while economic conditions are good, people moving from Sonoma County south will fill the space along with Marin County commuters.
We need the trains full; there is now an option of tourism as well. Where we may see a traffic reduction is on weekends, which now mirror commute traffic almost every Saturday going north and Sunday going south. Sonoma and Napa counties draw a lot of tourism through Marin County; the SMART train could bring more tourism to Marin as well.
Ride the trains and enjoy the experience. The train helps many riders moving north to south, and needs to be supported.
*Update: Based upon the June 7th announcement, SMART is almost ready to perform a "soft opening" once the Federal Rail Authority completes its audit and certifies that SMART is safe to transport passengers. Supervisor Judy Arnold has offered a ride for any organization or individual that would like to ride the SMART train during this time, so please let us know. We will forward your contact information over to Judy's office so you can ride SMART!
MEF Board Director, Frank Borodic, Roundstone Inn
Marconi Conference Center and Historic State Park
Frank Borodic, MEF Board director and owner of Rounstone Inn (roundstonefarm.com), is working to preserve a state historic landmark. The Marconi Conference Center (marconiconference.org) and State Historic Park has a rich human history that dates back hundreds of years. From the pre-historic villages of the coastal Miwok to the farming communities of today, the Tomales Bay ecosystem has supported the livelihoods of thousands of people.
As a treasure to the Marin community, Marconi Conference Center offers a distraction-free environment, professional-caliber meeting space, comfortable lodging, delicious and healthful meals and a conference staff that is skillful. Accommodating and guest-oriented, the lodging buildings are nestled around a garden courtyard that offers an ideal spot guests to relax.
This historic state park is in need of renovations and the Marin Economic Forum is pleased to provide our services to assess the economic benefit and recommendation towards keeping this treasure alive for future generations to enjoy.
Next time you find yourself on the Point Reyes coast in Marshall, stop by the Marconi Conference Center and Historic Park for a unique and beautiful west Marin experience.