On Aug. 23, the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the “Marin County Economic Vitality Strategic Plan.”
It represents the first economic strategy in county history and comes at a crucial time as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic and manage the uncertainty of the economy over the next few years, while trying to ensure the quality of life Marinites have come to know and expect.
But there are other reasons the strategy is important to our county. As is noted in the extensive background analysis and stakeholder interviews that shaped the plan, Marin’s economy has both longstanding and more recent issues that have not traditionally been viewed as “economic” issues, nor have their solutions.
Let’s start with child care, where a lack of available slots versus demand persists. It forces many parents into a no-win choice of staying home to care for children or pay high costs for care, which can offset income from working.
This dynamic is a direct threat to our economy by removing a cadre of our workforce that would otherwise fill jobs and contribute to productivity – not to mention robbing children of the possibility for education and social growth that comes in child care settings.
The economic plan recognizes child care shortages as a direct threat to the economy and proposes to connect the business sector with care providers to create a dialogue and work toward solutions.
What was also analyzed, and is well known among residents, is that we have a growing income gap. Wealthier residents (in the 80th percentile of earners) make six times the income of lower wage earners (20th percentile of earners) and median wages among White people are $45 per hour compared to $19 for our Latino community.
The county plan identifies “economic mobility” as a key outcome of the strategy, with specific actions to create more high-wage jobs locally, provide the training to residents to access those jobs and to leverage resources that will create more opportunities for residents to start their own businesses.
No discussion of the county economy is complete without acknowledging the cost and accessibility of housing. While the county and municipalities create housing elements that will boost the volume of housing, accessing the funds to secure housing – either apartments, single family or otherwise – will become increasingly important.
A myriad of new housing finance vehicles, both public and private, are coming on stream and the county has a unique opportunity to work alongside residents to capture those funds. Strategies include the first-time homebuyer program created by the state, or new “rent-to-own” private businesses increasing access to workforce housing.
Finally, Marin’s geographic proximity to major job hubs in the Bay Area has meant the county and municipalities have not had to focus on traditional economic development activities like business attraction and job creation. However, the pandemic and other previously known disruptive forces, like online commerce, mean that our mostly small businesses serving the local market will face increased pressure and competition.
Meanwhile, a new wave of entrepreneurs are starting businesses in Marin at a faster rate than ever. Growth of the life sciences and “green” sectors presents significant opportunities for more high-wage jobs, while our tourism and hospitality opportunities remain as robust as ever. Intentional focus on the opportunities that will be created in our economy going forward is critical.
The strategic vitality plan provides the county a roadmap to leverage the power of our local economy to create a high quality of life for all residents. That is why it is important, and that is likely why it was unanimously adopted.
Mike Blakeley, of San Anselmo, is CEO of the Marin Economic Forum.