In the 1990s, an explosion of innovation and entrepreneurship brought unprecedented prosperity to Petaluma and to Sonoma County. In the heady days of Telecom Valley, people celebrated what they were sure would be decades of job creation. In 1999, when Cisco Systems purchased a hometown startup called Cerent Corp. for $7.3 billion, it was said that 200 Cerent employees became millionaires in a day.
Thirteen years later, we can reflect on the transitory nature of success in a world that is changing at light speed.
When the dot-com bubble burst in 2001 and corporations discovered the cost savings associated with overseas production, jobs in Telecom Valley began to disappear. Eventually, companies such as Cisco, Nokia and Motorola would leave altogether.
Meanwhile, in the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, the Sonoma County jobless rate more than doubled. More than 22,000 local residents are looking for work, according to jobless figures released Friday. Many more are underemployed.
In December, the unemployment rate did fall below 9 percent for the first time in three years — but only because the number of jobs and the number of people seeking jobs declined. This is usually a signal that people have given up.
The local economy shed 2,800 jobs in the past year.
Hoping to put people back to work, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this month promised to spend $591,000 on an economic development program (though the board has yet to explain where it will find some of the money).
It's noteworthy that the board recognizes the importance of jobs. Not so long ago, local leaders would cover their eyes when anyone expressed an interest in promoting economic development — a term then viewed as code words for uncontrolled growth.
In recent years, Sonoma County residents have learned the hard way that prosperity can't be taken for granted. More people are out of work. More people live in poverty. Essential public services are being jettisoned as tax revenues decline.
If you check out the Economic Development Board's website, you'll find evidence that officials and citizen groups have devoted a lot of time and energy to developing a strategy to get people working again.
Still, the hard part will be proving that this economic development initiative is not like all the others. All over the country, communities big and small are trying to entice new jobs and preserve the old ones. Some of these efforts will make a difference, and some will be window dressing.
Board members say the emphasis will be on creating "green jobs" in industries that promote renewable energy and conservation — an admirable goal, but hardly unique.
While the objective is to be applauded, no industry gets a free pass when it comes to the economic forces that are transforming business around the world. U.S. companies that manufacture, say, solar panels still must compete with their rivals in China.
And Americans wherever they live must recognize that the economic landscape has changed — and they better learn to deal with it.
Unfortunately, American politicians aren't willing to speak plainly. They aren't willing to separate what's real from the stories that promote their selfish political narratives.
Consider, for example, the conventional wisdom that manufacturing production is declining in the U.S. Among Republicans and business leaders, it's an article of faith that taxes and regulation are strangling business.