Business group cites role in 1,200 new jobs

A job creation program financed largely by the private sector is taking credit for helping create about 1,200 new jobs in Sonoma County since 2012.

The reported job growth, concentrated in food processing, technology and manufacturing firms, would account for about a third of total employment gains for the county since mid-2011, according to state data.

The 20-month-old Building Economic Success Together, or BEST program, conceived by the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, presented its job figures Tuesday in an annual report to the county Board of Supervisors.

BEST officials credited outreach to more than 270 companies and business-to-business networking with leading to the new jobs. Most reflected expansion of existing local firms rather than new businesses moving to the area. The venture also reported more than 100 jobs it said it helped retain by convincing American AgCredit, the largest local financial institution, to keep its headquarters in Sonoma County.

"We are a small group, but we work very hard to collaborate and engage people throughout the county," said Carolyn Stark, the BEST program's executive director.

The $3.1 million initiative has the overall goal of generating 4,100 jobs over five years. It is overseen by a 14-member board including banking, health care and technology executives.

Though program supporters have sought buy-in from most local municipalities, Sonoma County remains the lone public-sector investor in the effort, having committed a total of $300,000 over three years.

Supervisors said they were mostly pleased with the results, though they did voice concern about duplication with other economic development efforts, including the county's in-house program.

BEST officials addressed that concern head-on Tuesday, calling economic development a "team sport."

"No one does this alone. We all do it together," said Mike Purvis, the BEST board chairman and chief administrative officer at Sutter Medical Center in Santa Rosa.

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