Small businesses play big role in Sonoma County

  • (r to l) Michael Ridgeway, Dawn Taylor, Erica Hariman, Nikki Weyandt and Garen Tanner practice a pose in the Flow yoga class at Three Dog Yoga in Santa Rosa on Thursday, May 16, 2013.

    (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Four fishermen sat around a small table in a corner of Jack Pollard's sporting goods store last week and compared notes on a favorite topic: bass fishing.

"The young kids were pulling out their phones and showing the old timers their pictures," said Pollard, owner of the 8-month-old Pacific Sportsmen shop on Old Redwood Highway north of Santa Rosa.

For Pollard, a retired sheriff's correctional officer, the impromptu exchange showed he can attract hunters and fishermen to a "small mom-and-pop shop where they can go and feel comfortable."

Small businesses like Pacific Sportsmen keep opening their doors in Sonoma County, which is more reliant on small firms than most parts of California.

Seemingly as individual as snowflakes, the small businesses together make a significant contribution to the local economy.

"We really are a county of small businesses, almost micro businesses," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

The county's nearly 18,000 businesses are overwhelmingly small in scale. Nine out of 10 companies in Sonoma County employ fewer than 20 workers, according to a 2011 survey by the state Employment Development Department.

Nearly 35 percent of the county's private sector workers are employed at such businesses, compared to just 24 percent statewide.

The county also scores high for the market share of its independently owned stores. Sonoma ranked 14th of 363 U.S. metropolitan areas based on the health of its independent retail sector, according to a 2011 study by the American Booksellers Association.

The study, which measured the market share by community of major retail chains, ranked the county second for independent store activity in California behind San Jose and first among all U.S. metro areas with a population of 250,000 to 500,000.

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