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This is a special advertising section. The material was prepared by the advertising department and did not involve the reporting or editing staff of The Press Democrat.

Can we build 6,000 housing units in Sonoma County in the next two years? Think I am crazy to even ask? Well, the answer is yes. We have done it before.

It’s been a while, for sure. But in 1988 and 1989, there were more than 9,000 new housing unit permits issued in Sonoma County, mostly single-family, according to the Construction Industry Research Board and the California Homebuilding Foundation.

Sure, things are different today with a shortage of construction labor and other issues. But the data show it has been done and there no reason it can’t be done again better and safer.

Still thinking Sonoma County doesn’t have the grit to get big projects done?

“If anybody tells you this community cannot rebuild fast they are crazy,” Farhad Mansourian, the general manager of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, told a Business Journal conference in November. “They do not know this community.”

In just three years, Mansourian noted, from 2012 to 2015, SMART rebuilt 43 miles of tracks and 63 crossings, installed 42 bridges, including a moveable bridge over the Petaluma River, and established a 60-acre natural preserve. The train is now operating with solid ridership.

“In three years, we built you an entire railroad system; from scratch. The right-of-way was there, but we had to rebuild,” Mansourian said. “This is the way we do things up here.”

At the same November conference, State Sen. Mike McGuire reported that cleanup crews were being surged into Sonoma County, working holidays, weekends and nights with the goal of beginning “rebuilding this community this spring.” That’s getting things done and for the right reason, getting people back home.

Meanwhile, local contractors are stepping in to offer people options to rebuild their lives and dreams.

So let’s say we rebuild 6,000 homes in two years. Then what?

The North Bay was in the middle of a severe housing shortage when the fires hit. That shortage, which distorts housing prices and fundamentally threatens our future economy, will still be there after we rebuild from the fires.

At the end of two years of rebuilding from the fires, it was observed at a recent CEO Roundtable hosted by the Journal, there will be some kind of building machine – labor, materials, expertise – in place. Do we just let that building machine disperse or do we capitalize on it to relieve our mid-to-long-term housing shortage with additional construction?

The opportunity for our region is enormous. As Blair Kellison, CEO of organic tea maker Traditional Medicinals pointed out at the Nov. 29 CEO Roundtable, Sonoma County and the North Bay are blessed with many leading companies and startups in natural and organic foods and beverages. These companies – and the North Bay – are perfectly positioned to tap into a global shift toward healthier food.

And many of our telecom, software, energy and medical technology companies are world leaders in their product areas. Our wines and tourist experiences are world class. The list could go on and on.

“We are the future,” Kellison said, a place with a rare combination of natural beauty and economic assets. “We have it all,” Kellison said, all that is necessary to lead us into the future – the industries, the companies, the innovators, the environment, higher education.

But will we grasp this future?

These companies are going to grow because they are creating the products of the future. They can grow here, providing local jobs and economic opportunity for local families, or they can grow somewhere else. But they are going to grow.

The question is, will every city and every county create the conditions – housing in particular, but also infrastructure, commercial space, education – where they can grow at home, or will this opportunity slip away?

We lost a great deal in October’s fires. But the responses of individuals – tens of millions of dollars flowing to those who suffered losses and countless acts of kindness and generosity – have been awe inspiring. We have never been a community of strangers, but the fires have brought us even closer to one another.

Ron Nersesian, CEO of Keysight Technologies, where employees suffered enormous personal losses, said managers spent the days after the fires contacting every one of more than 1,500 employees and contractors to check on their safety. Everyone got paid. It was a time, Nersesian said, to lead with your values of caring for others as you would want your children to be cared for.

We are going to get through the fire recovery together better and safer because of who we are. Imagine if we also built the foundation for a better economic future for everyone in our communities.

Brad Bollinger is the Publisher of the North Bay Business Journal.

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