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The past year showcased the increasing diversity in Sonoma County economy.

The growth in the medical devices field and the spin-off of a major technology company highlighted how Wine Country is turning into a more balanced place to do business, especially in finding niches in the high-tech industry.

Make no mistake: the county’s agricultural roots continue to play a vital role in the regional economy. But local manufacturers have spread far beyond Sonoma County’s vineyards and pastures, producing products that are used in homes and restaurants all across America. The rapid growth of Amy’s Kitchen and Lagunitas Brewing Co. in 2014 are proof that Sonoma County is increasingly known for more than its wine.

As part of our look back, here are the top 10 local business stories of the past year:

1) Keysight Technologies spun off from Agilent

Keysight Technologies became the largest company ever headquartered in Sonoma County when it made its debut in November. While the name may be new, the company has been a part of the community for four decades.

Agilent Technologies created Keysight last fall by spinning off its Santa Rosa-based electronic measurement division, forming a standalone company with $3 billion in annual sales and 9,500 employees worldwide, including 1,200 in Sonoma County.

Keysight traces its roots in Sonoma County back to 1972, when Hewlett-Packard moved its electronic measurement business to Santa Rosa. In 1999, Hewlett-Packard divided itself in half and formed Agilent, a move mirroring the split that would create Keysight 15 years later.

Agilent will focus on life sciences and chemical analysis while Keysight is emphasizing electronic measurement. Agilent said its stock was undervalued by Wall Street because of the combination of the different businesses.

Keysight intends to focus its growth efforts in three areas: products for wireless communications, “modular” products that allow the combining of components for customized measurement devices, and software testing programs. More than 50 percent of its engineers in Sonoma County are assigned to developing software, up from about 15 percent 30 years ago.

“It’s not just that we’re big and we make money,” Keysight President and CEO Ron Nersesian said in an interview. “We have to create value.”

2) Shifting fortunes among local casinos

The new Graton Resort and Casino just outside Rohnert Park quickly made an impact on Sonoma County in its first year.

The casino rang up $190 million in net revenues — or $1 million a day— during the first six months of the year, according to a filing last August by Station Casinos, the Las Vegas firm that manages the gambling complex. The figure includes profits from gambling on its 3,000 slot machines and 144 card tables as well as food and beverage revenues at the casino, which opened in November 2013.

The casino, owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, is “easily one of the most profitable and highest-margin regional gaming operations,” financial services company Credit Suisse wrote in a June research note.

With 2,000 workers, it is the second-largest private employer in Sonoma County, behind only Kaiser Permanente.

The new casino has drawn customers away from Sonoma County’s first Indian casino, River Rock, which opened in 2002 near Geyserville. In September, tribal leaders said River Rock’s revenues had dropped 50 percent since the Graton casino opened, causing the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo to default on payments to investors and miss a $3.5 million payment to Sonoma County.

River Rock’s finances were taken over by a third party, essentially a trustee that oversees the payment of bills and spending. Harvey Hopkins, chairman of the Dry Creek tribe for the past 10 years, lost his bid for re-election in November and was replaced by Chris Wright, who oversaw marketing at River Rock.

3) Drakes Bay Oyster Co. shuts down

Drakes Bay Oyster Co. closed at year’s end after losing a two-year legal battle over oyster farming at Point Reyes National Seashore — a battle that involved environmentalists, scientists, members of Congress, food lovers and famous chefs.

The family owned farm had planted millions of tiny oysters in the estero’s waters, harvesting about $1.5 million worth of bivalves annually. It was part of an aquaculture operation dating back to the 1930s.

The company challenged former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision in November 2012 not to renew a 40-year-old permit for commercial oyster cultivation in the 2,500-acre estero. Owner Kevin Lunny argued that Salazar’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and alleged “scientific misconduct” by the National Park Service. He also questioned whether oyster cultivation was harmful to Drakes Estero.

But critics lauded the federal court decision, noting that Lunny had purchased the farm knowing its government-issued lease would expire in 2012. They argued the estero should become wilderness, free of commercial activity.

Lunny must remove all the oysters from Drakes Estero and vacate the site by midnight Dec. 31. The National Park Service will oversee the rest of the cleanup, including removing racks and any other shellfish harvesting equipment or debris in the water.

4) Sonoma Valley Bank indictments

After a three-year investigation into the collapse of Sonoma Valley Bank, federal prosecutors announced fraud charges in April against two former bank executives, a Santa Rosa attorney and a Marin County developer who became one of the bank’s largest borrowers before its implosion.

A grand jury indicted the bank’s former CEO, Sean Cutting, and its chief loan officer, Brian Melland, along with developer Bijan Madjlessi and his attorney, David Lonich. Prosecutors allege the quartet defrauded the bank by using a fake borrower to obtain loans for the Park Lane Villas mixed-use development in Santa Rosa. All four defendants pleaded not guilty.

The indictment focused on a relatively small portion of the loans made by Sonoma Valley Bank to Madjlessi and his associates. The borrowers, who received nearly $55 million from the bank, defaulted on at least $45 million in loans, according to a 2011 lawsuit filed by investors.

The bank folded in August 2010, wiping out the value of investors’ stock and costing taxpayers millions.

One month after the indictment was unsealed, Madjlessi was killed when his car drove off a Marin County road and crashed into a deep ravine. Investigators ruled the crash was an accident.

5) Home sales drop, rents soar

Sonoma County’s housing market tightened significantly in 2014 as the supply of houses and apartments on the market dwindled, frustrating homebuyers and renters alike.

Home sales dropped for the second straight year, falling 7 percent through November. Analysts cited a decline in inventory, particularly economically distressed properties that flooded the market after the real estate sector imploded in 2007.

The county’s median price rose for the third straight year, reaching $481,250 in November, an increase of 7 percent from a year ago. Since the real estate market hit bottom in 2011, the median has jumped 49 percent in Sonoma County.

“There’s still way more demand than there is product,” said Rick Laws, a Pacific Union International vice president who prepares The Press Democrat’s monthly housing report.

Renters, too, are having difficulty finding housing. Fewer than 3 percent of the county’s apartments are vacant, according to Real Answers, a Novato firm that tracks larger apartment complexes.

While two major rental communities are now being built in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, construction of new housing has not kept pace with job growth, analysts said. The shortage has allowed local landlords to increase rents by 30 percent over the last three years, reaching an average of $1,579 this summer, according to Real Answers.

6) Amy’s Kitchen expands

Fast-growing food maker Amy’s Kitchen began the year by shelving plans in January to build a second production plant in Santa Rosa. Instead, the Petaluma company decided to build a $95 million plant in New York, saying it would cut the cost of shipping products to its customers on the East Coast.

In August, the company put the Santa Rosa expansion back on track, albeit on a much smaller scale than it originally envisioned. The project is expected to create 150 new jobs, fewer than the 800 jobs once seen as part of a $50 million facility first proposed in March 2013.

A combination of state sales tax incentives, attractive power rates from PG&E and water conservation guidance from the city all played a role in the company’s decision to expand in Santa Rosa, said Carolyn Stark, executive director of Sonoma County BEST, an economic development initiative.

In addition to the New York plant, the company is adding 130,000 square feet of production space to its existing facility in Medford, Ore., where it expanded in 2006. In October, it purchased a plant in Pocatello, Idaho.

The Idaho facility, which was scheduled to open this month with 200 employees, could eventually house 1,000 workers.

In August, co-founder Andy Berliner said sales were growing close to 23 percent this year — nearly twice as fast as the company had forecast — putting the company’s revenues on track to exceed $430 million.

“Our growth has been faster than we expected this year, so we had to move quickly,” said Berliner, who founded the organic frozen and packaged foods company with his wife in 1987.

7) Lagunitas Brewing Co. grows

Petaluma’s Lagunitas Brewing Co. opened up its second production facility this year in a shuttered steel mill on Chicago’s southwest side, complete with a taproom that generated tremendous buzz among Midwesterners looking to experience beers from one of California’s noted craft brewers.

At capacity, the Chicago plant next year will produce 1.2 million barrels, while the facility in Petaluma will make between 700,000 and 750,000. The expansion has helped Lagunitas become the fifth-largest craft brewer in the nation and positioned it as one of the few craft brewers that are focused on national distribution as the industry continues to experience tremendous growth.

Cities outside of California have aggressively recruited craft brewers as Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. of Chico opened a plant near Asheville, N.C., this year and Stone Brewing Co. of Escondido announced a new plant in Richmond, Va.

Lagunitas founder and owner Tony Magee noted the Chicago plant will save his company money in shipping costs and improve its access to water. He plans to open as many as three more breweries around the country and is exploring an international plant, most likely in the United Kingdom.

“There is a generational thing happening. There are a lot of young people coming into the world now, and they never plan to drink Budweiser. It’s something they haven’t given much thought to,” Magee said.

8) Local med-tech companies raise $97 million in IPOs

Sonoma County’s growing med-tech sector received validation from Wall Street — and plenty of money — with a pair of initial public offerings this year.

In March, Ruthigen raised $19.2 million in its IPO as it prepared for the first clinical trials of a drug to fight infections in surgery patients.

One month later, TriVascular Technologies raised $78 million in its IPO, giving it money to expand marketing efforts and fund additional research into its products, which treat abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Since then, the two companies have taken two different paths. According to financial reports issued last month, TriVascular is growing while Ruthigen has seen its sales decline.

TriVascular reported sales jumped 71 percent in the first nine months of the year, to $22.7 million, while losses grew 16 percent to $42.9 million. Ruthigen, on the other hand, reported that sales dropped 11 percent during the first six months to $6.7 million, while losses tumbled 75 percent to $788,000.

Wall Street has taken note. Ruthigen stock closed Friday at $3.36, less than half the level of its IPO price of $7 a share.

TriVascular stock closed Friday at $13.06, up from its IPO price of $12 a share.

9) Medicare change benefits local doctors

For decades, an obscure Medicare funding formula had an outsized impact on Sonoma County.

The agency designated Sonoma County as a “rural” area. As a result, local doctors were paid less for treating Medicare patients than their counterparts earned in other Bay Area counties, even though they all had similar costs. The formula made it difficult to recruit doctors to Sonoma County and caused many local physicians to shut their doors to new Medicare patients.

That changed in April, when President Barack Obama signed a bill that will compensate doctors in Sonoma, Marin and 12 other California counties at the same level as doctors in metropolitan areas.

The legislation, which takes effect in 2017, could increase Medicare reimbursements to Sonoma County doctors by up to 9 percent.

That, in turn, is expected to boost payments to doctors across Sonoma County, because private insurance often is tied to Medicare rates.

Local doctors said the increase in Medicare reimbursements could motivate more physicians to take on new Medicare patients.

“It’s going to be huge. There’s a real problem in Sonoma County. A lot of doctors are not eager to take on new Medicare patients,” said Donald Ransom, associate medical director at Sutter Medical Group of the Redwoods.

10) New life at Coddingtown Mall

Coddingtown Mall had a split personality.

The north side was bustling with energy, fueled by the arrival of new tenants like Whole Foods Market, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, Sea Noodle Bar and Jacks Urban Eats.

The south side was a dead zone. Two years ago, the mall moved nearly all of the stores on its south side and tore down the two-story building that once housed Gottschalks to make room for a new anchor tenant: Target.

In October, Target opened a 140,000-square-foot store at Coddingtown — its fourth in Sonoma County. To stock the store, workers unloaded 30 huge truckloads of merchandise in 25 days. To staff it, the company hired 250 part- and full-time workers, then trained them at its stores in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park.

Mall managers and other merchants at the Santa Rosa mall are hoping its presence will attract more retailers and customers to the 52-year-old shopping center, which prospered through the 1970s but lost market share in the 1980s when Santa Rosa Plaza was built downtown.

“Target is a critical piece of the redevelopment of Coddingtown,” said Kirstie Moore, development manager for mall co-owner Codding Enterprises.

The next infusion of new energy will come in early 2015, when Dick’s Sporting Goods is scheduled to open on the site formerly occupied by the Los Robles Lodge.

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