Study: Sonoma County a great place to start a business
Clothing shop owner Ru Scott wasn’t surprised that a new survey ranked Healdsburg as a good place to start a business.
“I already knew it,” said Scott. “That’s why I opened the store.”
By “the store,” she means her second Punch contemporary fashion outlet, which opened this summer on Healdsburg Avenue a block from the town plaza. Since 1999 she also has owned another Punch store on Fourth Street in downtown Santa Rosa.
Both Healdsburg and Sonoma ranked in the top 20 of a new survey of the best cities in Northern California for starting a business. The rankings, by the consumer finance website NerdWallet, placed the two towns far higher than any of the county’s other cities with populations above 10,000.
While business leaders from the 177 cities in the survey may debate the findings, a handful of entrepreneurs who’ve recently brought their businesses to Healdsburg and Sonoma said they made the right move.
Each suggested that their products and services fit well in Wine Country.
For Andrea Mugnaini, who produces wood-fired ovens with Italian-made components, a key moment came when she realized that many prospective customers “are coming out here anyway for food and wine.”
A few months ago Mugnaini completed the move of Mugnaini Imports to Healdsburg from an industrial park in Watsonville. The 15,000-square-foot showroom, offices and assembly area are located on Grove Street and house 12 full-time employees. As well, Mugnaini invites residential and commercial customers to familiarize themselves with the ovens via cooking classes held at her Alexander Valley ranch.
“We are indeed much easier for the buyer to find because of the move,” she said.
The NerdWallet rankings resulted from scores for each community based on business and socioeconomic factors. The categories include the average revenue of businesses, the percent of businesses with paid employees, the median income, median annual housing costs and unemployment rate. The data came from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Emeryville ranked first in the survey of Northern California cities, followed by South San Francisco and Grass Valley.
Sonoma ranked 14th and Healdsburg 15th. Among the rest of the county, Petaluma ranked 57th; Santa Rosa, 71st; Rohnert Park, 81st; and Windsor 127th.
Elsewhere around the North Coast, Mill Valley ranked 10th; San Rafael, 20th; Larkspur, 23rd; Eureka, 35th, Novato, 43rd; Ukiah, 52nd; Tamalpais-Homestead Valley, 53rd; and Napa, 56th.
Towns with fewer than 10,000 people weren’t included in the survey.
Looking at the survey
Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, conceded the survey creators may have settled on some reasonable data points, but “you could pick an entirely different set that might be just as logical” and probably would result in different findings.
He noted that Grass Valley, Healdsburg and Sonoma all have large tourism sectors, which often means more inns and other small businesses serving visitors. Perhaps, he said, these towns scored higher because they had better ratios in the category of the number of businesses per 100 people in the population.
Regardless of the survey rankings, he said, “I think there’s been a big effort around the county to become more business-friendly.”
Jonathan Todd, a NerdWallet economics writer who conducted the study, said the top-ranked communities all had strong measures of economic well-being. For example, the top 10 had a median annual income of $77,000, compared to about $50,000 for all the communities surveyed.