By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It has yet to hold a meeting, but the city’s Economic Development Task Force this week announced its first formal action – it’s changing its name.
Vice Mayor Jake Ours said he and co-chairman John Sawyer, also a councilman, will rebrand the group as the Economic Competitiveness Task Force.
“Because we really are talking about how Santa Rosa can be more competitive economically,” Ours said.
Two months after Ours was named chairman, the makeup and mission of the group remains a work in progress.
At the Feb. 1 city council meeting, Ours said he and Sawyer were going to take a couple months interviewing people in Sonoma County, the Bay Area and even Southern California, trying to understand the “constraints” on the city’s economic vitality.
After that, they planned to turn their attention to naming the members of the task force.
But this week Ours moved up that timetable, announcing the appointment of seven members of the public to the renamed task force.
The panel will work in two phases. First, it will identify the problems it will attempt to solve. Ours and Sawyer have reached out to people who have tried to do business in Santa Rosa for their insights on what worked and what didn’t, Ours said.
To help with this effort, the first phase of the task force will have 10 people. In addition to Ours and Sawyer, members of the group are: Jonathan Coe, president of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce; Cynthia Murray, president of the North Bay Leadership Council; Paul Schwartz, senior vice president of commercial real estate firm Cassidy Turley BT Commercial; Jane Bender, former city council member; Bill Silver, dean of the school of business and economics at Sonoma State University; Tanya Narath, chairwoman of the city’s Community Advisory Board; and Stephen Gale, vice chairman of the city’s Board of Public Utilities.
Ours said he is working with Keith Woods, head of the North Coast Builders Exchange, to identify a member of the building community to serve.
Bender said she’d like to see people on the task force who are “innovative, big thinkers” who will “push the envelope” and come from outside the city and “maybe even have little regard for the city.”
Local government by its nature is regulatory and “tells you what you can’t do and why you can’t do it,” Bender said.
“What we’ve got to do is say this is what we should do and here’s why we should do it and here’s how we should do it,” she said.
For years the city has been “resting on our laurels” as a place that would naturally draw businesses because of the quality of life here, but it can’t afford to do that anymore, Bender said.
“There are places that are hungry and they are out there working for it and we’ve got to be competitive with them,” Bender said.
After the challenges are identified, the task force will be expanded into a larger group that will identify solutions in the second phase of its mission, Ours said.
Unlike the city’s pension task force, with is supposed to wrap up its work by April, Ours said he envisions the economic competitiveness task force will take years to finish its job.