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Announcing the 2021 Leaders of the North Bay Honorees!

North Bay Leadership Council is proud to announce the honorees for this year’s Leaders of the North Bay and the teen chosen to give the Keynote address at the awards luncheon.  The Leaders of the North Bay Awards luncheon is a signature event for NBLC.  This year it is being held at the Embassy Suites in San Rafael on December 10th.  The Leaders event was designed to recognize leadership in the North Bay, while the Teen Speech contest is a way for us to help grow leadership in our youth.  NBLC seeks to foster leadership at a time when it is sorely needed. 

Here are the 2021 Honorees:

  • Murray Legacy Leadership, Leadership over a Lifetime:  Steve Page, Retired

A leader with integrity, the North Bay is a better place because of Steve Page.  Steve Page was President and General Manager of Sonoma Raceway for almost three decades.  With Steve at the helm, Sonoma Raceway’s campground housed evacuees from several of the wildfires. The Raceway has raised nearly $7 million for charity. Food drives, blood drives, charity rides, training grounds for disaster response — the track has been made available to help better the community. Steve gives back to the community in numerous ways, always making time for worthy causes.  He serves on or has served on:  Speedway Children’s Charities, Redwood Empire Food Bank, Social Advocates for Youth, Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation, 10,000 Degrees and the Sonoma Valley Hospital Foundation. NBLC is especially proud to honor Steve’s dedication to our organization where he has served the greatest number of years as chair of the Board.

Steve has lived his life by successfully following these two rules: “Have fun and help people.” Steve Page is known for his inclusive leadership style, sharp wit and big heart. Whether it be taking the raceway through all kinds of innovations and improvements, helping local charities, leading community efforts or embracing change, Steve is the “go to” guy in the North Bay.

  • United We Stand, Community Building:  Keith Woods, North Coast Builders Exchange

Keith Woods, CEO of North Coast Builders Exchange, exemplifies extraordinary leadership skills and a fierce dedication to community-building in the North Bay. Keith has been a catalyst for making the community better through his work helping rebuild after the devastating fires in the region; partnering with the CTE Foundation, SCOE, and SRJC to launch the North Bay Construction Corps; implementing CHOICES, a high school dropout prevention program; and serving as “Sonoma County’s MC,” where he has volunteered hundreds of hours helping nonprofits raise money. Keith makes the “building” in community building an everyday effort.

  • Paint the Community Green, Environmental Stewardship: The Climate Center

The Climate Center stands out for its leadership in climate adaption and mitigation. They have a track record of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: they played a key role in the tremendous growth of Community Choice Agencies (CCAs) in the state over the past 6 years, with 24 CCAs now providing on average 88% greenhouse gas-free electricity to over 11 million residents in more than 200 cities/counties. The Climate Center has a powerful theory of change (strategy). It describes the optimum way to deliver rapid greenhouse gas reductions at scale. And they have a bold, comprehensive Climate-Safe California campaign that details how California can respond with urgency to the climate crisis. More important than ever, the Climate Center continues to double down on its investments for a climate-safe future by broadening and deepening it local, regional and statewide policy efforts.

  • The “Light Bulb” Went On, Innovative/Entrepreneurial Spirit: Steve Dutton, Dutton Ranch

Steve Dutton is a stand-out leader in the local agriculture industry.  He has proven his ability to innovate in providing housing for his employees without public financial support; creating training programs to provide ESL workers with information needed to work safely on local farms; and leading the charge for more visa allotments for farming.  He and his family were named the 2017 Sustainable Farmers by the Sonoma County Harvest Fair for their leadership on sustainable farming practices which demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit to bring more resiliency to farming.  Steve is respected for his problem-solving and creative thinking with an emphasis on looking out for his community and the people in it.

  • Empowering the Latino Community, Leadership within the Latino Community: Canal WiFi Team

The Canal neighborhood of San Rafael had very limited Wi Fi which was very detrimental when the pandemic hit as it was difficult for students and workers to use the internet to learn and/or work. As part of a collaborative approach with the City of San Rafael, San Rafael City Schools, The Canal Alliance, Marin Community Foundation and the Marin County Free Library, the County of Marin lead a project to address digital equity in the Canal neighborhood.  With the financial support of local donors, the team built a free outdoor wireless network and community COVID-19 website for e-learning services and for residents accessing critical information and services.  With the leadership of the core group, design, communication, installation and digital literacy was combined to provide not only access, but also Chromebooks and digital literacy training.  The empowered Latino community leapt at this opportunity with the daily use of the network climbing, with 43% of users accessing the network for school, 33% for general internet use, and 21% for work-related activities. This project represents how much collaborators can achieve when they work in concert to meet the needs of the community’s residents through the empowerment of access.

  • From Red Tape to Red Carpet, Leadership in Government: David Wain Coon, College of Marin

College of Marin (COM) Superintendent/President David Wain Coon is the epitome of a collaborative leader who skillfully cuts through red tape and finds innovative solutions that improve the campus climate. The result is a host of best practices which seek to eliminate barriers to COM’s services and offerings. Highlights include completion of Measure C modernization projects and passage of Measure B for funding of campus renewal; earning the prestigious 2020 Dr. John W. Rice Diversity and Equity Award—celebrating the community college that has made the greatest strides toward faculty and staff diversity or student equity; LGBTQ Caucus Leadership for CCLC; and creating COM’s first Equity Summit, held in 2021.  During his 10+ years as COM’s president, Dr. Coon has worked extensively to engage with the local community and businesses including supporting numerous nonprofits like North Bay Leadership Council, 10,000 Degrees, Marin Promise Partnership, SchoolsRule-Marin, League of Women Voters, American Association of University Women, Novato and San Rafael Chambers of Commerce, Marin Brain Injury Network, and others.

We hope you will be able to join us on December 10th to celebrate the leadership of these six amazing honorees.  Sponsorships are available which not only help underwrite the luncheon but provide the funding for 7 college scholarships that we give out to the teens who submitted entries into the speech competition.  For sponsorship information, please contact

Close to Home: Workforce Housing Shortage is Already Here

There was a statement in Pete Golis’ otherwise insightful and well-written column last Sunday that I can’t let go unchallenged. He cited Ketchum, Idaho as a community having a serious problem providing housing for their lower-wage tourism industry workers.

After noting correctly that Sonoma County isn’t Ketchum, he went on to say “But it’s not too soon for business and community leaders to begin to worry.”

Begin to worry? I can assure Pete and all Press Democrat readers that the shortage of housing in the North Bay and the impact it has on the ability of business, agriculture, government, education and nonprofit organizations to attract and keep employees has been the No. 1 topic of concern for most leaders for a decade, if not longer.

In fact, during my 20-plus years as CEO at the North Coast Builders Exchange, I have participated in countless forums, workshops, study sessions, government meetings and lobbying efforts with one topic — where will our workers live and what are we going to do about it?

The general consensus among business and community leaders is that the housing shortage is no longer just a problem — it is a full-fledged crisis. The fires over the past five years and the deadly pandemic in the past 18 months have only exacerbated a problem that has been getting worse, even in non-disaster years.

Fortunately, organizations and associations that represent business, agriculture, construction, high-tech and tourism in particular have been tackling the issue head-on for a long time. For example:

Several years ago the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber took the lead in creating an Employers Housing Council, comprised of the heads of large employers in business and government. That group is providing startup funding for developers of affordable housing projects to ease their burden.

A relatively new group, Generation Housing, is laser-focused on educating the general public on the desperate need for housing in our area, in case there are still any doubters. The group also effectively marshals support at public meetings for affordable housing projects to help elected officials develop the political will to vote for these badly needed projects, even in the face of all-too-frequent small but vocal opposition.

The North Bay Leadership Council, Sonoma County Alliance, Sonoma County Farm Bureau, North Bay Association of Realtors, Engineering Contractors Association and the Builders Exchange are examples of groups that are shining a bright light on the housing crisis and that regularly support efforts to spur both affordable and market-rate housing.

Economists have estimated that the North Bay needs to build 30,000 new housing units (that’s not just homes, but multifamily units as well) in the next 5-10 years, and that number could even be called conservative. Business and community leaders have known the magnitude of the housing shortage for decades and understand the effect it has on our community’s ability to have a stable workforce that can afford to live here.

I just want to assure people that even though there is still much to be done, local leaders have been deeply involved in seeking housing solutions for years and years, and we’re not just “beginning to worry.”

Keith Woods is chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange.

North Bay Leadership Council’s Cynthia Murray is a Business Advocacy Powerhouse With a Heart

The “C” in the North Bay Business Journal’s “C-Suite” series of in-depth interviews with local leaders could have been named after Cynthia Murray, North Bay Leadership Council president and CEO.

Beyond a collective 15 years as a 5th District supervisor for Marin County and on the Novato City Council, this straight shooter from Petaluma has led the council, which formed 15 years ago.

But that’s only half her story.

Cynthia Murray, 71, is nothing less than a force for business. With the sharp intensity of Annie Oakley and the nurturing spirit of a mother, the first thing you notice about Murray is the twinkle in her eyes. That means an idea is being harvested.

Murray can command a room like she can command a solution to an issue. She’s learned to hold her own with the big boys of business by tapping into practical street smarts gained from being born in Brooklyn and growing up in New Jersey and an unrivaled on-the-job education.

Murray relocated to the North Bay in 1978 starting in Marin County.

When Murray talks about who has meant the most to her in her past, she thinks of her mother, who died two weeks after she was elected to the Novato City Council, of which she served two terms starting in 1991.

“I couldn’t celebrate. I was devastated,” she said, while glancing up at the artwork her mother sculpted shelved in the hutch of the dining room. Her mother was the person who instilled a maternal instinct in her.

“She would keep the family together,” she said.

Now as a mother herself, Murray sees the best in a future generation — beginning with her daughter Katie, who works with Murray at the leadership council.

When asked what it’s like to work with her daughter, Murray, without hesitation, answered: “It’s great. I like it. She knows me and what I like.”

Her ideas come into fruition when Katie not only knows what her mother wants from her, she takes the initiative to follow through with the desired outcome.

“She’d say: ‘I already did it,’” Murray said.

The North Bay Leadership Council’s fearless leader has made many impressions outside the family.

San Rafael Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joanne Webster said the first “thing” that comes to mind when she thinks of Cynthia Murray is “a big heart.”

Webster, who has known Murray for at least 10 years and sees her as a powerhouse with an unparalleled authenticity, has come to respect Murray’s steadfast commitment and support of her efforts through the years.

“She leads with her heart, and that’s what I love about her. If she had to, she would march alone in a parade,” Webster said. “I admire her. She’s a true leader.”

When Murray spoke at a chamber’s Women of Industry event in 2019, she shared her philosophy in a quote by Winston Churchill that resonates with her: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

The following is the Business Journal’s conversation with Murray, edited for clarity.

What did you want to do (when you grew up)?

I was a history major in college, always interested in public service and running for elected office. (I) went into sales, as there was no glass ceiling in pay for women versus men, had kids and stayed home a few years and then ran for City Council of Novato.

Why was the North Bay Leadership Council formed (in your eyes)?

(The) North Bay Council was formed in 1990 to be the voice of employers who were being stymied in their attempts to grow and prosper.  They thought that pooling their voices would help get the support of the elected officials and communities they served.

Did you always have a penchant for being a resource to people?

Yes, I like being of service. That is why I chose to be a public servant. I also like problem solving and being able to help people make their lives better.

Do you see yourself that way (as a resource)?

I see myself as a leader who deploys my leadership skills when needed. I often feel that there are leadership vacuums, and (I) step in when I don’t see anyone else leading.

When are those times the leadership council shines under your leadership?

I just celebrated my 15th year as CEO of NBLC. I am proud of how the organization has grown in stature and effectiveness to be the voice of employers and (helps to) lead on public policy issues of concern for employers and their employees. (In) one example, I was the co-chair of the campaign in 2008 to pass the first sales tax measure to initiate the SMART rail service.

What skills have you carried over to the leadership council that have helped you in the top spot?

One thing I love about my work at NBLC is that I am able to cumulatively apply all of my past experience as a public official and my business experience in sales and marketing of tech products. The other is that as a “leadership” council, my leadership skills are useful in leading the members to reach consensus and working with elected officials and community members to move public policy issues forward to positive conclusions.

What advice would you give a young person wanting to enter the workforce and have you mentor them?

My advice to young people is twofold: Do self-exploration to figure out who you are and what you want so you pursue your passion, and don’t be afraid of failure. It is a great learning tool.

Who’s your mentor?

I have had many mentors throughout my life for different careers and life situations. Like most people, my parents were my first mentors and each gave me a strong foundation to believe in myself and fight for what’s right. One of my first bosses was great at helping me learn people skills and how to meet a customer’s needs. As an elected official, Gary Giacomini was a great mentor. And at NBLC, Steve Page was a terrific mentor for me.

What does it take to be a leader?

Leaders need to be collaborative and build good teams that they trust to think for themselves. They have to be good listeners and facilitators.

In this time of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), a leader needs to be able to make decisions based on what is known now and be able to hold opposing thoughts at the same time. Leaders need to have a vision for the future and how to get there, (so) they communicate well to their teams (in order for) people (to) share the goals and fight for that future.

What is the biggest challenge facing the North Bay and why?

The pandemic and economic shock exacerbated some of the challenges we were already facing in the North Bay.

From the employer point-of-view, top concerns are the housing crisis, which continues to make it difficult to hire and retain employees. Coupled with that are education, training and workforce issues such as being unable to fill job openings due to skills mismatch; not competing with other areas with less expensive housing; (the) cost of and lack of childcare, which is keeping women out of the workforce; and the increasing retirements of workers in the North Bay (with a) workforce (that) skews older.

Also on the radar is the economy’s recovery and how to build (it) back better, along with adapting to climate change and mitigating the fire risks and drought. (Another consideration is) transportation, in particular, and (with that) helping commuters — especially those who need to commute long distances due to the lack of workforce housing.

What does the future hold for the North Bay post pandemic?

There are indicators of what the future holds, and some of it depends on what we do to shape that future. The North Bay has recovered, (with) some of its economic vitality faster than the rest of the (San Francisco) Bay Area.

But those gains can be stymied by the continuing problems with the lack of workforce housing, lack of a right-skilled workforce to fill job openings, lack of child care slots and its rising costs and the continuing fires, power shutoffs and now severe drought. Each of these challenges is daunting, but there is much we can do to improve the situation if we put the resources and effort into the solutions. We know what needs to be done — but do we have the political will to do it?