Arrow Benefits Group Strengthens Employee Benefits Capabilities with New Partnership

Arrow Benefits Group (ABG), one of the largest benefits firms in the North Bay, announced a partnership with Aita and Associates, Inc., a highly respected insurance firm headquartered in Sebastopol, Ca. for over 35 years. This consolidation will allow the Aita team to build on its reputation of commitment to local community, personal attention to clients, and advocacy excellence in the benefits insurance industry. The union serves to further strengthen ABG’s assets and ties to the local community.

Says company co-owner Bob Aita, “We have always been intensely client focused, and this partnership — and the culture and autonomous leadership at Arrow Benefits — will allow our team to continue their efforts in that same manner. For us, it also means we’ll have access to additional exceptional top resources to serve our clients. ABG’s level of integrity, respect for team members and how and where they perform their responsibilities, along with a real understanding and acceptance of how Aita does business, allows our legacy of excellence to be continued as part of Arrow.”

To learn more about ABG and for straight answers to employee benefits call 707-992-3780 or visit

The Aita team of experts each bring to the accord a wide breadth of experience and dedication to highly hands-on personalized service, guidance for benefits, and an intimate knowledge of the Benefits, HR, and Compliance worlds. They will continue this high level of service and consultation. The combination of these two long-term industry leaders and both their shared connections with well-respected agencies and long-term relationships with carriers is a winning combination. With ABG’s developed resources, the Aita team will continue to deliver the same level of service to existing clients while also freeing up time to prospect for and market to prospective clients. The talented Aita team includes:

  • Bob Aita – Senior Benefits Consultant
  • Jessica Dominik – Senior Account Manager
  • Linda Rivera – Senior Account Manager, Compliance Officer and H.R. Consultant
  • Stephanie Pavlos – Account Manager

“We are excited about bringing the Aita team into Arrow Benefits Group,” says Joe Genovese, CEO & Managing Principal. “Their long-standing reputation for exceptional service, high level of expertise, and a personal touch that goes well beyond simply serving the client is a great compliment to the increasing capabilities at ABG. We are extremely proud to welcome the A&A team.”

About Arrow Benefits
Arrow Benefits Group is a proud member of TRUE Network Advisors, one of the largest benefits consulting and brokerage networks in the country. Arrow Benefits Group is the single-source solution for managing the complexities of benefits with expert advice, customized programs, and personalized solutions. Arrow’s innovative programs control costs and give employees a greater sense of financial and emotional security. For the latest updates and news on COVID-19, see our dedicated portal. For straight answers to employee benefits call 707-992-3780 or visit

Sonoma State University Awarded More Than $4 Million to Help Low Income, Potential First-Generation College Students Access Higher Education

The U.S. Department of Education has announced that Sonoma State University will receive more than $4 million to continue helping low-income, potential first-generation students in Sonoma and Mendocino counties prepare for and enroll in college.

By way of two federal Talent Search grants lasting five years, totaling $4,129,412, Sonoma State’s Academic Talent Search program will continue to identify and assist middle and high school students who have the potential to succeed in higher education. At least two-thirds of the students in each local Talent Search program are from low-income economic backgrounds and families in which neither parent has a bachelor’s degree.

Susan Wandling, senior director of Pre-Collegiate Programs at SSU, notes the renewed support from the Department of Education “confirms that we are doing a good job helping our students prepare for and enroll in a college of their choice and that we have a solid plan to reach and serve eligible students with high-impact services.”

One of the Federal TRIO Programs, the Academic Talent Search program at Sonoma State has helped 4,035 students enroll in a postsecondary institution since 1990. Talent Search provides these students with counseling and information about college admissions requirements, scholarships, and various student financial aid programs so that they can better understand their educational opportunities and options. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 80% of Talent Search participants enroll in postsecondary institutions immediately following high school graduation. In fiscal year 2020, more than 309,000 students are enrolled in 473 Talent Search TRIO projects across the U.S.

Talent Search began in 1965 and was the second of eight federal TRIO programs authorized by the Higher Education Act to help college students succeed in higher education. It recognizes that students whose parents do not have a college degree have more difficulties navigating the complexity of decisions that college requires for success. It supports students from low-income families who have not had the academic opportunities their college peers have had and helps remove obstacles preventing students from thriving academically.

To learn more about Academic Talent Search at SSU, visit

Nelson’s Finance Chief Wins North Bay CFO Award

Joe Prusko, senior vice president and chief financial officer for the Sonoma-based company, urges people coming up in the industry to “take advantage of every networking opportunity you have.” He is a 2021 winner of the Business Journal’s eighth annual North Bay CFO Awards.

Personally, what changed about the approach to your job that’s related to the experience of working over that past year or so?

I have worked 100% remotely from the start of the pandemic and my productivity and effectiveness improved. Nelson is a decentralized company, which helps to facilitate this.

What advice would you give to young emerging financial leaders?

Take advantage of every networking opportunity you have. Get to know your peers in your industry with other companies. Start to develop your story and the path you want it to go down.

What is your most memorable business experience?

Sourcing an acquisition target in Mexico City and completing that acquisition successfully and completing the sale of a Nelson subsidiary earlier this year.

Quick takes

Most disliked buzzword in your industry: Bean counters; headhunters

Stress relievers: Spending time at Lake Tahoe

Favorite activities outside work: Wine tasting

Is there anything we may have missed that you would like to add?

The support I receive from my wife and son have been very instrumental in the success in my career. I would not have accomplished as much as I have without their unending love and encouragement

Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute Celebrates 25 Years

This fall, the Wine Business Institute (WBI) at Sonoma State University, an intellectual and industry center for faculty, students, and the business community, is excited to celebrate 25 years as a pioneer in providing wine business education and research to advance the wine industry. For the last 25 years, the WBI has worked to propel the wine industry with industry-relevant wine business research and cutting-edge continuing education and certificate programs to shape the industry’s leaders. To kick-off the occasion, WBI Executive Director Ray Johnson and Wine Spectator Napa Bureau Chief Kim Marcus will host a virtual conversation to discuss the evolution of and the future for the wine industry at large. Register for the virtual conversation here.

Founded in 1996 as a partnership between the wine industry and the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University, the WBI provides cutting-edge research that informs industry best practices and program curriculum for current and future wine industry business leaders. Founding members include the likes of Gary Heck, Walt Klenz and the late Henry Trione. “Over the past twenty-five years, we have built the most comprehensive suite of wine business education in North America,” noted Ray Johnson. “The program and our curriculum are led by our founding board members who sought to create a program for the next generation of the wine industry. Today our alumni are filling those ranks in organizations large and small.”

Sonoma State is the first in the United States to offer an undergraduate degree (since 1998), an MBA (since 2008), and most recently an Executive MBA (since 2012) focused on the business of wine. In addition to the degree programs, WBI also offers shorter certifications in subjects such as Introduction to Wine Business Data Analytics and Wine Entrepreneurship. The WBI offers programs online and in-person. Each year, they host the WBI Research Summit, bringing together industry professionals and leaders to share the latest findings of their research. “The WBI continues to play a critical role in the California wine Industry, it will be a fascinating part of the evolution of the industry at large,” comments Napa Bureau Chief Kim Marcus.

Looking back on the past 25 years, the Wine Business Institute celebrates a number of milestones including the awarding of 270 Wine MBAs, the opening of the Wine Spectator Learning Center (2018) and numerous professional degrees and certifications awarded. Today, professionals from California and around the world choose WBI as the global leader in wine business education and research, to experience first-hand the expertise and wealth of connections among students, alumni, and industry leaders. Looking ahead at the next 25 years, the Wine Business Institute will continue to serve the wine industry by developing leaders at every level, for wine companies of every size. By providing the best resources in wine business education and research, the WBI helps to ensure the future successes of the wine industry at large.

Side by Side Announces New CEO

Redwood Credit Union Makes Forbes’ List of America’s Best Credit Unions

For the second year in a row, Redwood Credit Union (RCU) has been recognized as a top credit union in California in Forbes’ list of America’s Best Credit Unions in Each State.

Forbes and Statista, who conducted the research, based these rankings on an independent survey of approximately 25,000 U.S. consumers who were asked about their banking relationships as well as their satisfaction in the categories of trust, digital services, financial advice, branch services, and transparency of terms and conditions.

“Our members are at the heart of all we do. Receiving this recognition from Forbes, based on member feedback, affirms that we’re providing the financial services people want and need,” said Brett Martinez, RCU President and CEO. “This award is a testament to our passionate employees who work extremely hard to provide excellent service to our members every day.”

This past year has proven to be a successful one for RCU, as they were also voted Best Company to Do Business With in Sonoma County by NorthBay biz readers for the ninth time, as well as Best Credit Union by readers of several publications in Sonoma, Marin, and Napa counties. Redwood Credit Union RCU also been awarded one of the best places to work in the North Bay for 15 consecutive years.

About Redwood Credit Union

Founded in 1950, Redwood Credit Union is a full-service financial institution providing personal and business banking to consumers and businesses in the North Bay and San Francisco. RCU offers complete financial services including checking and savings accounts, auto and home loans, credit cards, online and mobile banking, business services, commercial and SBA lending, and more. Wealth management and investment services are available through CUSO Financial Services L.P., and insurance and auto-purchasing services are also offered through RCU Services Group (RCU’s wholly owned subsidiary). RCU has more than $6.8 billion in assets and serves more than 385,000 members with full-service branches from San Francisco to Ukiah. For more information, call 1 (800) 479-7928, visit, or follow RCU on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn for news and updates.

Redwood Credit Union’s Annual Shred-a-Thon Returns to Marin, August 28

Redwood Credit Union (RCU) invites the Marin County community to come out to their annual free document shredding event on Saturday, August 28, 2021 from 9 a.m. to noon in the Sutter Novato Community Hospital parking lot at 180 Rowland Way. The popular annual Shred-a-Thon will feature free document shredding provided by Shred-It and electronic waste (e-waste) collection by Conservation Corps North Bay.

“We really missed seeing our community out last year due to the pandemic and are excited to welcome people back and help them securely dispose of their sensitive documents and electronics,” said Ryan Lind, RCU’s Novato branch experience manager. “Shredding old financial documents and other confidential paperwork is one of the best measures people can take to protect themselves from identity theft.”

Attendees may bring up to three standard-sized boxes (15”x12”x10”) of confidential documents for shredding, such as old financial statements, canceled checks, and credit card offers. Conservation Corps North Bay will also be on site to collect and recycle e-waste such as old computers, printers, cell phones, and personal electronics.

Monetary donations will be accepted at the event to benefit SchoolsRule Marin, a coalition of 20 public school district foundations that help fund literacy, technology, health, and arts programs for every public school student in Marin County.

For additional information about the Shred-a-Thon, watch this video, visit, or follow RCU on Facebook.

About Redwood Credit Union

Founded in 1950, Redwood Credit Union is a full-service financial institution providing personal and business banking to consumers and businesses in the North Bay and San Francisco. RCU offers complete financial services including checking and savings accounts, auto and home loans, credit cards, online and mobile banking, business services, commercial and SBA lending, and more. Wealth management and investment services are available through CUSO Financial Services L.P., and insurance and auto-purchasing services are also offered through RCU Services Group (RCU’s wholly owned subsidiary). RCU has more than $6.8 billion in assets and serves more than 385,000 members with full-service branches from San Francisco to Ukiah. For more information, call 1 (800) 479-7928, visit, or follow RCU on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn for news and updates.

The LIME Foundation, Redwood Credit Union, Santa Rosa Junior College and Other Business Sectors Team Up to Bolster Financial Literacy in Sonoma County

Athan Tucker, 18, feels really lucky that he got a good education in personal finance at the NextGen Trades Academy, a program of the nonprofit LIME Foundation in Santa Rosa. The academy prepares students to get jobs in the construction trades, and it includes personal finance because LIME Foundation founder Letitia Hanke knows money management is a vital life skill.

Personal finance was Tucker’s favorite part of the NextGen curriculum. He’d had some personal finance in high school, but not like this.

“It was unlike any class I’ve taken before. It was a great opportunity that not a lot of people get,” Tucker said. “Budgeting, saving, those are very important things I really need to know. Right after class was over, I immediately started investing, setting up a budget. I’m super happy to know how to do that.”

Right after class ended he also got a job, snapped up by Redwood Moving & Storage in Santa Rosa to help with all aspects of hauling freight. Tucker feels confident he knows what to do with that paycheck.

“If you’re getting out of school and want to go to college or move out on your own, you have to know how to manage your money,” Tucker said.

NextGen Trades Academy is an example of several community efforts to expand personal finance education in Sonoma County. Many developed online versions during the pandemic.

“I think there’s probably an urgency because of the worry over financial stability. People want to know what to do. People are thinking about what you need to have in life,” said Susan Campbell, a professor of education at Sonoma State University who is developing personal finance curriculum for teachers.

While the efforts reach only a fraction of Sonoma County’s 68,194 school-age youth, which includes about 21,600 high school students, they are an indication of how seriously the problem of financial illiteracy is viewed by local business leaders and educators.

The financial strain imposed by the pandemic upon many individuals and households has led to a flood of cries for help from people who have no savings, too much debt and no plan for riding out an unexpected disaster, according to local safety net providers, including nonprofits and government agencies.

The lack of financial education for many has exacerbated the crisis and spotlighted the importance of new and ongoing efforts to fill that learning gap.

Banking sector responds

Vic Trione, chairman of the board of Luther Burbank Savings in Santa Rosa, has partnered for 25 years with Junior Achievement, a 102-year-old international nonprofit that sponsors free curriculum and activities to help youth in the areas of work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

For example, in 2019 and 2020 Luther Burbank Savings provided major funding, planning and staffing for JA Finance Park Mobile, which last year taught personal finance to more than 800 middle and high school students from over 20 classes at seven schools in Sonoma and Napa counties. Trione has committed to expanding the program in the future.

Students start the program with 13 weeks of personal finance education in their classroom or online, with curriculum from Junior Achievement of Northern California and volunteer teachers upon request. To practice what they’ve learned, students spend a full day at the mobile Finance Park, held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

With an iPad in hand, they travel among 22 business kiosks where they shop for their family’s needs — like housing, groceries, insurance and child care — while trying to balance the budget they have been assigned.

JA Finance Park Mobile can accommodate about 100 students per day and last year ran for two weeks in February. Trione and his team signed up 80 volunteers, including 42 Luther Burbank Savings employees, to staff the event. Five other banks also participated. An enormous undertaking, it takes a year of planning, said Warren Harris, a senior vice president at Luther Burbank Savings.

Trione is passionate about the need for personal finance education, and every morning of the event he personally welcomed the students to Finance Park. Chuckling, he recalled asking a student what he got out of Finance Park, and the boy replied, “I know one thing. I’m not having any children. They’re too expensive!”

“We see their eyes open wide,” said Mona-Gail Baker, a loan underwriter at Luther Burbank Savings. With their new understanding of what it takes to run a household, “I think a lot of them go home and hug their parents.”

Credit union a key player

Brett Martinez, president and chief executive officer of Redwood Credit Union, is also committed to offering free financial education to area youth. Since 2004, when Redwood introduced youth accounts with newsletters, the credit union has initiated several programs to connect youth with the life skill of money management.

In 2009 the credit union introduced a four-day “academy” that was held biannually during spring and summer breaks for five years, but reach was limited due to competition from family vacations and other scheduling issues. Since 2013 Redwood Credit Union has provided high school and college students with “Bite of Reality” financial workshops, where more than 16,000 youth have spent up to 2½ hours managing money as if they were an adult, said senior vice president Matt Martin.

The students get a fictional identity, with a job, salary, family, credit cards and a checking account. They visit tables manned by volunteers where they buy life needs, such as housing, transportation and child care, and try to resist temptations. Woe to those who are suddenly handed an unexpected tragedy, like a car wreck or illness. If they overdraw their checkbook, “financial wellness counseling” is available.

In October 2019 the “Bite of Reality” event was the largest ever. The credit union closed its offices so all of its 700 employees could volunteer at 15 high schools in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties and show 3,100 students what it takes to navigate the financial side of life.

In another effort, Redwood Credit Union and 100 Black Men of Sonoma County teamed up in February to offer online financial literacy training to up to 25 Napa and Sonoma County youth ages 12-20 on a first come, first serve basis.

“It’s all about giving people the important tools they need to achieve their goals and dreams,” said Martin.

Foundation spearheads training

The local nonprofit Career Technical Education Foundation, which makes grants to high schools to enhance vocational education classes, began in 2013 and with the urging of Redwood Credit Union requires CTE teachers to include financial literacy lessons. Redwood has donated $70,000 to the effort, and more than 4,000 students have benefited, said foundation CEO Kathy Goodacre.

The curriculum includes six topics: money management, borrowing, earning power, investing, financial services and insurance. Borrowing is “a really important one,” said Goodacre. The foundation asks teachers to cover at least four topics, or two topics and a “Bite of Reality,” unless their school already requires personal finance education, as Healdsburg High School does, for example. Healdsburg High School requires financial literacy units in the 11th and 12th grades, including developing post-high school personal financial plans.

The CTE financial literacy curriculum is available online, making it accessible for teachers and students during distance learning, and also aligns with academic lessons in English, Math and Social Sciences, Goodacre said.

“It is core to what we do that students leave high school with some understanding of how life works in the real world and how to apply what they’ve learned to be successful community members,” said Goodacre.

After teaching two of the modules in Money Management, one high school math teacher assigned students to create a personal budget which included researching options for buying a car. One student expressed, “I can’t afford the car I really want, so I am going to buy a small car that gets good gas mileage and has less than 100,000 miles on it. That way I can actually save enough money.” This student shared that by graduation he not only had enough for the car, but had a little leftover he might invest for the future.

Another high school teacher said in a report to the foundation, “I think the curriculum should be taught in a semester-long course that is required for graduation. I know if students signed up to take this course they would love it and learn a great deal.”

Finance experts head to classrooms

Community First Credit Union: When teachers invite them, Community First sends employees into high schools in person or by Zoom with financial literacy presentations. For example, earlier this year lead trainer Rebecca Nystrom presented to the Healdsburg High School junior class in four back-to-back 70-minute sessions and to the senior class at Anderson Valley High in Boonville.

“We want this generation of students NOT to repeat the financial mistakes made by adults, elected officials and captains of industry during the past decades,” says the website. The syllabus for the class includes the ease of saving loose change, smart spending and budgeting, an introduction to credit scores and why they are so important and what it all means for college and jobs.

“We were founded by school teachers in 1959, and we continue to teach,” said David Williams, chief marketing and human resources officer for Community First Credit Union in Santa Rosa.

Campus revives financial ed courses

Santa Rosa Junior College has brought back two free and bilingual financial literacy classes it introduced in adult education in 2017 but did not offer in 2019 for lack of student interest.

The 2020-2021 school year was different. Fall and spring classes were full, and the course will be offered again in the upcoming fall semester which begins August 16. Classes are currently online because of COVID-19.

“We’re hoping everyone across Sonoma County will be able to take advantage of this,” said Nancy Miller, who recently retired as director of the school’s Regional Adult Education Programs. To enroll, email or call 707-521-7962.

The first class is about personal money management. The second is about investing and planning for retirement. That’s a chance to teach a favorite concept of financial experts: compound interest and the big gains that can come from reinvesting earnings on top of earnings over time.

“The most important thing every kid should learn is the earlier you start saving the more likely you can benefit from compounding,” said David Lawrence, an investment adviser with Willow Creek Wealth Management in Sebastopol. “Let the markets do the work for you over time. It’s free money basically. I love to talk to kids about that, getting them to think more about the longer term.”

“When my kids and my nieces and nephews graduated from college and took their first job, I literally sat down and talked to them about saving, particularly about 401(k)s, pretax contributions and the value of compounding. ‘This can be over $1 million one day,’ I tell them,” said Michael Sullivan, chief credit officer at Exchange Bank in Santa Rosa.

Planning for your financial future is crucial, retired educator Miller agrees. “My twin children are 33. I started talking to them about this when they were 16. They rolled their eyes. Now they thank me.”

Basin Street Properties’ Home2 Suites by Hilton Targets 2022 Opening

Basin Street Properties, a prominent Northern California and Northern Nevada real estate investor and developer, is quickly progressing on the Home2 Suites by Hilton in Petaluma. They recently completed the significant milestone of pouring the foundation footings.  “We’re very pleased with the construction progress so far,” said Matt Sherrill, Vice President of Construction for Basin Street Properties.  “Our general contractor on the project, Eleven Western Builders, is consistently meeting deadlines and overcoming any potential roadblocks.”  The four story, 140 room hotel is slated to open in the summer of 2022.

Located next to Synergy Health Club, the area’s premier fitness facility, and surrounded by an abundant mix of dining, retail, and business amenities for guests, the Petaluma Home2 Suites by Hilton will be the first hotel developed in northern Petaluma in more than 30 years.

“We’re excited to see the Home2 Suites by Hilton open next year,” said Frank Marinello, Vice President of Development for Basin Street Properties. “It’s a strong indicator of our decades-long commitment to Petaluma and we believe the Home2 Suites will be a valuable addition to the community.”  The project was approved by the City of Petaluma over a year ago, but Basin Street elected to wait to begin construction until the path to reopening from the pandemic became clearer.

Home2 Suites by Hilton is an all-suite extended-stay hotel featuring contemporary accommodations and customizable guest room design. With separate sleeping and living spaces, the studio and one-bedroom suites include kitchens with full-size appliances and floor plans catering to stays of one night, one week, or more.  In addition to the 140 guest rooms, the hotel will include a spacious lobby, fitness center, laundry facilities, play lounge, conference room, eco-friendly saltwater swimming pool and an inviting outdoor patio with a fire pit.

“Hilton’s Home2 Suites is a great brand partner and an excellent fit for the Petaluma market,” said Marinello. “Their offering provides a set of amenities that will differentiate us from other hotels in the area and they execute well on their brand promise of providing flexible, safe, clean and eco-friendly hospitality.”

Home2 Suites is committed to creating a safe and relaxing experience, including delivering an even cleaner stay from check-in to check-out. By offering continued travel flexibility and putting the health and safety of guests and team members front and center, Home2 Suites provides complete peace of mind for today’s traveler.

Eleven Western Builders, Inc. is Basin Street’s general contractor on the project.  They have an extensive track record of commercial construction success throughout California and the Western United States.  “We’re very pleased to have Eleven Western Builders as our construction partner on the project,” said Matt Sherrill, Vice President of Construction for Basin Street Property. “They are experienced, timely and cost effective and it shows in how they have executed right from the start of this project.”

Between construction and hotel operation we anticipate the project will generate roughly 90 jobs during the construction and 40 hotel jobs once the property is open.


About Basin Street Properties:

Basin Street Properties, established in Petaluma in 1974, is one of Northern California’s and Northern Nevada’s most prominent developers, investors and managers of commercial properties. The company owns and manages over 5 million square feet of Class A office space. Basin Street is widely recognized for its office, retail, hospitality, multi-family and mixed-use developments. The company offers a broad range of real estate services, including development, property management, construction management, financial and asset management, and property acquisition and disposition.  For more information, visit or contact Mike Williams, 775-954-2821,

About Home2 Suites by Hilton:

Home2 Suites by Hilton, one of the fastest-growing brands in Hilton’s history, is a mid-tier, all-suite, award-winning extended-stay hotel concept designed to offer stylish accommodations with flexible guest room configurations and inspired amenities for the cost-conscious guest. With a commitment to environmentally friendly products and hotel operations, Home2 Suites by Hilton offers complimentary breakfast, innovative and customizable guestroom designs, laundry and fitness areas, free Wi-Fi, multiple outdoor spaces, 24-hour business centers, expansive community spaces and pet-friendly environments. Home2 Suites by Hilton has nearly 500 open hotels with more than 450 in development. Experience a positive stay at Home2 Suites by Hilton by booking at or through the industry-leading Hilton Honors app. Hilton Honors members who book directly through preferred Hilton channels have access to instant benefits. Learn more about the brand at

Midstate Construction Corporation and Sonoma Clean Power Completed Renovation of the Sonoma Clean Power Headquarters

General contractor Midstate Construction Corporation, and owner Sonoma Clean Power recently completed renovation of the Sonoma Clean Power headquarters in Santa Rosa, CA.

Designed by EHDD Architecture, the renovation of this 15,330 square foot office building includes exterior façade upgrade, 240 square foot addition with second level deck, sitework, landscape, irrigation, building systems, elevator, photo-voltaic panels, exterior battery system and utilities.