The North Bay is enjoying its best economic times in years, but employers can expect ongoing trouble finding workers as baby boomers retire and millennials leave the region so they can afford to buy homes.
That was the message business leaders gave Wednesday morning to the North Bay Leadership Council, a collection of employers who promote economic development. The event drew about 150 business, civic and elected leaders to the Sheraton Hotel in Petaluma.
Keynote speaker Micah Weinberg, president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a regional think tank, said the North Bay is enjoying “the top of the market” in terms of the current economic cycle. The region is basically at full employment, because those who remain without jobs generally lack the skills needed for the positions businesses are seeking to fill.
But the region’s tech sector didn’t get a boost from the robust growth that came to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Instead, tech jobs in Sonoma County have declined 22 percent since 2000, a drop others have attributed to the dot-com bust and the exodus of tech jobs overseas.
Also, he said, the high cost of housing has made it difficult for many residents around the state to make ends meet.
“California has the highest rate of poverty in the nation” when adjusted for cost of living, Weinberg said. Housing costs are so high in Marin County that a family of four with an annual income of $105,350 qualifies as low income under federal criteria.
Over the next seven years, the state predicts the North Bay sectors with the most employment growth will be office and administrative support and food preparation and serving-related occupations.
Weinberg said those sectors generally offer lower-paying positions and he suggested business leaders may want to spur job growth in tech and other higher-paying sectors.
He also noted a survey released this spring by the Bay Area Council, a business development group that supports his institute, which found nearly half of Bay Area millennials are thinking of leaving the region. Those younger adults, ages 18-39, still want a house of their own, Weinberg said, and too often they find “there are no single-family homes to move into in the Bay Area.”
In a subsequent panel of business leaders, Jim Geist, a regional vice president for the staffing firm Nelson & Associates, said finding workers today is “brutal” for employers.
Those seeking skilled workers “have to take them from another employer,” he said. For example, businesses seeking an accountant now making $60,000 a year may have to offer $70,000.
Another speaker, Hamish Gray, a senior vice president for Santa Rosa’s Keysight Technologies, said the test and measurement company will have hundreds of workers retiring here in the coming years.
Keysight will find new engineers to replace those that retire, he said. But replacing technicians will be difficult, because they will become increasingly in demand as more electronic products require someone skilled to install, maintain or repair them.
“We will all be competing for the same people,” Gray said.