Humboldt County is experiencing what’s been described as an “entrepreneurship boom,” with 2,283 new businesses emerging from 2002 to 2010.
That’s only one of many positive trends detailed in the Prosperity 2012 report that was approved by the Board of Supervisors at its March 26 meeting. Prepared by the county’s Economic Development Division and informed by the participation of the business community, the report charts the progress of the North Coast region’s fastest-growing industries between 1995 and 2009.
The six industries – classed as ones that offer Targets of Opportunity – are diversified health care, specialty food, flowers and beverages, investment support services, management and innovation services, building and systems construction and niche manufacturing.
They grew jobs at a bigger and faster rate than the region’s economy on average, with higher wage growth. Cedar Reuben of the Arcata-based Humboldt Investment Capital, participated as a member of the county’s Headwaters Fund Board and Workforce Investment Board. He noted that the target industries saw growth even in recession conditions.
“During that period, even though the region as a whole lost jobs at a rate of 6.1 percent, the target industries actually grew jobs at 14 percent and those jobs had real wages that were 36 percent higher than the average in the community,” said Reuben, adding that the region lost companies at a rate of 15.5 percent while rate of closures for companies in the target cluster was half of that.
“The real value of this process and this report is that the numbers verify how important the target industries are to the continued growth and prosperity of our region and our community,” he said.
Entrepreneurship was described as the engine of Humboldt’s economy and the driver of a “boom” in new business growth. Commenting on a slide projection that prominently displayed the number of new businesses that sprouted – 2,283 – Bryan Plumley of the Workforce Investment Board said the notion of an economically-parched Humboldt is contradicted by the report’s data.
“Humboldt County is succeeding in a way that’s really contrary to the story we tell ourselves,” he continued. “We have created a lot of new businesses here – faster than our regional neighbors and faster than other rural communities in the state of California, and California is an entrepreneurship machine.”
He credited the trend to residents being “creative, independent-spirited, self-supporting and we also have kind of an attitude that says we can do things better than other people and are willing to kind of fight the man.”
Jacqueline Debets, the county’s director of economic development, described the county as the region’s anchor – and its only “net importer” of workers. “We have more people coming into work here than going out,” she said. “There’s an opportunity there for us, as that anchor of the region, to collaborate and help bring along our partners.”
Debets added that “another way Humboldt is bucking rural trends” is in its age demographics, with 20- to 29-year-olds being the largest age bracket.
She said another surprising aspect of the report is its finding that poverty decreased by more than a percentage point from 2000 to 2011.
The final version of the report includes the forest products and tourism industries as part of the target cluster. An action plan to support it recommends focusing funding on the “challenges and opportunities” of the cluster industries, easing permitting and regulatory complexities, encouraging a business-friendly “community culture” and addressing infrastructure needs.