Robert Eyler

Robert Eyler

Wine, tourism and hospitality still dominate the employment and economic landscape, but Napa County needs to think about ways of diversifying its economy.

The advice came from economist Robert Eyler, Ph.D., of Sonoma State University, one of several speakers Tuesday at the Napa Chamber of Commerce’s Innovation Napa Valley conference.

“Napa County has a very good outlook,” Eyler said. “There is good momentum built that should continue into next year.”

The economist said 82 percent of Napa County businesses are directly or indirectly involved with wine, tourism and hospitality, but innovation in other areas would build more diverse economic growth.

“What can we plant here that will grow jobs? How do you build an asset base that drives innovation? What fits Napa besides winery and hospitality businesses?” he asked.

Local leaders should think regionally, not just countywide, said Eyler. That means Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties should work together.

“We need to become less parochial and spread the wealth rather than fight each other over the same basic resources,” he said.

Napa businesses in general can take better advantage of national and global markets, Eyler said. Napa depends on visitors from the Bay Area and as far away as Europe and Asia. “If those markets go into recession, it threatens tourism,” he said.

That’s not to say that Napa County’s strongest industries aren’t its strengths. According to Eyler, since August 2009, 84 percent of job growth in the area is in wineries, hospitality and retail.

Other aspects of our local economy look strong. According to Eyler’s research, more than 2,500 new jobs have been added in the county since August 2012. Housing prices are up an average of $126,000 and the county’s gross domestic product grew approximately 3.2 percent, or $8.1 billion, over that period.

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In terms of real estate, Eyler predicts that 2013 will end up a “great” housing year, while 2014 will be “good but not as good as 2013, which seems to indicate we’re reaching a natural peak in the real estate cycle,” he said. “Once the housing markets begin to sag in price,” it’s usually an indicator of the beginnings of another recession, he said.

In addition to Eyler’s comments, the Napa chamber also debuted new branding and design concepts that feature a new logo, website and program strategies.

“Things are changing” at both the chamber and in Napa itself, said chamber CEO Chris Messina. “It’s not business as usual any more.”

Other presenters at the morning conference, held at the former Copia center on First Street, included Michelle Spencer, principal of New Technology High School; a collection of New Tech high students; Kevin Bennett of NapaIT and a panel of local “emerging entrepreneurs,” among others.


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