Doug Ernst

Napa Valley Register columnist Doug Ernst.

How does Napa Valley College decide which classes to offer students who want to intern for local small businesses and are working to start their own?

And how does NVC determine what to teach business owners so that they might grow their businesses with local talent?

The answer to both questions rests with newly hired Molly Stuart, whose job is “uniting business and education” through a $200 million, annual statewide program to develop a strong workforce, funded by the California Legislature and implemented by the California Community Colleges Chancellors’ Office.

Her title is “Deputy Sector Navigator,” and her specialty is the small business sector of Napa, Sonoma, Marin, Contra Costa, Alameda and Solano counties.

After discovering employment skills that local industries seek to learn, Stuart encourages 14 North Bay community colleges – including College of Marin, Santa Rosa Jr. College, Solano Community College and Napa Valley – to add credit classes that train business owners how to become more successful.

She also complements the Napa and Sonoma Small Business Development Center, whose advisers work directly with small business owners to solve individual business issues. Her NVC office is located in the Economic and Workforce Development Building, 3300. She wants business owners to call her at 707-256-7255 with ideas about new courses to offer.

“I find out from the business community what’s needed,” said Stuart.

“I serve the community by developing academic programs at community colleges that support strong and sustainable independent business owners.”

Based on industry needs, Stuart might advise the college to add credit classes teaching about finance, borrowing, spreadsheets, cost-benefit analyses, human resources, accounting, business law, receipt-keeping, tax write-offs, business expenses, health care coverage, business taxes and the differences between limited liability partnerships and sole proprietorships.

Former NVC student Kathleen Horton, a line cook with Press in St. Helena, said the program is similar to the one she followed under the guidance of Charlie Monahan, the college’s Interim Director of Economic and Workforce Development.

“I learned front-of-the house marketing from Napa Valley College,” said Horton.

“The accounting classes helped me learn what I would need to know if I ran my own business. I also learned about front-desk hospitality, where you deal with more people, and they had me do multiple projects as part of a business plan.

“They did a good job working with students on planning and becoming and entrepreneur. The students worked together to learn how the industry is run, and the importance of building relationships with people you know.”

Stuart is one of many Deputy Sector Navigators in the state who focus on business needs unique to their region.

In addition to Stuart’s small business sector, the other nine are manufacturing, transportation, agriculture-water-environment, energy-construction-utilities, trade, health, media, science and retail-hospitality-tourism.

She said sector navigators share information to help business owners and educators work together to build a stronger workforce.

To that end, she is listening to fresh business perspectives.

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Doug Ernst is the Napa Valley College public information officer. Reach him at DErnst@napavalley.edu or (707) 256-7112.