Napa County economy faces gains, challenges | Local News

July 3, 2019 / Wine Making
Napa County economy faces gains, challenges | Local News

Ten years after the end of the Great Recession, Napa County is “the star example of how to recover,” after such an economic catastrophe, said economist Rob Eyler.

Napa Valley chose to woo visitors with wine, and it worked.

“The economy in Napa is screaming,” said Eyler “There’s no sag in demand.”

Homeowners are benefiting from rising values. Napa County now has the seventh highest personal income per person in the state and the number of visitors to Napa Valley is on the rise, said Eyler.

“But is it getting harder to hire? Yes,” said Eyler. Are employees commuting longer because they can’t afford to live in the Valley? “Yes,” he said.

Eyler spoke about Napa County’s economy at this week’s Workforce Alliance of the North Bay Business Resource Fair. The gathering was hosted by the Alliance and held at the CIA at Copia.

Eyler is president of Economic Forensics and Analytics and a dean at Sonoma State University.

In remarks during and after his presentation, Eyler noted the challenges the county faces.

Napa County’s population is slowly declining, the county is creating more lower-wage service jobs than middle-wage, goods-producing jobs, fewer of those jobs being added each year, unemployment has dropped to all-time lows and high housing prices are squeezing many out of the area.

In past 12 months, Napa County added 200 new jobs, noted Eyler. But in previous years since the Great Recession ended, the county had typically added about 1,000 new jobs per year. “It’s not a contraction, it’s a slowdown” of growth, said Eyler.

In addition, since 2016, Napa County’s population has declined – from 141,778 to 140,779.

“Who are we losing?” asked Eyler. Working families? he asked. Or seniors moving to more affordable areas?

The economist also noted concern about the future of the number of construction jobs in Napa County. “We’re on a good growth run now,” he said. But will the county run out of places to build?

Keep an eye on the economic impact on families and housing after insurance companies end housing subsidies for those impacted by the 2017 and later wildfires, Eyler advised.

Will the mechanization of the wine industry impact its allure? Eyler asked rhetorically.

Yes, “if it’s visible,” to the consumer, he said. For example, wineries could face scrutiny if consumers post images on social media of machines picking grapes or making wine, yet such wines claim to be “handcrafted.”

An audience member asked what local employers could do to be prepared for those challenges.

“Expect that if we do go into an economic slowdown, you are going to have a slightly harder time finding workers,” especially for those who find the cost to get to work is rising, said Eyler. Expect the labor market will be “tighter and tighter,” he said.

Starr Piner of Piner’s Nursing Home and Guest Home attended the program, which included also short presentations from resources such as CareerPoint North Bay, the Napa Sonoma Small Business Development Center, CalJOBS, CalSavers and others.

She echoed Eyler’s comment about hiring qualified workers.

Because Napa County’s unemployment rate has dropped to record lows, “It is very, very difficult” to fill open positions at Piner’s — “especially our entry-level positions,” such as those working in the kitchen or housekeeping, Piner said.

“And with the minimum wage being a moving target, it’s so hard to stay abreast of what the competition is doing wage wise and that definitely impacts your ability to attract and secure workers,” said Piner. “It’s very frustrating.”

Hiring Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) is particularly difficult because they are in such great demand, said the business woman. Piner recently hired some CNAs but still needs to hire about four more. Such CNAs make from $15 to $20 per hour, said Piner.

“We’re constantly fighting the battle to find CNAs,” that will work the schedule required at her business, she said.

“We operate seven-days-a-week and we need people who are willing to give us part of their weekend. Some people aren’t willing to do that. It just adds another level of complexity,” to finding staff, she said.

Douglas Rene Bassett, owner of Napa’s new Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, was also at the resource fair.

After listening to presentations and visiting information tables, “There were a couple things that we were not aware of,” such as incentives for employers who hire a person with a disability, said Bassett.

When his franchise restaurant – which opened earlier this year – first announced that it was hiring, they did not have much trouble finding applicants, said Bassett.

Starting pay at the barbecue restaurant is $13.50 an hour, he noted. Minimum wage for a business his size is $11 an hour however, “We realized from the get go you get what you pay for,” said Bassett.

“When we find that good person, we want to make sure they are willing to stick around.”

The Napa Dickey’s currently has 15 employees. Most work about 25 to 30 hours a week. Two “pit bosses” work 40 hours a week.

However, he knows that some of his staff members are students who will return to school in the fall. Others find that the restaurant work is not for them.

“We’re always looking to hire,” said Bassett.

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