Marin Economic Forum seeks solutions for workforce shortage

Updated: Jun 2, 2018

POSTED: 03/04/18, 6:27 PM PST

Author: Adrian Rodriguez

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

Robin Sternberg, chief executive officer of the Marin Economic Forum, says employee retention is a major challenge in the local market. (Photo by Trevor Henley)


While Marin’s low unemployment rate of about 2.3 percent sounds like a good thing, it means that some employers struggle to find workers, experts say.

The two industries most affected in Marin: “tourism-hospitality and business-technology,” said Robin Sternberg, CEO of the Marin Economic Forum.

To solve the problem, the forum is launching a study with hopes of creating a model for an employer-educator partnership. The program would tailor a workforce stock fit to meet local industry needs.

The initiative has been kick-started with a $50,000 grant from the Workforce Alliance of the North Bay and matching funds from the College of Marin.

Created in 2010, the forum grew out of the Marin Economic Commission with a primary mission to foster economic growth in the county. The San Rafael-based nonprofit receives a matching grant of $150,000 a year from the county to help support its operations.

Since Sternberg became CEO in August 2017, the forum has been busy engaging Marin business leaders, she said. The forum discovered that across the board, the No. 1 problem employers faced was finding and retaining workers.


The low employment rate limits the amount of available local workers, she said. If employers find workers from other communities, those employees have to commute, and that adds to the traffic, she said.

“And those workers, they can find similar pay working jobs where they live,” Sternberg said. “So that’s a challenge, and this is a great opportunity to solve that business issue.”

So what is it about Marin that makes job seekers so scarce?

“The cost of living,” said Mark Essman, president and CEO of the Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The median price of a home in Marin County rose 13 percent to $915,000 in January over the $810,000 median price tag a year earlier, according to the real estate data tracking firm CoreLogic.

And rental rates in Marin are becoming comparable to San Francisco rates, Essman pointed out.

“I think this is a very positive first step with a targeted approach,” Essman said. “It creates a focus or a draw to come work in Marin.”

The forum will hire a project manager to conduct employer surveys and write reports.

The objectives of the study include connecting industry professionals with future employees, increase opportunities for local businesses to hire local employees, support retention and expansion efforts and to enhance employment equity.

A findings report is expected to be presented in November. The program will launch in early 2019 in collaboration with the College of Marin. The initiative is expected to engage more than 500 employers and place students and graduates into jobs that are in demand.

In a prepared statement, Jonathan Eldridge, senior vice president of student and learning services at College of Marin, said, “We are enthusiastic about this initiative and the leadership provided by MEF in aligning industry with workforce needs in Marin. It will certainly help support COM’s growing education and training programs.”

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