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Mike Genest: The Solano County gap

Fri May 24 2024

Originally published in The Vacaville Reporter

As one of the fastest growing and most economically productive areas in the world, the San Francisco Bay Area accounts for just 2.9 percent of the country’s population. Yet the nine-county region is responsible for 5.5 percent of the country’s GDP. In short, the Bay Area generates a ton of wealth. But the benefits of that wealth haven’t reached all corners of the Bay Area.

Solano County — which lies roughly halfway between San Francisco and the state capital of Sacramento — is still quite literally part of the Bay Area. But according to the most common indicators of economic well being, a significant gap exists between Solano County and the rest of the Bay Area, and that gap only continues to grow.

When you start looking at the numbers, this growing gap becomes quite evident. Take household income — a basic indicator of economic success — for example. In 2002, Solano County households on average made about $6,000 less per year than their neighbors in Bay Area counties ($60,800 versus $66,900) — or about a 10 percent difference. Today that gap has grown to about $40,000, with the average Solano County household making about $93,000 compared to the average household in the rest of the Bay Area making $133,000 — a gap of nearly 30 percent. It has tripled in just the last 20 years.

One way to measure an area’s economy is to look at the number of “working-age” residents (25-64 years) who are employed. When people aged 25-64 don’t enter the labor force, it generally results in worse prospects for long term gainful employment and financial security. And an area’s reduced participation in the labor force can often be attributed to a lack of opportunity nearby. Solano County has the lowest share of employed working age adults in the Bay Area — a clear indicator of a lack of opportunity. Another sign of the growing economic gap between Solano County and the Bay Area is the unemployment rate. Twenty years ago, Solano County and the Bay Area as a whole had near similar unemployment rates. In 2022, Solano County’s unemployment rate was about 21 percent higher than other Bay Area counties.

One of the most stark indicators of Solano County falling behind the Bay Area is that the Solano County government receives the least amount of tax revenue in the Bay Area on a per capita basis. Solano County only receives $1,936 per resident compared to surrounding counties’ average of $2,714 per resident. County governments are the largest providers of direct public services in California, but with 29 percent less tax funding than surrounding counties, the quality and quantity of public services offered to Solano County residents has lagged.

The data points laid out above are just a few of the key takeaways from a recently published study examining the economic prospects of Solano County when compared to its neighbors in the Bay Area. The bottom-line is that the county has seriously lagged behind the Bay in recent decades, creating a significant gap between Solano County residents and those in other parts of the bay.

But there remains much hope for Solano County residents. Its sheer size and convenient location right between Sacramento and San Francisco means there’s ample opportunity for Solano County to grow, thrive and close the Solano Gap. The California Forever project looks to be one of those opportunities to catch up to the Bay Area. The data is clear – Solano County needs another economic engine to generate wealth and raise the quality of life in the county. Building a new engine in Eastern Solano County might just be the answer.

— Mike Genest served as California’s Director of Finance under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2005 to 2010. He currently serves as CEO of Capitol Matrix Consulting.