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Success slow to hatch at business incubator
While RP business incubator boasts some success stories, economic slump stalls goal of creating thriving startups, 2,000 jobs

  • Sonoma Mountain Village. (Kent Porter / PD)

The business incubator had an ambitious goal: to nurture and hatch new companies that would create 2,000 high-tech and environment-friendly North Bay jobs in 10 years.

Four years later, the promise of a thriving job generator created in the shell of a shuttered high-tech manufacturing plant in Rohnert Park is far from being realized.

The Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster, launched in 2007 by Codding Enterprises, was designed to help recover ground lost after about 3,000 jobs at Agilent Technologies and other North Bay high-tech companies disappeared, many overseas to Malaysia, China and India.

“It's a little economic engine,” a consultant to the project said before the business cluster opened.

But those high aspirations collided with a recession and a long economic slump that has stifled public and private job creation.

The North Bay's particular business limitations also have slowed the incubator's progress. And some say management missteps have hindered it as well.

Codding Enterprises CEO Brad Baker, who is a director of the incubator but is not involved in its management, said the venture is already proving its worth. Its 2010 state designation as an Innovation Hub, to foster regional job creation, was a crucial milestone, he said.

But Baker concedes the incubator has fallen well short of its goals so far.

“I consider it a success,” he said. “Is it the success we envisioned in 2007? Absolutely not.”

The nonprofit incubator aims to give small and startup businesses a running start by providing low-rent office space and Internet, phone, legal, marketing and mentoring services.

Codding spent $200,000 to start the Sonoma Business Cluster, or SMBC, at the former Agilent complex on the eastern edge of Rohnert Park. And Sonoma Mountain Village, the $1 billion mixed-use development Codding is developing on the site, lent it $1.3 million at zero interest for building improvements.

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