Three California leaders will be recognized at the 2022 California Economic Summit held this week in Bakersfield. This year’s awardees include Kate Gordon as the California Steward Leader, Bill Allen as the Regional Steward Leader and Michael Wiafe as the Summit’s first-ever California Young Leader Award winner.
The three honorees will be recognized at the Awards Luncheon during the Summit on Friday, October 28.
2022 California Economic Summit Steward Leader: Kate Gordon
Kate Gordon, who currently serves as senior advisor to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm at U.S. Department of Energy, has participated in several Summits when she was director of the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR).
“It’s just really meaningful to have this honor, being recognized for connecting the energy, climate, and economic development dots in California, in a place that I really care about and I think is such microcosm of so many of the issues that we are dealing with federally and also internationally,” said Gordon.
In his nomination form, Lenny Mendonca described Gordon as “a true champion for sustainable inclusive growth with a regional focus.” He went to write that she is “a great collaborator with deep understanding of climate change.”
Gordon and Mendonca, who headed GO-Biz at the time, worked together on Regions Rise Together. She recalled, “The Governor came in with a strong commitment to ensuring that every region of California would be fully seen as part of an integrated economic agenda that is critical to the future of the state. Lenny and I took that really seriously and did a lot of work across the state to listen to communities and identify needs – all of which ultimately led to Community Economic Resiliency Fund (CERF).”
She also co-led the Governor’s Economic Recovery Task Force with Julie Su, who at the time was secretary of the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency and is now deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. “Julie and I co-led a part of that task force focused on equitable economic growth. In that work group we heard a lot, particularly from labor and business, on the impacts of COVID and the challenges in economic recovery in particular parts of the state—basically how to move forward from that economic shock to a more sustainable and resilient system.”
In her current position, she looks to California’s regional work as a model. “For example, I did a lot of work when I was at OPR on the question of how to capitalize on forest waste coming out of our northeast parts of our state, as a result of forest management for wildfire prevention, and how this might become a feedstock to generate more sustainable fuels. We’re now starting to see a lot of those same connections being made at the federal level.”
2022 California Economic Summit Regional Steward Leader: Bill Allen
Bill Allen, president and CEO of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), was named the 2022 California Economic Summit Regional Steward Leader. Allen has led the LAEDC since 2006 and is set to retire later this year. He is an original member of the California Stewardship Network and a champion of the triple bottom line.
In her nomination form, Becky Morgan wrote, “Bill is a steward in the finest sense – he understands the value of caring for that to which he’s entrusted and brings others into engagement with a triple bottom line focus – including business, government and civic sectors to solve problems within the region.”
When he arrived at LAEDC, Allen facilitated conversations with more than 1,000 stakeholders at 26 public meetings to develop the region’s first ever consensus-built strategic plan for economic development. “We made sure we really heard from an inclusive array of stakeholders and then we all worked for an entire year together to develop a path forward.” To stay current, LAEDC reconvened the stakeholders and updated the plan in 2015.
Allen is proud of Together for LA, an LAEDC program launched in 2020 with public and private partners to help small businesses, mostly owned by women and people of color, that didn’t qualify for the federal Paycheck Protection Program because they didn’t have the banking relationships needed to secure the loans.
Under his leadership, LAEDC worked with 19 community colleges in Los Angeles County on the Strong Workforce Program to help low-wage workers train for living-wage jobs, created the Most Friendly-Business Cities Award allowing regional municipalities to attract business investment, created a welcoming environment for foreign investment through LAEDC’s World Trade Center Los Angeles and made economic and labor market research central to the organization’s decision-making process.
When asked about his legacy, Allen said, “It’s been a pattern of being a trusted convener, being able to bring people together who don’t necessarily see the path forward in exactly the same way but find consensus that allows us to move forward in a productive way that advances each of those triple bottom line imperatives as we see them.”
In his retirement, Allen plans to stay busy serving on several boards, but his most important job will to be a family man. “I will get to spend a lot more time with my wife and kids, who have been incredibly gracious about the small amount of time they’ve had with me over the last 17 years. They are a very big part of why I’m retiring from the LAEDC.”
2022 California Economic Summit Young Leader: Michael Wiafe
Michael Wiafe is the inaugural recipient of the 2022 California Young Leader Award. Wiafe, currently a government and community relations fellow at the Inland Empire Community Foundation, he was a member of the first cohort of the CA FWD Young Leaders Advisory Council (YLAC), co-hosted the PolicyWise podcast and participated in panel discussions at past Summits.
“It really means so much to me to be honored in this way because I feel like I should instead be giving an honor to the organization for the hard work they have put in around growing our communities from the bottom up,” said Wiafe.
One of his proudest achievements was helping create the PolicyWise podcast, a partnership of CA FWD and Youth Leadership Institute. “It really started based off of a conversation between a few of us YLAC members who felt like we needed to provide a space and avenue to bridge the gap between policy professionals who are from the generations before us and young people who are passionate about the issues that policy professionals are tackling,” said Wiafe, who served as a co-host for the first three seasons.
While a member of YLAC, Wiafe and a team conducted a six-month research project in the Central Sierra Region surveying broadband access for youth and seniors during the pandemic. He recalled, “The way that we had constructed the survey and considered tradeoffs in information gathering had a different energy than other similar surveys by being more inclusive and structured to elicit more responses from our generation.”
In addition to his work with YLAC, Wiafe is on the Advisory Council for Student Success at Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, on the National Youth Advisory Board of the Young Invincibles, on the California Higher Education Council For Postsecondary Education Recovery with Equity Task-Force, on the #RealCollege Student Leadership Advisory Council Member for The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice and on the Board of Directors for the CA FWD Action Fund.
To Wiafe, the importance of youth voices in policy discussions are vital. “Involving us in the discussion of what we are doing about the problems we are facing today not only provides an additional perspective to the table of the most diverse generation in history but builds historical institutional knowledge on what is happening and where it should go.”