(photo credit: John Guenther)
California’s economy may be coming back, ever so slowly. But away from the wealthy coasts, and even in some persistent pockets of poverty within them, it’s shaping up to be a long road to rehabilitation—a looming disparity that will be a key focus of next month’s California Economic Summit in Los Angeles.
While Silicon Valley’s freeways may be jammed with traffic and the road to the Hollywood sign may once again be flooded with tourists—good signs of an economy getting back on its feet—there are parts of California where the recession still lingers. In the Inland Empire, four million people face unemployment levels rivaling Detroit’s. The agricultural San Joaquin Valley, is still home to some of the most poverty-stricken congressional districts in the nation.
This looming disparity between regions—the “two Californias,” one coastal, and one inland, one rich and one poor, with the middle class squeezed in between—is not only a regional challenge: Cities like Palo Alto and East Palo Alto exist side-by-side all over the state, unimaginable prosperity just down the street from lingering hardship.
An economic vitality strategy for California
Finding a way to address these disparities—and to lay the foundation for a future of well-paying jobs, a sustainable environment, and equal opportunities for every Californian—is the work of the California Economic Summit.
This work, as it did last year, starts in the regions, with leaders from across the state coming together to create an economic vitality strategy that connects these two Californias—and promotes efforts to rebuild a strong middle class. Summit participants have created seven Action Teams to develop a statewide plan for investing in the workers, infrastructure, and governance systems California will need to thrive in the decades to come.
In many cases, the teams’ goals are intrinsically linked: Investing in infrastructure and a skilled workforce, after all, will help the state’s economy support a range of middle-class jobs in manufacturing and other leading industries—growth areas that can expand more quickly by streamlining regulations and easing access to capital for small businesses.
These draft plans will be the source of debate and discussion at the Summit in November, where participants from across the state will outline the keys to implementation—and commit to moving this plan forward.
A summary of the Summit action plans
WORKFORCE: To meet the demands of an evolving economy, one of the state’s biggest challenges is preparing skilled workers for high-priority, well-paying jobs. The 2012 action team focused on developing partnerships between existing workforce training programs and regional industry—supporting the passage of several key pieces of legislation and state actions promoting regional partnerships. This year’s action team has focused on expanding career-technical education in high-demand fields—especially science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
INFRASTRUCTURE: Getting workers to and from these jobs—and ensuring the state’s water, transportation, and broadband infrastructure has the capacity to handle a growing population—is a critical component of California’s long-term economic success. The 2013 Infrastructure action team has expanded on last year’s Summit proposals, proposing a comprehensive infrastructure investment strategy for the state—one that focuses on looming funding shortfalls facing the state’s transportation and water systems, in particular.
ADVANCING MANUFACTURING: Though manufacturing has long been a cornerstone of the state’s economy, California lacks a statewide strategy either for connecting large and small manufacturers with regional workforce pipelines—or for promoting exports and investments in fast-growing manufacturing sectors. The action team proposes to do both, promoting a statewide campaign to raise awareness about manufacturing, while also seeking ways to make the state’s regulations a competitive advantage for manufacturers.
REGULATIONS: California has a reputation as a complicated place to do business—with uncertainty about everything from the state’s environmental rules to the process businesses must go through to get a permit. Last year, the Summit focused on legislation requiring a regulatory impact analysis of major new regulations, while pushing for a statewide conversation about updating CEQA. To advance manufacturing and other growth industries, this year’s action team has proposed working with the governor’s office to ensure a small group of targeted regulations are streamlined and modernized.
CAPITAL: To drive investment in local economies, businesses and entrepreneurs must have access to capital. The 2012 action team worked closely with the California Financial Opportunities Roundtable—a group of statewide leaders from financial institutions, economic development organizations, and government agencies—to produce an “Access to Capital” guidebook that serves as a one-stop resource for those seeking capital. This year, the team is focused on identifying examples of capital intermediaries that can close gaps in access to capital in regions across California.
WORKING LANDSCAPES: As California continues to grow—the state’s population is expected to pass 50 million in the next thirty years—it will only become more important to develop sustainable approaches to managing the state’s working landscapes, from farmland and ranches to forests and wetlands. The team has proposed a range of proposals to better manage, and regulate, this steady source of diverse jobs (from agriculture to energy production) and vital natural resources (including clear air and wildlife habitat).
HOUSING: While California works to protect its natural landscapes, it must also provide an adequate supply of housing to meet the needs of a growing workforce. The action team has proposed a variety of different approaches—from new financing tools and policy incentives to regulatory changes and zoning updates—that will encourage a diverse array of housing options close to public transportation.