The California Economic Summit’s Elevate Rural CA initiative is built on a solid foundation of understanding, experience, and creative innovation. As the effort moves forward, Elevate Rural CA will honor, harmonize and build upon this prior knowledge base by advancing three strategically chosen priorities for sustaining economic opportunities:
- Forest Resiliency
- Water Infrastructure
- Broadband Access
These priorities have been identified as “solution spaces” that hold great promise for addressing challenges facing California’s rural areas. The state’s rural areas are a place of great beauty and productivity. The farms, ranches, forests, waterways and terrains of these areas provide essential natural resources and commodities to the rest of the state. Three-quarters of the water used statewide, for example, originates in headwaters located in remote forested areas.
Yet, as many reports and initiatives have documented in the past, rural California has struggled for years with difficulties associated with remoteness, small populations, rugged terrains, gaps in infrastructure and services, changing economic forces, and a lack of employment opportunities.
Many studies have assessed the challenges to be resolved and actions that could make a difference. Common themes have touched on the following: Geographic impediments; unique rural conditions; infrastructure needs involving broadband, water facilities, transportation, and more; business and workforce development challenges, and significant gaps in human services, including health care services, education and career technical instruction.
These prior studies and initiatives proceeded with rigor and the backing of important constituencies and civic leaders. They provide a valuable record of historical perspectives, data and findings, and local case studies. They point toward solutions by highlighting solid research and best practices. They have led to creative strategies and partnerships at the local, regional and state levels that can be built upon and expanded going forward.
For example, the statewide Rural Economic and Health Vitality Policy Agenda of 2007, which was prepared by the California Center for Regional Leadership, involved significant research partnerships and captured the voices of more than 60 state and rural leaders. The document urged the closure of the disparity gap between urban and rural areas, and recommended investment opportunities in four opportunity areas, echoing some of the strategy objectives of Elevate Rural CA.
Similarly, the 2010 “Jobs, Economic Development and Sustainable Communities” report by USDA Rural Development highlighted needs in infrastructure, including broadband, water and wastewater, the electric transmission grid and transportation.
Many other initiatives provided similar information and direction at the state, regional and local levels.
Across the state, for example, many rural development projects have been initiated and maintained at the local level. Counties and communities have established economic development agencies, working groups and public-private partnerships. Vital ongoing services are provided by these entities involving: Site selection; permitting zoning and licensing; business retention and expansion; data and research; employee training and recruitment; and financing and incentives. Additionally, research studies have addressed unique local conditions and needs, which can guide and inform the work of Elevate Rural CA.
Today, California’s rural areas continue to face deep challenges, including disproportionate levels of poverty and unemployment and a need for more well-paying jobs. Elevate Rural CA’s three focus areas – forest resiliency, water infrastructure improvements and broadband access – will draw upon the studies and efforts of the past in advancing these promising solution spaces for change and greater prosperity.
Developing a path forward for these efforts will be discussed and advanced during the 2018 California Economic Summit, which will be held November 15-16 in Santa Rosa.