Addressing racial inequities in the spotlight as regions plan for recovery

800 300 Nadine Ono

“The ‘Haves’ are having more and the ‘Have Nots’ are struggling even to get through,” said California Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) during the Regions Recover Together virtual event held last week.

As California moves toward recovery from the economic impacts of worldwide events, regional leaders want to make sure the path forward works for everyone. Salas’s remarks were made during the event’s breakout workshop, “Making Regional Planning Deliver for Inclusion and Equity.”

“When you look at the numbers in 2018, the top 5% of California households saw their average income grow by more than 15%, while the bottom fifth saw their income shrink by 5%,” said Salas. “We know the inequality has been worse since the pandemic.”

Salas is the author of Assembly Bill 3205, which would create the Regions Rise Grant Program within the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. The bill, which was sponsored by California Forward (CA Fwd), will enable regions to collaborate and create inclusive regional strategies for economic prosperity by incentivizing local government, private businesses, nonprofits and philanthropy to work together to address a region’s most pressing challenges, while putting their unique capabilities and assets front and center.

The workshop also showcased four regions that are tackling the issues of inclusion and equity.


The Fresno Business Council has been using the triple bottom line framework for decades. The region’s challenges led to the creation of the Four Spheres Framework and Fresno’s version of the three E’s — economic development, infrastructure development (natural and built environment) and human development (equity). The goal is to develop people who can think and act from a “whole community” perspective.

Council CEO Deb Nankinvell highlighted the Fresno DRIVE Initiative (Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy), a ten-year community investment plan developed by a wide-ranging group of civic, community, and business leaders to create opportunities for all residents to move from poverty to prosperity.

The DRIVE Race and Equity Committee, which Nankivell sits on, has been working on this issue and making progress. “We have been able to systematically move forward to help us figure out how do you embed it (Four Spheres Framework) from your design level all the way down to execution so that everyone feels ownership that race and equity isn’t a separate issue, it’s our issue.”


The goal of the Inland Empire Growth and Opportunity (IEGO) campaign is to create quality middle-skilled jobs that generate family-sustaining wages and are open to all the region’s workers, focusing on those without a four-year degree.

“We’re becoming much more inclusive as a process and we know we have a smart economic development strategy,” said Michelle Decker, The Community Foundation president and CEO and IEGO member. To move from the planning phase to implementation, IEGO partnered with Jobs for the Future (JFF).

JFF sees work-based learning as the through-line connecting the region’s advanced manufacturing, green tech and cyber/IT industries to achieve the triple bottom line. “What we’re looking at are all really intended to create this sustainable logistics center,” said Ana Gutierrez, JFF senior director, “really taking the asset of logistics and being creative and looking at the data to see what kind of impact you make if you broaden the lens a little.”

Gutierrez added, “A lot of the framing that we have in terms of inclusive economic development is really trying to work with regions to create and support their efforts to create an equitable and resilient economy that everyone can contribute to and benefit from regardless of who you are and where you live.” Gutierrez noted that “who you are” and “where you live” is fundamental to this work as it relates to who is and is not in the process.


In Sacramento, Valley Vision last month released The Prosperity Strategy, a report that identifies challenges related to economic and educational disparities as well as opportunities and strengths.

“We have an advantage of having entered this economic crisis with this plan basically in hand representing all this work over the years,” said Valley Vision’s interim CEO Meg Arnold. “We don’t know what this path will look like, nonetheless we are convinced we will be far better off having this work in hand than without it.”

One challenge on the horizon is the rise of automation, which could put about one-third of the region’s jobs as risk. The majority of those jobs are low-wage and held by people of color and women. “It really reinforces this idea of being very intentional as we move toward implementation of inclusive strategies to close those disparities,” said Valley Vision incoming CEO Evan Schmidt. She also pointed to digital skills, which can be a driver in economic disparities and social mobility.


The Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) was well on its way for a big year, then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and MBEP, like most of the world, shifted.

“What we wanted to start with is having this really candid conversation about racial disparities and how to engage with that,” said Matt Huerta, MBEP housing program manager.

They pulled together a team who has worked in this space for years. The key takeaways include:

  • “Start with race” and the root causes of racial inequity.
  • Equity and inclusion as the major focal point and an overarching theme.
  • Geography should be needs-based rather than follow jurisdictional lines.
  • Have authentic conversations about race inequality.
  • Consider what systems need to be changed to be inclusive in the distribution and accumulation of wealth.
  • Be additive to existing efforts.

The goal is to create a comprehensive economic develop plan for the Salinas Valley through 2025 with diverse stakeholders including community-based organizations.

Regions Recover Together was a project of CA Fwd, our California Stewardship Network, and the California Economic Summit network.

To find more of our stories on the Regions Recover Together virtual event, click here.

The 2020 California Economic Summit is scheduled for December 3-4. For more information on the Summit, click here.


Nadine Ono

All stories by: Nadine Ono