California’s economy has struggled to find solid footing, and even as we see positive sparks, we find that the state budget approved in June is now nearly $1.3 billion under-funded.
One region hit especially hard by economic challenges is California’s Inland Empire.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to regions of over one million people, we’re very near the top in unemployment. It’s Detroit. It’s Las Vegas. And, then it’s us,” said Paul Granillo with the Inland Empire Economic Partnership (IEEP). “When you look at the mortgage meltdown, it’s us and it’s Las Vegas.”
Granillo told the CA Fwd Radio Show last week that solutions which may work for other regions will not work in the Inland Empire.
“Some people want to bring a high end economy to the region with companies like Google,” he said. “But, the fact is, only 20% of the people in the Inland Empire have a Bachelor’s Degree. Google is not coming here if we don’t have the highly educated workforce that’s necessary.”
When it comes to the reforms proposed by California Forward, Granillo said they are common sense and important to fixing the state.
“What business owner doesn’t start with a plan and make sure they’re hitting their goals as they move along,” he said. “Families do the same thing. Yet somehow, we’ve lost that ability when it comes to running the state.”
Granillo also wants elected leaders to have more accountability to those they’re supposed to serve.
“When people get elected and go to places like Sacramento and Washington, DC, there’s a whole culture. That’s what our elected officials become accountable to, rather than ourselves,” he said
“It’s incumbent upon us, the people who do the electing, to hold our elected officials accountable and ensure they hear our voice. And, we often don’t do that,” Granillo said. “We don’t show up at the polls. We don’t show up at town halls. We don’t write letters. If we do that, we have a better chance of them listening to what our needs are.”
Dr. John Husing, economist and consultant with the firm Economics & Politics, Inc., said the Inland Empire has seen some growth recently, but challenges remain.
“The unemployment rate in the region is the second highest in the United States for an area of one million or more people,” Husing said. Las Vegas is the highest.
Three things helped contribute to the hard economic hit on the Inland Empire.
“People were hit very hard in any part of the US that had large amounts of home construction,” he said. “In California, that was the Inland Empire and Central Valley.”
“The second thing that hurt was the continuance of the long-term decline of the manufacturing sector,” he said. “The third thing was the decline of world trade… which affected the import and export of goods through the ports of LA and Long Beach. A huge portion of that trade is handled in the warehousing and distribution facilities in the Inland Empire. “
Husing said democracy reforms passed recently should help change the landscape in Sacramento, making the state more governable and our elected leaders better able to collaborate and find solutions.
“We have to change how people are elected. A piece of it occurred with redistricting and the top two open primary,” Husing said. He also wants to look into campaign finance reform. “Right now, people are beholden to special interests, rather than people in their own districts.”
Both Husing and Granillo believe coalitions and civic engagement are the best way to find solutions to the Inland Empire’s most pressing problems.