(photo credit: wietse?)
Originally published in the Press Enterprise.
When the California Economic Summit is held in Los Angeles on Nov. 7 and 8, we will be focused on several initiatives that need to be addressed if the state is going to truly and permanently restore our economic competitiveness and create long-term meaningful jobs.
The summit — a collaboration by California Forward and the California Stewardship Network — is a process that is unique in California. It is the only state effort aimed at fixing the state’s economy by addressing the obvious: California is not one economy; we are much too big and diverse to fit that easy of a description. Rather, we are a series of diverse, and often complex, regional economies.
We have plenty in common, and much that is not.
There have been 16 regional meetings held around key locations in California identifying high priority areas that can be improved. Nearly 2,000 Californians attended these meetings, and the Inland Empire session was held in April.
When the results of the regional meetings were tabulated, the checklist of important issues that impact the state’s economy numbered seven. How to modernize our water and transportation infrastructure, how we better prepare our workforce for the 21st century, and how we can advance manufacturing were mentioned in every region of the state. In addition, a key objective of the summit is to explore how we modernize regulations, address the state’s housing needs, analyze the use of our working lands in urban and rural areas and make sure that small businesses and entrepreneurs can find capital to start and grow their businesses.
And, there’s another important issue that hovers over this summit and over California. It’s an issue we are very familiar with in the Inland Empire.
It is the uneven nature of the state’s economy.
In 2008, the state’s economy was rocked by the near collapse of the national economy. The pain was felt in all corners of our state. But since the recovery has begun, progress has been much better in regions such as the Silicon Valley, San Francisco and San Diego than in our area.
In fact, while there are exceptions, generally the coastal areas of the state have recovered nicely, most of them with unemployment rates below the 8.9 percent state figure. But here in the Inland Empire, up in the San Joaquin Valley and down in Imperial County, the recovery hasn’t been so good. In fact, there hasn’t been much of a recovery at all. The Inland Empire has the highest unemployment rate in the entire nation for a region with more than 1 million people — higher than even Detroit! The national media has begun to take notice.
It is this message — the tale of two California economies — that I will help convey at the summit. The message is that no economic recovery of California will be complete until the Inland Empire and other inland regions recover as well. The success of the Inland Empire economy adds to the success of the state recovery which, given the size of California, adds to the national and global economy.
It is not only a matter of attracting jobs to the Inland Empire, although that task keeps the Inland Empire Economic Partnership working 24/7. It’s also about thinking about tomorrow. The Inland Empire has a large Latino population — roughly 50 percent of us are Latinos in the Inland Empire.
As a region, we must invest in educational improvement, in leadership development and in workforce training. Our present says it needs to be done. Our future demands that we succeed.
The Inland Empire is a very important piece of the state’s puzzle, and it is imperative that it be involved in the state’s recovery.
Paul Granillo is president and CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership (IEEP), and co-chairman of the California Economic Summit Steering Committee.