High hopes for California Economic Summit

150 150 Laura Tyson and Julie Meier Wright

Dr. Emmett Carson, CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation addresses the Silicon Valley regional forum in Santa
Clara, CA at the start of an energetic discussion on the economy. (Photo credit: Tomas Ovalle)

Originally published in the San Jose Mercury News.

The first California Economic Summit will be held in Santa Clara this Friday.

We know what some of you are thinking: Will this be worth the time? Or will this wind up as just another report on the California economy that gathers dust?

The timing for the summit is perfect. Californians are ready to act. They are tired of waiting for our policymakers to act. They want to create jobs. They believe that California can compete in the global marketplace. We know this because we have been having conversations with our citizens in 14 regional forums throughout California over the last two months.

California’s economy is not just one economy. Rather, it’s a series of diverse regional economies.

The Summit is neither a top-down, one-size-fits-all Sacramento solution, nor is it a policy-wonk process. Rather, it is attracting real Californians on the front lines of their regional economies who are coming to Santa Clara to continue the work that they have started on five priorities:

  • Smart Workforce. While California has too many people out of work, we also have found out that there are not enough qualified workers. One steel company executive in California’s slowly recovering manufacturing sector told us that workforce preparation is not just a California problem, it is a national problem. The opportunity here is to strengthen the state’s talent pipeline that can meet the skill needs of this ever-changing economy.
  • Smart Infrastructure. California has $765 billion in needed infrastructure, including roads, transit, bridges, water and public facilities. The Summit will identify ways to improve our existing infrastructure and to finance new infrastructure, as well as solutions for our chronic water woes.
  • Smart Innovation. Californians think that we practically invented innovation. We still lead the world in technology, in agriculture, and in entertainment. However, this is no time to be complacent. With our world-class universities and research institutes, there is much that we can do to move ideas from the lab to the market and to help entrepreneurs succeed. Policies that foster innovation across all industries are critical to strengthening regional economies.
  • Smart Capital. All of this work won’t mean much if businesses aren’t able to raise money. At every one of the Regional Forums, entrepreneurs implored: Help us find the money! There are already many public and private programs that can help but are not being used. Promoting them and finding new ways to connect investors with working capital are critical.
  • Smart Regulations. California has the reputation of being a tough place to do business. At the Los Angeles Regional Forum, the emphasis was “more red carpet and less red tape.” Uncertainty created by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) came up across the state. Regions developed ideas that protect the noble intent of CEQA — high environmental standards — but use non-environmental reasons to limit the actions of those who use CEQA.

The regional forums have created energy and ideas and champions headed to the summit with an agenda for action.

As May 11 approaches, we realize we have an ambitious agenda. We also know that our work won’t be concluded at the summit. It is a continuation of what started in the regional forums and represents a real opportunity to reach consensus among California’s diverse regions to make commitments for moving forward. Look for two outcomes: actionable proposals and champions to make sure they happen.

Trust us. The California Economic Summit will be worth the time.


Laura Tyson is the S.K. and Angela Chan Professor of Global Management at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, and former chairwoman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. Julie Meier Wright is former Secretary of Trade and Commerce for California.


Laura Tyson and Julie Meier Wright

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