Hundreds Gather Virtually To Discuss a More Inclusive and Sustainable California

600 300 Ed Coghlan

From an economic crisis spurred by a global pandemic to the growing calls for social justice in the midst of civil unrest, the past few months have made it abundantly clear that California cannot afford to go back to the way things were.

That’s why California Forward (CA Fwd), the California Stewardship Network, and California Economic Summit partners, along with state and local leaders, joined in a virtual meeting Tuesday to reinforce the immediate need to bring about systemic change. The momentum around this call for change is strong and growing, as witnessed by the near 500 people who joined the meeting.

“The recent events have magnified the deep inequities and injustices in our communities,” said Micah Weinberg, CEO of CA Fwd. “We must listen and lift up voices in our communities and diverse regions across the state if we are to rebuild a more inclusive and sustainable California where all communities can prosper.”

CA Fwd and its partners put on the California Economic Summit each year which attracts hundreds of Californians interested in triple bottom strategies that focus on the economy, environment and equity. It’s that last part—equity—that was a particular focus of Tuesday’s plenary session.

As Lande Ajose, the senior policy advisor for higher education for Governor Gavin Newsom said in a panel on creating an equitable recovery, “Everyone is better off when the most vulnerable are better off.”

Tara Lynn Gray, president and CEO of the Fresno Black Metro Chamber of Commerce, urged the audience to “get comfortable in having uncomfortable conversations” about race and equity.

Cesar Lara of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council called for a 2020 version of the New Deal that helps people, services, and infrastructure in California.

There are lot of good things happening in California that are improving regional economies—like the Fresno DRIVE initiative, which just received a $15 million grant from the James Irvine Foundation to develop an inclusive, vibrant, and sustainable economy for residents in the greater Fresno region. Yet the knowledge sharing and adaptation to other regions often doesn’t happen.

The University of California’s Glenda Humiston said “California has some of the brightest, most innovative people anywhere on the planet, but we’re not good at leveraging our knowledge and our resources.” Humiston listed off examples that could be duplicated elsewhere, like the Humboldt County Fairgrounds business incubator, the City of Los Angeles’ Good Food Purchasing program, a rural area supply chain for innovative wood products created from biomass.

“We’ve got to stop reinventing the wheel,” she said.

The California housing crisis didn’t escape attention either. While we often think of our housing issue as an urban challenge—the truth is there is a housing shortage in every one of California’s 58 counties, as we were reminded by Heidi Hill Drum who leads the Tahoe Prosperity Center and serves as co-chair of the California Stewardship Network.

“We have to streamline housing development,” she said. “It can be green and innovative to be sure, but local, county and state governments must help to make it faster.”

Chris Dombrowski, the interim director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) reminded everyone that California is simultaneously dealing with a health crisis and an economic crisis at the same time.

And Julian Parra, chair of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, stressed that inclusive growth must include more skilled talent, economically stable jobs and resulting thriving households.

“No matter the zip code, everyone should have access to good jobs and education,” he said.

For Maria Salinas, the new head of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the recovery from this COVID-inspired recession doesn’t mean going back in time. “We can’t recover and build what we had before,” she said. “We have to build it new.”

The final panel of the Plenary Session was the most inspirational as two members of the CA Fwd Youth Advisory Council, Michael Wiafe and Karla Martinez gave the audience a sense of how the people who will influence the future are looking at today’s events.

Wiafe pointed to using technology more efficiently to address racial and economic inequality and Martinez pointed out that online education, child care and food access are areas that every community must address.

The voice of the youth has been too often missing in discussions about the future of California which is why CA Fwd is developing a movement of young leaders committed to an intergenerational approach to solution-building for a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous California.

To watch to the 90-minute plenary session and all other workshop sessions, visit

Breakout sessions covered how regions are recovering and rebuilding, including:

  • Making Regional Planning Deliver for Inclusion and Equity
  • Best Practices for Business Resilience and Innovation Funds
  • Leveraging Regional Workforce Programs for Economic Recovery
  • Maximizing Regional Impact of Federal and State Funding
  • Effective Cross-Sector Collaboration on Economic Reopening

More reporting on those topics and sessions will be forthcoming.

“Building a stronger, more equitable California together is job one,” added Weinberg. “The work we accomplished this week will build on those efforts.”

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


Ed Coghlan

All stories by: Ed Coghlan