Even as frustration grows to a fever pitch throughout California about the sluggish economic climate and persistent governance issues, many found reason for hope at the East Bay Economic Development Alliance (EDA)’s strategic planning workshop.
Hundreds of leaders from Contra Costa and Alameda Counties gathered in Concord this week to discuss the EDA’s new report Building On Our Assets: Economic Development & Job Creation in the East Bay.
EDA Executive Director Karen Engel emphasized the East Bay’s strengths, including a diversified workforce, world-class research and development institutions, innovative industries and central location with strong infrastructure.
“We are thrilled to have a cross-section of the East Bay engaged in planning initiatives to keep the region competitive. Building a stronger economy requires everyone’s involvement; ultimately, we all benefit when prosperity is shared,” said Engel.
Despite the optimism contained in the report, grave concerns about the impact of state government dysfunction on local communities loomed large among attendees.
Carolyn Nelson, Dean of Education and Allied Studies at CSU East Bay, was one of the nearly 100 people attending the breakout session on Workforce Development & Education. She summed up her frustration with California’s current system by saying, “Siloes are expensive.” The group then explored ways to for government to better organize and collaborate with each other and with business.
Cheryl O’Connor, EDA Board Member representing the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area, reported on the discussion from the Infrastructure and Land Use breakout Group. She said it is important to generate solutions with developers including (1) encouraging the Contra Costa Council to reinstate their recognition for cities that stand out from a land use perspective; (2) supporting a gas tax through collaboration with partners like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group; and (3) educating voters about all of these issues.
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson (Alameda County) who chairs the East Bay EDA challenged people to “make this more than a report that just sits up on a shelf” by taking action. He lauded Engel for her leadership, but emphasized that no one agency, including the EDA, can do all that needs to get done alone.
Many came away with renewed hope and energy. “It was very well planned, and the attendance was impressive,” said Mojdeh Mehdizadeh, Vice Chancellor, Education and Technology for the Contra Costa Community College District. “The work of the break-out groups resulted in tangible priorities.”
Many stressed the importance of putting into practice the recommendations in the EDA report to increase accountability and improve the region’s economic climate, themes echoed in California Forward’s common sense, non-partisan accountability reforms in the Government Performance and Accountability Act (GPAA).
Kristin Connelly is partnerships lead for the Bay Area region.