(photo credit: John Guenther)
Two of the state’s biggest champions of sustainable economic development in California offered stirring tributes to the work of the Economic Summit’s seven action teams in a gathering in San Francisco this week, providing words of encouragement only two weeks before the next Economic Summit in Los Angeles—and emphasizing their commitment to the Summit’s effort to drive a statewide economic strategy that supports the state’s diverse regional economies.
“I’m enthusiastic about the progress that’s been made,” Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom told an assembly of action team members, including environmental advocates, business leaders, and education experts. “I want to make the case for the work [this group] is doing: The idea that someone in Sacramento is going to come down and announce our economic strategy is preposterous. This is about making change from the bottom-up and not relying on a white horse to come save the day. I believe regions are the right scale for this, in all of their diversity.”
Only a few weeks after the governor decided not to sign a piece of legislation that would have explicitly required the state to develop just such a strategy—an idea supported by the Summit—the governor’s top jobs advisor, Michael Rossi, agreed with Newsom, indicating that the Summit itself might even have an opportunity to play this role.
“We can all agree to disagree on what strategy should or shouldn’t exist [at the state level],” Rossi said. “When you look at the history of this state, strategic plans have never been executed in any rational way, but they are a way of focusing people to take stock of where they are and where they’d like to be.”
The Summit’s strategy
The 2013 Summit’s focus on where the state is today—in the midst of an economic recovery that is defining two very different Californias, one coastal and one rural, one rich and one poor, with the middle class increasingly squeezed in between—clearly appealed to Newsom and Rossi, both of whom spoke at last year’s Summit.
“I’m just a simple Italian kid from East Oakland,” Rossi said. “My view is this: Since the end of World War II through the 1970s, economic disparity was shrinking at every level. Since then, it’s gone in the other direction faster than any time in the history of this country—and probably faster than any time in the history of man.”
In the biggest state in the country, home to more billionaires and more people living in poverty than anywhere else in the union, this is emerging as the story of “two Californias.” While Silicon Valley’s freeways may be jammed with traffic and the road to the Hollywood sign may once again be flooded with tourists—good signs of an economy getting back on its feet—there are parts of California where the recession still lingers. In the Inland Empire, four million people face unemployment levels rivaling Detroit’s. The agricultural San Joaquin Valley is still home to some of the poorest congressional districts in the nation. In East Palo Alto, nearly a third of residents are living in poverty, only a few minutes’ drive from the offices of Facebook.
Finding a way to address these disparities—and to lay the foundation for a future of well-paying jobs, a sustainable environment, and equal opportunities for every Californian—is the work of the California Economic Summit.
The road to the Summit
Over the last year, the Summit has served as a forum for more than 1,700 regional leaders from across the state, who have come together in 16 regional meetings to identify shared problems—and to begin developing shared solutions to challenges ranging from California’s deteriorating infrastructure to its growing educational achievement gaps.
Seven action teams worked through the summer to develop a set of action plans that combine these ideas into a comprehensive economic vitality strategy for the state—one with a single underlying goal: to help California thrive again by simultaneously advancing economic growth, environmental quality, and social equity in all regions of California.
To get there, the action teams have offered proposals ranging from improving community colleges’ connections with local economies to promoting new ways to invest in the roads, highways and transit systems the state must build to meets the needs of a growing population.
“Our job,” Newsom said this week, encouraging the action teams to continue looking for ways to unite Californians around their ideas, “is to take these disparate siloes and connect these narratives.”
From the bottom-up
This will also be the focus of the Summit itself on November 7-8 in Los Angeles, where more than 500 business, government, nonprofit, and civic leaders from across the state will review the seven action plans, work with state and local elected officials to outline the keys to implementing them—and commit to championing these efforts over the next year.
“I’m of this opinion: The pyramid has been inverted, and the world that used to exist—where the people on top used to sell down their vision—that day is over,” said Newsom. “The industrial economy in almost every way has atrophied or stalled. The world is being radically recalibrated into something completely different. And our approaches to economic vibrancy must address the world we’re living in.”
With the support of some of the state’s highest-ranking officials, the Summit is working to keep this approach focused on connecting the state’s diverse regions—and giving voice to the nearly 40 million people from San Diego to the Redwood Coast who are doing the hard work of creating jobs, building communities, and keeping California competitive.