Model for Opening Opportunity, Closing the Wealth Gap Unfolds on the Central Coast

1024 576 Nadine Ono

Watsonville, California (Photo: Flickinpicks/Flickr)

To create a truly inclusive and equitable economy, economic opportunities must be available for everyone. The third pillar of the Regions Rise Together Salinas Investment Blueprint addresses the need to increase access to well-paying jobs, capital, and wealth pathways for communities that traditionally have not been included or have been locked out from these opportunities.

The Salinas Valley has a poverty rate near 17%, and for many, the help cannot come soon enough. “It’s just become so unsustainable for people who are working and raising families and trying to raise children,” said Tim McManus, lead organizer at Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA), a regional nonprofit. “Between housing costs, childcare costs, the wages are too low, it’s almost impossible for people to keep up.”

The Regions Rise Together Salinas Investment Blueprint outlines three priorities addressing better wages, entrepreneurship and wealth pathways that could help those living in the region achieve economic success.

Expand High-Road Jobs

This priority dovetails with the Blueprint’s Human Capital pillar aimed at increasing access to jobs and careers that provide a livable wage and benefits. Programs such as those offered at Hartnell College which prepare the next generation for jobs in agriculture technology, healthcare or aviation – areas that need trained workers – can improve a family’s earnings and financial stability.

Another path to expand economic opportunity is the need for more childcare slots and a bigger childcare workforce also outlined in the Human Capital pillar.

“What you have is a ton of work in the care economy (childcare, home care, nursing facilities),” said McManus. “It tends to be work that really exploits immigrant labor — really unstable. So, you make that into really good work, good jobs and you totally change the economy that way.” McManus advocates for the public sector to step in and help shape the market much as it does for other important sectors of the economy, including food and energy.

Grow the Ecosystem of Entrepreneurship

The focus of this priority is to grow local entrepreneurship by improving access to tools that can support new business creation. The Community Solutions within the Blueprint recommends expanding investments in local community-based organizations to assist aspiring entrepreneurs in getting their businesses started.

Carmen Herrera-Mansir is executive director of El Pájaro Community Development Corporation, which has helped people for more than 40 years transform their lives through entrepreneurship through a multi-prong strategy that includes training, loans and business incubation.

“For businesses to succeed,” explained Herrera. “You need an ecosystem of services and resources for businesses to receive. Organizations like ours play a very important role because we are a trusted messenger and a trusted advisor in the community.”

As an example, El Pájaro has helped small businesses grow through their retail business incubator and commercial kitchen incubator, both located in Watsonville.

Herrera added, “Obviously resources are important, but you also need access to financing, access to space, language access, technology access. We are doing a lot of that right now.”

Create Wealth Pathways

Access to higher paying jobs and business ownership will allow families to create wealth pathways that can change the economic future of their families.

“Any increase in wage is good for our families,” said Dr. Carissa Purnell, director of Alisal Family Resource Centers, who noted that many of the families her organizations services spend 70-to-80% of their income on housing. “Imagine what it would be like to have a little bit of money to invest, to build wealth in your family and something that’s generational instead of just living moment to moment.”

The Regions Rise Together Salinas Investment Blueprint turns to local community-based organizations to work with new businesses to support the development of new enterprise models and attract new and innovative capital investment, a cultural and linguistic appropriate program to provide capital support and legal assistance to farmworkers for land acquisition, entrepreneurship, and the ability access banking and investment learning opportunities and expanded financial services support and debt relief for working families.

The investment for the Economic Opportunity Expansion focus area of the Investment Blueprint is $515 million, which could come from federal, state and philanthropic sources. The governor’s 2022-23 budget includes funds that could help achieve the Blueprint goals, including:

  • $600 million to foster strategic planning for communities to map out the development of sustainable and equitable regional economic and workforce strategies and $250 million to support collaboration among regional workforce partners and K-12 and higher education systems to streamline occupational pathways that address regional needs and lead to high-paying, in-demand careers.
  • $2.9 billion to supporting educator initiatives to recruit and train teachers and expand pipelines toward the state’s most pressing workforce needs.
  • Significant investments to support the state’s small businesses, including tax relief for businesses impacted by the pandemic, fee waivers for new businesses to encourage business growth, additional funding to bolster existing grant programs and technical assistance centers, and new programs to support entrepreneurs.
  • $10 billion to reauthorize the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), initially created in 2010, to strengthen state programs that support financing of small businesses.

Regions Rise Together Salinas is a collaborative initiative involving local community leaders spearheaded by the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership with support from California Forward and The James Irvine Foundation.


Nadine Ono

All stories by: Nadine Ono