Inland Empire residents wait at a San Bernardino train stop. (Photo Credit:Steve Wilson)
Paul Granillo thinks the Inland Empire has some catching up to do. If California's fastest-growing region and its 4.3 million people were a state, it would be the 25th largest in the country. And yet the expansive area east of Los Angeles, where one in two residents in cities like Riverside and San Bernardino will soon be Latino, continues to struggle to find its economic footing. The Inland Empire has the highest unemployment in the country among regions with over a million people—putting it in the same company as cities like Detroit.
“But who knows that?” says Granillo, president and CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, a coalition of businesses and local governments committed to developing the region's economy. “Our challenges are many, but at the root of them is this: We just grew so fast [over the last forty years], we're still playing catch-up in our infrastructure. And by that I mean not just roads and freeways and pipes, but especially in leadership.”
In the last year, Granillo's group has taken an important step toward meeting this leadership challenge by creating the first-of-its-kind Inland Empire Latino Leadership and Policy Institute.
The institute, one of eleven regional innovations recently profiled in a California Stewardship Network report, aims to do this by tackling what Granillo views as his region's preeminent challenge: The Inland Empire has the fourth largest Latino population in the country—behind only Los Angeles, New York, and Houston. And while Latinos will soon make up more than half the population, less than 8 percent of Latino adults have a bachelor's degree.
Until the Inland Empire region—and California as a state—develops a plan for improving Latino college completion rates, Granillo believes, it will struggle to build a lasting economic foundation.”We have a blue-collar workforce, one dependent on manufacturing and goods movement and construction when it comes back,” Granillo says of the Inland Empire. “Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the region, and they have the lowest education attainment rates. We can't have a sustainable workforce without focusing on Latino student success.”
The new Latino Leadership and Policy Institute is designed to take up the hard work of building that workforce pipeline—one of the top priorities identified in last year's California Economic Summit. Granillo’s group is one of dozens regional organizations across the state that are working together through the summit to pursue a shared agenda that will help create jobs and keep California competitive.
Since then, the Summit's Workforce Development Action Team has worked to assist regions with the same challenges as the Inland Empire—supporting the passage of two bills (SB 1070 and SB 1402) that will better align the state's community colleges with their region's economies.
The Inland Empire institute's next major step will be the launch this summer of a new leadership academy for Latino executives in the public and private sector—part of an effort to drive more conversation between business leaders and the Latino community about how they can work together.
“We're going to focus on the basics of the economy of the Inland Empire,” says Granillo, who expects the first academy class to include between 35-50 mid- and top-level executives. “We'll put [academy members] in contact with business leaders and public sector leaders so they can hear what those CEOs are looking for, what they expect them to know, and what kinds of tasks they see in a future workforce.”
The Economic Summit is working to scale upsimilar efforts statewide by seeding and leveraging funding for regional partnerships—supporting eight industry-driven regional collaboratives last year that earned grant funding from the California Community College Chancellor's Office. The Inland Empire has also joined a statewide effort supported by the Summit to mobilize around “clusters of opportunity.” The region has developed an action plan focused on building a pipeline into the region's growing health sector, in particular, by encouraging students early in school to choose health careers and working to retain local physicians. The Inland Empire is also focusing on developing its green transportation economy, training mechanics to convert vehicles, promoting leasing of electric vehicles for goods movement, and educating firms about incentives for retrofits.
Granillo's new institute is making an effort to ensure this expanded workforce pipeline flows both ways. The group is already hosting seminars for business leaders on the economic impact and cultural nuances of working with the Latino community.”The same would be true if we had majority of African-Americans or Asian-Americans in the community,” says Granillo. “Especially in business or marketing, you need to know who your customers are, their issues—that's just good business.”
The institute's other efforts
The Stewardship Network report also highlights some of the institute's other efforts to expand the Inland Empire's workforce:
- Future Physician Leaders Program – Led by Dr. Raul Ruiz in partnership with U.C. Riverside Medical School, the program mentors Latino students interested in becoming physicians and working in medically under-served regions. The program includes a community service component where students work in groups to address a community health issue. Partnerships have been developed with hospitals and clinics around the Inland Empire to host students and sponsor volunteer projects.
- Inland Empire Future Leaders Program – Since 1986, the Inland Empire Future Leaders Program has run a week-long camp for Latino middle schools students, instilling self-esteem and developing cultural awareness and leadership skills. The program is run by an all-volunteer staff, many of whom are former campers. The program includes workshops on academic preparation, applying for college and financial aid, and getting involved in extra-curricular activities such as student government. To date, over 95 percent of participating students go on to graduate from high school.
- Praxis Initiative – In partnership with Cal State San Bernardino and local school districts, the Praxis initiative uses a collaborative, research-based approach to address the dropout crisis among Inland Empire youth. The initiative started in Colton High School where truancy rates were on the rise. Through community focus groups and interviews, the Praxis team discovered that most students who were chronically late or absent from school were responsible for taking their younger brothers and sisters to school, making them late for high school. By uncovering this core problem, the school was able to work more effectively with families to identify solutions that met their needs.
- LGBT Parent Support Group – Dr. David Chavez, a Clinical Psychologist at Cal State San Bernardino is running a parent support group for Latino families with LGBT high school students. By working to combat stigma, the group is creating a more supportive environment for LGBT youth in the Latino community.
This article is part of a new series profiling successful initiatives by the Economic Summit's regional partners to create jobs and keep California's regional economies competitive. These regional innovations were featured in the recent California Stewardship Network report, Regional Innovations: Promising Practices from the California Stewardship Network.