Efforts to understand the economic challenges and assets of California’s diverse regions has become even more vital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019, Regions Rise Together was launched by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) in partnership with California Forward (CA Fwd) and our California Stewardship Network.
The effort continues in 2020 with strategy sessions focused on inclusive regional planning as a centerpiece of the economic recovery to develop high-road economic development and a more sustainable economy.
“CA Fwd is proud to take the lead on Regions Rise Together in 2020 with an expanded effort that has taken on even more urgency due to the public health crisis induced recession and the need to address long-standing racial inequities in the state,” said Micah Weinberg, CEO of CA Fwd.
Last week, a diverse group of cross-sector partners took the next step in advancing their inclusive planning process, holding meetings for the Salinas Valley and the North San Joaquin Valley regions.
Regions Rise Together Salinas Valley
Led by the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership and CA Fwd, regional partners met with Sankofa Consulting who provided an overview of the framework they will be using to facilitate the group's inclusive planning process, which will yield a long-term investment plan for the region.
“Our local team has placed racial equity at the center of this work since our very first meeting,” said Kate Roberts, president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership. “We are excited about the opportunity to create a blueprint that outlines a pathway to impact, and the sequence of activities and investments needed to achieve an inclusive economy. This project has the potential to unlock current barriers by addressing their root causes.”
Next steps for this process will include a series of informational interviews with regional stakeholders during the month of August.
Roberts added, “Now, in this time of COVID-19, the need for an inclusive economic plan is more critical than ever.”
Regions Rise Together North San Joaquin Valley
CA Fwd joined the Community Foundation of San Joaquin, City of Merced, and Stanislaus Community Foundation in co-hosting an exploratory meeting with more than 40 cross-sector leaders from the Counties of Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus.
“Even though it’s challenging to think long-term in the midst of a crisis, it’s actually the perfect opportunity to imagine new identities, investments and infrastructure that can be more resilient, more just, and more equitable,” said Marian Kaanon, president and CEO of the Stanislaus Community Foundation. “Our virtual convening sparked inspiration and commitment to rebuild our economy in new ways, and we’re incredibly excited to begin this work together.”
Participants heard from an impressive lineup of speakers, which included CA Fwd CEO Micah Weinberg and Egon Terplan of California Strategic Growth Council who both emphasized the importance of acting regionally as civic stewards with a triple-bottom-line framework of equity, environment and economy.
Dr. Jeffrey Michael from the University of the Pacific presented compelling data making the case for a three-county identity that in many ways is interconnected and interdependent on the neighboring regions of Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and the Northern California mega region.
“If we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic it is that the time to reimaging the future is now,” said Stephanie Dietz, interim city manager for the City of Merced. “Our community is counting on local leaders to think beyond the boundaries of agency, hear the community’s true needs and to develop equitable solutions for all of the Northern San Joaquin Valley to rise as region.”
Ashley Swearengin, CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation delivered inspirational comments on the Fresno DRIVE initiative, considered a successful model of inclusive economic planning. Swearengin described the challenges of convening a diverse set of stakeholders around a common agenda and of setting a 10-year course of action for the Greater Fresno region.
Regional participants concluded that they were committed to launching an inclusive planning process with racial equity at the center to tackle long-standing inequalities and yield a long-term investment plan for the region.
“The beginning of the beginning,” added Moses Zapien, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of San Joaquin.
These two efforts, along with those in the Capitol Region, Bakersfield and Inland Empire, are all examples of the type of inclusive economic development championed by the California Economic Summit and embraced by AB 3205 from Assemblymember Rudy Salas.
Regions Rise Together efforts in 2020 also include Kern County, Imperial Valley, South East Los Angeles and the Redwood Coast.