(Photo: Micah Weinberg/CAFwd)
Often referred to as the “IE” or the “909,” the Inland Empire is a large geographic location with a growing population where incomes are declining relative to the entire state. While the region, which includes Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, has experienced job and business growth in recent years, it still faces challenges both distinct from and similar to other inland areas of the state.
That’s why the Inland Empire’s civic, educational, philanthropic and business leaders gathered with the State’s economic development team at California State University San Bernardino last week to begin work on Regions Rise Together. It was the first of several joint strategy sessions to gather input from local stakeholders to understand the challenges that face the regions as well as assets that can be utilized for future economic growth.
“I’m excited about hearing the diverse voices from different sectors, different parts of the Inland Empire coming together to talk about the future of the region that they want to see,” said Lenny Mendonca, the chief economic and business advisor to Governor Gavin Newsom and director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). “One that is robust, exciting, job-creating, growing and much more inclusive and sustainable. So it’s great to see all the voices in the room engaged in that conversation.”
Regions Rise Together is led by GO-Biz and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) in partnership with CA Fwd and the California Stewardship Network. Regions Rise Together was announced earlier this year by Mendoca and OPR’s Kate Gordon.
The Inland Empire’s population is about 4.6 million and is about to pass the population of Louisiana, which would make it the 24th largest state. Its challenges include lack of affordable housing (although more affordable than nearby metropolitan areas, still unattainable for many residents), lack of living wage jobs and educational attainment. There are also important assets that can be used to not only lift the region but contribute to the entire State and beyond.
“We’re a very young population. We’re dynamic. We continue to grow. There are all kinds of possibilities that can come with that growth,” explained Paul Granillo, president and CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership (IEEP). “What the Inland Empire does for international trade and for us as a society — receiving the clothes we want or the things we want — a lot of that is because of what we’re doing. We’re a world leader in that and I think that’s another attribute that we have.”
IEEP, along with the Center for Social Innovation at University of California Riverside, The Community Foundation and California State University San Bernardino served as local hosts for the convening.
CSUSB President Tomas Morales sees its role in educating local professionals as vital to the region’s success. “When you look at Cal State San Bernardino graduates, it’s a zero degree of separation. When you go into any public school, accounting office, non-profit agency, you will see our graduates. The impact that Cal State San Bernardino plays in this region is incredible.” Morales added that 85 percent of CSUSB students live in Riverside or San Bernardino County, as does 75 percent of the University’s alumni.
Balancing the region’s challenges and assets will be key to future economic success said The Community Foundation President and CEO Michelle Decker: “We going to have to keep promoting what’s wonderful and what the assets are because there’s history there and perception. But increasingly people want the Inland Empire and the Central Valley at the table in discussions.”
In 2019, Regions Rise Together is focusing on the eight-county San Joaquin Valley and the two-county Inland Empire. Friday’s joint strategy session is San Bernardino was the first. The others include:
- Kern County and Southern San Joaquin Valley in Bakersfield on September 25
- Central and Northern San Joaquin Valley in Merced on October 3
- North State in Redding on October 7
“We’re calling them joint strategy sessions for a reason and that is because this is an ongoing process where we’re synching up the great work that’s happening on the regional level with the support that can come from the state,” said CA Fwd CEO Micah Weinberg. “This is an important meeting, the California Economic Summit in Fresno is another important point, but really it’s a multi-year ongoing relationship between the state and the regions improving.” The California Economic Summit will take place in Fresno November 7-8.
Regional leaders are optimistic that this initiative will move the needle toward creating more economic growth throughout the State. “We have an opportunity right now to really help showcase what the Inland Empire is, the opportunities that are here,” said Patrick Ellis, president and CEO of the Murrieta/Wildomar Chamber of Commerce. “We have a Governor in place who really understands the potential for the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. With all the right people working together and moving in the right direction, we can really be very successful in doing that.”