Road to the Summit: Building a plan for a rural economic revival in Butte

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(Photo Credit: Susan Lovenburg)

Speaking Wednesday at an economic forum in Chico, state senator Jim Nielsen championed the idea of a rural renaissance for the economy of the Butte region of California.

“It’s only going to get worse from Sacramento,” he said, “It’s only going to get better here.”

In 2012, community leaders launched the Chico Stewardship Network to promote the region’s people, place and economy. They believed that communities work best when citizens adopt a widespread ethic that engages everyone to participate in the success of their community.

“We’re here to practice the art of self-governance together,” said Rory Rottschalk, opening the North State Regional Economic Forum on Wednesday. “We will create a conversation between engaged citizens and state policymakers so that real issues find a home at the state policy level.” 

The forum’s Briefing Book gave a rundown on the state of the rural region’s economy and showed the unemployment rate has dropped significantly but still stands around 14.3 percent, high above the statewide number.

Becky Morgan, former state senator and founder of the California Stewardship Network, continued the regional stewardship theme and suggested organizing regionally may make more sense than the school district, city, county or state level.

“What the state needs doesn’t have a lot to do with boundaries,” said Morgan. “The question is, what boundary works for the people of Butte based on the needs here?”

So what’s lacking to fuel the economic engine of the Butte region? Speakers noted the need to continue to invest in education and develop the workforce, to expand broadband access, and to encourage collaboration across local jurisdictions. And connecting the region’s products to the larger national and global economies is key to success.

The forum focused on two successful regional initiatives: accessible capital for growing and start-up businesses and creating manufacturing jobs in the region.

Jack Coots spoke of the vision of Innovate North State to transform the region into the most economically competitive, non-metro region in the United States by 2017 by focusing on innovation-based growth companies. It’s all about connecting to compete, said Coots, and “connecting with national and global customers, talent, media, research and the like-minded.”  (Check out our blog on the work of Innovate North State here.) 

Likewise Marc Nemanic, executive director of 3CORE, spoke of the need for capital, collaboration and coaching. New and growing companies need the support of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. His company aims to support them with small loans for which they may not qualify through traditional lending institutions. The philanthropic seed fund is set up for social return: business growth, job creation and leveraging local private investment.

Related: Read more about 3CORE’s seed fund in our blog.

The priorities that are set at the Summit’s Regional Forums, like Wednesday’s Butte region event, will inform the agenda at the second annual California Economic Summit in Los Angeles on November 7-8. 


Susan Lovenburg

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