Road to the Summit: Lessons for California found in Orange County

150 150 Ed Coghlan

Orange County’s economic reputation speaks for itself. (Photo Credit: TangoPango)

When what one leader calls “a very economically savvy region” gets together to discuss the economy, it is wise for the rest of the state to listen.

So when Orange County held its Regional Economic Forum and repeated themes heard elsewhere around the state, you begin to pick up some important cues.

California must improve its transportation infrastructure and in how it prepares its workforce if the state is to attract more business and create jobs.

“It is taking us 6 to 12 months and 500 miles to hire competent people who can do the needed work,” said Frank Ury of Hitachi Data Systems. “We need to be preparing our workforce for these opportunities.”

The Forum, sponsored by the Orange County Business Council, was held as part of 16 regional conversations being held around the state in advance of the California Economic Summit scheduled for November 7-8 in Los Angeles.

The ongoing theme of workforce preparation–one of the Summit’s seven Signature Initiatives–continues to percolate around the state.

Ury, who also serves as Mission Viejo’s mayor, said that the region’s workforce needs to be better balanced in order to attract workers from Orange County for jobs in Orange County.

International trade is a key element of the Orange County, representing 13 percent of the total economy and a robust $25 billion each year.

Another statistic that jumps out is what international trade means to job creation. The average salary of a job related to international trade is $75,000 a year, compared to $52,000, the average Orange County salary now.

“Exporting is easy. The hard part is the manufacturing climate in California, along with transportation and workforce development,” said Michael Snow, President of SnowPure, a San Clemente industrial water technology company.

Snow called Los Angeles International Airport a second class airport and said that Shanghai, Tokyo and Beijing are worthy of comparison of what a 21st century airport should look like.

Another panelist also used Asia as a model, this time when talking about preparing the state’s workforce.

“China, South Korea and other nations have pulled ahead of California schools,” said Noel Massie, President of UPS’ Southern California District.

Massie noted that San Diego’s healthcare cluster and Silicon Valley’s tech economy grew from the University of California and called for a limit on out-of-state students at UC campuses, noting that 25 percent of the students at top UC schools are coming from other states and countries.

Also attending the Forum was Kish Rajan, Governor Brown’s energetic head of GO-Biz” which is working to retain business in the state and improve the climate for job creation.

One area for improvement that is receiving a lot of attention around the state is the regulatory climate in California. Rajan says the state can do better.

“California will always care about consumers, public health, environment and its workers. It’s our culture, who we are,” said Rajan. “But we do not need to tolerate a regulatory climate like the one we have that is so much in our way.”

The meeting seemed to achieve the beginnings of what the respected leader of Orange County Business Council said she had hoped to achieve.

“This year we will review progress, and refine, tweak and add to that economic strategy to further secure our place as a very economically savvy region,” said Lucy Dunn.


Ed Coghlan

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