Road to the Summit: Monterey economy faces Darwinian moment

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(Photo Credit: Randy Tunnell)

On Thursday, the Monterey region joined fifteen other regions around the state, identifying actions the state could take to support their local job creation efforts. For many, this was their first encounter with the California Economic Summit. They jumped right into the action, debating challenges and solutions during a working lunch then closing out the day by voting on top priorities.

“A piece of criticism that will never be leveled at organizers of a regional economic summit held in Seaside on Thursday is that they are timid about taking on daunting issues,” said a story in The Californian about the forum.

Mary Ann Leffel, president of forum host Monterey County Business Council, said the Monterey Bay Region is poised for change, while maintaining its unique characteristics, major industries and natural beauty.

The three major industry clusters – agriculture, hospitality and higher education/research – make the region globally competitive and offer great benefit to area residents. Yet the unemployment rate, 12.3 percent, is higher than the state average and per capita income recently dipped below average.

But, the region is strategically located close California’s high-tech hub which could help boost the economic strengths of the region.

“By harnessing … the innovation technology of Silicon Valley and the agriculture/aquaculture base from Salinas Valley to our coast, we could create a new model of economic growth,” said Capt. Wayne Porter, from the Naval Postgraduate School, being quoted in the Monterey County Herald, and who also spoke at the forum.

The group identified infrastructure investments as their number one economic priority, followed by workforce development and then addressing regulations.

“We need to coalesce around an economic strategy that will embrace the past and present, moving us from dozens of organizations working independently, to a broad vision we can all work collectively to implement,” stated the forum’s Briefing Book prepared for the day’s discussion.

Porter continued that theme: “We face a Darwinian moment – the need to adapt to survive.” He cited the work of organizations like Steinbeck Innovation, a network of regional groups trying to drive innovation in local manufacturing and agriculture.

Priorities for action that attendees chose included:

  • Workforce: develop strategies that support the creation, growth and sustainability of small businesses including best practices like the National Career Readiness Certificate
  • Infrastructure: maintain adequate water and waste systems
  • Regulation: encourage cities, counties and public agencies (including the California Coastal Commission) to proactively engage and work with private sector and each other to streamline regulations
  • Innovation: expand and create networks throughout the region to stimulate partnerships, economic development and job creation among industry clusters
  • Capital: invest in local businesses and economies

Leffel encouraged participants to attend the 2013 California Economic Summit in Los Angeles on November 7-8: “I attended last year and found it very valuable. You will meet people who really want to make the right choices for this state.”


Susan Lovenburg

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