Road to the Summit: Redwood Coast sets sights on innovation

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Local business and civic leaders gathered at the Redwood Coast Regional Economic Forum. (Photo Credit: Dave Rosso)

About 50 people gathered at the River Lodge in Fortuna Friday to discuss regional priorities to be presented at the 2013 California Economic Summit to be held in Los Angeles in November.

The Redwood Coast Regional Economic Forum, sponsored by Redwood Coast Rural Action, was the sixteenth and final forum to be held in California this year. The first forum of 2013 was held in April in San Diego.

Jacqueline Debets, Humboldt County Economic Development Coordinator, painted a rosy outlook for Humboldt County reminiscent of the stance she took at last year’s forum: “The old story hurts – dead fish and dead trees. It’s a deep, dark hole that leads to nowhere.”

Debets said the county’s jobs grew last year at 14 percent and real wages grew by 36 percent. She added that Humboldt County has the highest regional “innovative capacity” at 23 percent, ahead of the U.S. average high of 19.5 percent and higher than Mendocino County’s 23 percent. This is an important indicator of how the region fares as a source of inventions and new technology. Areas that become important sources of innovative capacity usually develop faster economically, attract highly skilled populations, and experience rising incomes.

Debets listed the region’s industry priorities as:

  • Business climate/permit certainty
  • Goods movement infrastructure of connectivity
  • Education and training for a quality workforce
  • Preparation of land/building for re-use
  • Quality of life

As a way of developing priorities for the North Coast, participants in Friday’s forum were given a subject to discuss with a different subject at each table. There were at least a dozen subjects and some of the suggestions included:

  • Public safety – “Education of judges and prosecutors of domestic violence issues.”
  • Attract youth – “Getting the heart and soul back into our community.”
  • Work force – “Redirect funding from national defense to local sustainability for a stronger economy and nation.”
  • Regulation – “The Coastal Commission is over the top strangling local initiatives.”
  • Water – “Prioritize addressing illegal activities in the forests and watersheds.”
  • Transportation – “Using under developed Humboldt Bay as a port, connecting the Sacramento Valley by rail.”

Chart showing the voting results for the “Innovation” first priority

At the conclusion of the forum, moderator Kathleen Moxon polled the attendees for their priorities to send to the teams working on the package for November’s Los Angeles summit.
Among the responses were:

  • 38 percent want to see increased investment in career technical education in high-demand fields, including health care;
  • under infrastructure, 22 percent support developing a comprehensive energy infrastructure plan that is future-oriented and addresses regional energy priorities;
  • in regulations, 44 percent favor modifications of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act;
  • in innovation, 28 percent want to  both create and support advanced manufacturing initiatives throughout California and promoting the establishment of high-tech business incubators and accelerators;
  • in capital, 29 percent’s first choice is to both increase access to capital in under-served communities and create regional seed funds to increase small business access to capital; and
  • in working landscapes, 46 percent prioritized increased investment in rural and natural resource-based economies.

Dave Rosso

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