Road to the Summit: Sierra forum highlights strengths, problems of rural economy

150 150 Susan Lovenburg

The Sierra Nevada ecosystem produces about $2.2 billion in products and services for the California economy. (Photo Credit: Rob Shenk/Flickr)

Governor Brown’s economic development leader had a clear message for participants of the 2013 Gold Country Prosperity Summit in Loomis on Monday.

“It is important that those who govern in Sacramento understand that California is not one monolithic economy. It is a series regional economies, each with its own strengths, challenges and opportunities. I understand that. Governor Brown understands that. And he’s leading the economic development effort in this state.”

Kish Rajan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), joined more than 125 participants of the Prosperity Summit who came together to set priorities for local and state action to create jobs and boost quality of life. The Sierra Nevada event, hosted by the Sierra Business Council, is one of sixteen regional forums being held around the state leading up the 2013 California Economic Summit in Los Angeles this November.

Sierra business and civic leaders are motivated to improve their region’s economy, which, as rural economies have historically done, is lagging behind the recovery of urban areas.

While per capita income in the Sierra is improving, at $35,148 it still trails the state average of $44,550.

The region also faces 13 percent unemployment, as shown in the Prosperity Summit’s Briefing Book which provided some background on the state of the local economy.

Attendees worked on setting some regional priorities to tackle issues that hinder rural economies, like less access to capital and broadband, and also to promote the economic strengths of the region such as its natural resources which are estimated to produce $2.2 billion for the California economy.

The group zeroed in on four key areas: accessing community capital, alternative energy and conservation, sustainable business planning and practices and strengthening the local economy.

So what are the priorities?

  • Better leverage existing assets and resources locally

  • Improve transportation and broadband connectivity

  • Launch a regional capital collaborative to invest locally

  • Advance a working landscapes initiative at the California Economic Summit so that urban regions understand the direct benefit of good stewardship of rural lands

  • Educate businesses on the benefits of sustainable practices

  • Benchmark and monitor progress of sustainable initiatives

  • Join voices for better and stronger advocacy

Participants also expressed a continuing interest streamlining the permitting process and reforming CEQA, both signature initiatives of the 2012 Summit.

“What a home run you all hit getting the attention of state policy leaders on this issue,” said Rajan. He indicated his office will take the lead on regulatory reform, as the Governor and the Legislature grapple with modernizing CEQA. (Read CAeconomy coverage of the CEQA modernization debate here.)

Jeff Bordelon of Placer Sustain, summed up the stewardship mission of the day: “It’s time to step forward and take responsibility for our future. There is no need to wait for funding, authority, sanction or whatever. There is much we can accomplish with the resources we have at hand. We can integrate our values into our economic development. It’s time to start now.”

Video and event materials can be seen on the Placer Sustain website.


Susan Lovenburg

All stories by: Susan Lovenburg