The California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley chose a single-word theme for last week’s summit: “Elevate.” In one sense, the word reflects progress in improving the region’s quality of life. In another, it meant more hard work lies ahead to lift the Valley’s fortunes.
The San Joaquin Valley has experienced a lot of breakthroughs on some of the old thinking that’s held us back,” said Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, chairwoman of the partnership’s board of directors. But, “we haven’t seen the kind of gains we yet want in educational attainment and employment levels and income levels. The fact is, we’re working together in a more aggressive, innovative fashion than anybody could have ever imagined. We’re seeing enough results to believe we’re on the right track.”
The partnership, formed in 2005 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is an unprecedented public-private collaboration focused on the eight-county region. When Gov. Jerry Brown took office, he continued that commitment. Nearly all of his cabinet secretaries participated in the summit in Bakersfield.
The event drew about 260 people, including county supervisors and business and community leaders.
California Forward Executive Director Jim Mayer was among the panelists for the event’s leadership exchange in the morning session and applauded the partnership for collaborating to move the region forward.
Mark Keppler, executive director of the Maddy Institute, said regional collaborations “are critical” for areas such as the Valley “because our problems don’t stop at city or county lines…. If we’re ever going to attack the really major problems in our region – air quality, education, economic growth, jobs – we have to work together.”
Lorelei Oviatt, director of Kern County’s Planning and Community Development, reminded the audience that the Central Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. “Water is the life blood of all industries, and it’s going to be the life blood of the future.”
She also said the region must find a balance between quality-of-life regulations and keeping businesses in the region. “That is one of the things that I know the eight counties are aligned on.”
Collaboration has led to success. A nearly $20 million federal grant was recently awarded to a consortium of eleven central San Joaquin Valley community colleges to train students for jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, health care and alternative energy.
The partnership has also pushed to align workforce development with specific job needs in the private sector, as well as focus on entrepreneurship and the development of small businesses. And, it has been able to draw transportation funds, including $6 billion for high speed rail.
Luisa Medina, who serves on the partnership’s board of directors, said the partnership has played an important role in bringing people together to solve problems: “This is working.”
Felicia Matlosz is a freelance journalist from the Central Valley