Summit Day One: The Powerhouse of California’s Economy Gaining More Recognition

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California Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis (right) during a fireside chat with LAEDC CEO Stephen Cheung on Thursday at the 2023 California Economic Summit (Photo: Roger Morales Photography/CA FWD)

Lieutenant Governor of California Eleni Kounalakis sat down with LAEDC’s Steven Cheung to discuss her focus on international business and relations as well as her belief that, despite media narratives, California is facing tremendous opportunities.

Her extensive international and business experience gives California an advantage, “A great deal of my time is in the international space and that allows me to work on economic development issues,” she explained.

She’s also the only person to sit on all three board of California’s public higher education. “To me, this is our conveyor belt of talent into our societies and into our economy – the largest and most powerful generator of economic success comes through the system of higher ed in our state.”

The Lt. Governor addressed the challenges currently facing California, including homelessness and housing costs, but is optimistic about the future. “My belief is that the challenges that we have in this state, difficult though they are, are not bigger than our capacity to address them.”

The Future of California Energy

California is the country’s seventh largest producer of oil, but also the largest consumer of oil. To reach the State’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2045, the energy industry is facing both challenges and opportunities. The panel, hosted by Tim Kelley, president and CEO of the Imperial Valley EDC, discussed the future of California’s energy industry.

“In some ways, we’re not going fast enough, we’re committed to the transition,” said California Resources Corporation CEO Francisco Leon. “There’s permitting challenges, there’s regulatory challenges.”

“We need to deliver affordable energy to people, we can’t leave anyone behind in this equation,” explained Erik Bartsch, President & CEO Aera Energy.  He added “We’ve got to work together to reach the state’s 2045 net-zero goals and that means bringing out all the technology and creativity to get there.”

One big opportunity is Imperial Valley itself, also known as “Lithium Valley” for its geothermal and lithium production.

Working Session – Entrepreneurship and Small Business Ownership by Women and People of Color

Minority-owned small businesses are crucial to California’s economy as they represent 45% small businesses in the state, support 2.6 million jobs annually and generate $192.8 billion in economic output. But a lack of detailed data prevents California from making more effective strategies to promote the State’s diverse business community, often leading to a lack of access to technical and capital resources and financial education for aspiring entrepreneurs. That’s the finding from a new report, “The State of Diverse Businesses in California,” commissioned by the California Hispanic, African American and Asian American Chambers of Commerce and presented at this working session.

Beacon Economics’ Samuel Maury-Holmes prepared the report and discussed why improved data collection at the state and federal level is needed, “So policymakers and stakeholders have the tools that they need to see if their policies they’re bringing forward and the solutions they’re bringing forward are actually having an impact on the local communities.”

One local minority-owned business, Jimenez Sisters Ranch, is facing some of the barriers, but pushing forward and expanding. Michelle Jimenez and her daughters decided to raise dairy goats to compete and show, they didn’t realize that the by-product of that would be an abundance of goat milk. So, as any entrepreneur would do, they put it to use and started selling goat-milk soap and body products and launching Jimenez Sisters Ranch in 2021. Their products now sell in 17 states and online.


Nadine Ono

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