Year of the Summit: A look ahead

150 150 John Guenther and Justin Ewers

(photo credit: Violeta Vaqueiros)

With 2013 and the second California Economic Summit gathering under our belts, it’s time we take a look back over the Summit’s progress and look ahead to the work of 2014.

Since “the economy” is the biggest issue in the biggest state in the county, it would be easy for all of the diverse interests and regions in California to splinter when it comes to finding a way for the state to prosper during this recovery. But, we’re seeing promising collaboration develop through the Summit’s regional approach, which took shape in 2012.

We asked Susan Lovenburg, the director of the Partnership for Economic Prosperity at California Forward, to take stock of the Summit’s past and future and to explain the driving forces behind the hundreds of Californians involved in tackling some of the most important issues faced by the state.

What do you think was the biggest success the Summit had in the past year?

The California Economic Summit is engaging hundreds of business, government and civic leaders across California on the pressing issue of our time: What must we do for Californians to prosper, for California to thrive?

This is a year-round effort and that is, in fact, its success. This year the Summit hosted 16 regional forums where more than 1,700 regional leaders set priorities for state action to create middle class jobs and improve the state’s ability to compete in a global environment. 

Seven action teams formed around those priorities with 400-plus policy experts and practitioners working together to develop action plans. At the Summit in November, 450 participants made nearly 600 individual commitments to help implement those plans. These are summarized in the just-released Summit Report.

As a result of the 2012 Summit:

  • Legislation was passed to promote regional industry partnerships, connecting community colleges with the skills needed by local employers.
  • The Innovation Hub (iHub) program is expanding across the state.
  • Progress toward modernization of California’s water system is accelerating, with the Summit continuing to push for a comprehensive, integrated state water plan.
  • The Access to Capital guidebook was released by the California Opportunities Roundtable (CalFOR), offering a one-stop-shop resource for anyone seeking capital in a straightforward, easy-to-use format.

In 2014, the Summit leadership, Action Teams and regions will continue to mobilize around Summit action plans, commitments, and priorities, working together to advance triple-bottom-line prosperity in all regions of California. 

There was a lot of talk at the latest Summit about the “triple bottom line”–supporting regional efforts to create jobs, while also advancing environmental quality and social equity. Why has the Summit made this such a top priority?

Triple-bottom-line prosperity results from a commitment to three equal and integrated goals: natural resource stewardship, economic vitality and community well-being. The concept is also referred to as the Three P’s (people, planet and prosperity) or the Three E’s (equity, environment and economy). The Summit partners — California Forward and the California Stewardship Network — believe highest value efforts result when one goal does not take precedence over another.

Many people at the Summit have pointed out that the Summit is one of the rare opportunities for environmental, business, and labor leaders to get together and talk about finding shared solutions for problems facing the state. These are groups that don’t always agree. What can the Summit do to keep this coalition together throughout the year?

This coalition – the Summit network – needs not only to remain together, it needs to grow larger and stronger. Regions will continue to build local coalitions to address challenges in their communities and the priorities of those coalitions will continue to guide the work of the Summit. Action Teams will continue to recruit key stakeholders to participate in their efforts and to refine action plans to build a consensus agenda. CAeconomy will continue to report on the issues with balanced, inclusive perspective. Together, we will create the space and the place for informed dialogue on integrated, effective solutions.

The Summit’s triple-bottom-line solutions are aimed at the growing challenge of the “two Californias.” What does this mean and why is the Summit’s regional focus the right approach for taking this on?

“Two Californias” is a reference to the fact that California’s economic recovery is being experienced differently – and unevenly – across the state. More and more California is becoming a state of rich and poor, with the middle class increasingly squeezed in between. 

The Summit’s regional focus acknowledges that California is too big and too diverse for a one-size-fits-all economic policy. Successful state strategies will be informed by the various needs of all regional economies.

The Summit has set some ambitious goals for itself this year–from workforce training to a comprehensive new strategy for infrastructure planning. What do you see as the most exciting opportunities ahead in 2014?

The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) and other state agencies have a unique opportunity to tap the Summit network to create and improve policy proposals with those they affect in the real world. The Summit is an essential mechanism to incorporate regional proposals, policies and goals into state strategies to increase their effectiveness and impact.

The 2013 Summit plan includes specific initiatives to modernize the state’s infrastructure, develop a 21st century workforce, improve access to capital, advance manufacturing, create efficiencies within the regulatory environment, increase the supply of housing, and enhance the working landscapes interface between rural and urban regions. 

But perhaps the most exciting opportunities lie where those initiatives intersect: where manufacturing, working lands and housing can be improved through infrastructure investments which create jobs; where the need for regulatory form is documented and advanced through the efforts of all seven teams; where stewardship of working lands is promoted by capital investments in natural-resource dependent enterprises that enhance environmental services. In early 2014, Summit leadership will come together to identify and further prioritize these opportunities.

How will Summit team members know they are making progress in the year ahead?

Recommendations are clearly identified in the Summit report. Progress is defined by their implementation and will be tracked at

And beyond progress? What does success look like for the Summit in 2014?

Success is defined as integration of a regions-driven, triple-bottom-line approach into state economic planning resulting in improved prosperity for all Californians.


John Guenther and Justin Ewers

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