05/09/12

Thriving regions can be catalyst for a 'Can-Do' state

Recommended Reading from the California Economic Summit
By Julie Meier Wright

California was in the vanguard of regional thinking two decades ago, and with the upcoming California Economic Summit on Friday in Santa Clara, we have taken regional thinking – and more importantly regional action – to a whole new level. 

Over the past 18 months, three statewide reports recommended a summit: the Think Long for California Jobs, Infrastructure and the Workforce Task Force, An Economic Growth and Competitiveness Agenda for California commissioned by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Thriving Regions Lead to a Thriving State by the California Stewardship Network. 

An unsung hero in this effort is former state Sen. Becky Morgan, a passionate regionalist for more than two decades. Her family foundation seeded 11 regions to create the California Stewardship Network to provide nonpartisan regional input reflecting the diversity of California to Sacramento policymakers. Most recently, it underwrote 14 regional forums to prioritize key recommendations for the summit. 

We branded the summit “Thriving Regions Lead to a Thriving State” and the theme of this summit, which will address actionable priorities in five areas, is “Can-Do California.” 

Smart workforce: Despite out-of-work Californians, there are not enough qualified workers, even for middle-class manufacturing jobs. We must strengthen the talent pipeline, short-term and long-term, to meet the skill needs of our ever-changing economy. California can do that. 

Smart infrastructure: The bill for California’s infrastructure neglect is $765 billion, including transportation, water and public facilities. We need world-class infrastructure. The summit will identify ways to improve our existing infrastructure and map out innovative financing for new infrastructure, and it will focus on water, a top San Diego priority. California can solve its infrastructure problem. 

Smart innovation: Californians still lead the world in technology, agriculture and entertainment, but we’re complacent. Other regions and other nations are closing the gap. With our world-class universities, there is more we can do to move ideas from the lab to the market and to help entrepreneurs succeed. Policies that foster innovation across all industries are critical to regional economies, so the summit will identify the next best ways to connect, feed and entertain the world. California can remain the leader in innovation. 

Smart capital: Creating jobs takes money. At every regional forum, entrepreneurs implored: Help us find the money! We can leverage existing resources, identify ways to invest locally, including a California version of crowdfunding, and expand on the linkages that help ensure young businesses succeed. Californians want to invest in and buy from Californians, given the chance. California can connect entrepreneurs with capital. 

Smart regulations: California is said to be a tough place to do business. Regional forum participants said “more red carpet and less red tape,” and offered ideas that protect the intent of California’s key environmental regulation, CEQA – high environmental standards – but limit the actions of those who use CEQA for non-environmental reasons. The regional forums also explored ways to streamline permitting of all kinds. California can maintain the highest environmental standards and be streamlined, certain and business-friendly. 

In short, thanks to the regions and the many Californians who participated in regional forums, we can become a “Can-Do” state once again. 

And if the regions’ message isn’t potent enough, our summit will be opened by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist Tom Friedman, whose latest book is a must-read: “That Used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back,” where he writes, “Our problem is us – what we are doing and not doing, how our political system is functioning and not functioning, which values we are and are not living by. And our solution is us – the people, the society, and the government we used to be, and can be again.” 

What Tom Friedman is saying is that we have to think and act differently – and those of us involved in this first California Economic Summit think it’s by unleashing the regions of California who have demonstrated throughout this process that diverse groups of people can come together, focus on what they agree on and where they can work together – and become champions for the actions that will make the state we love “Can-Do California!” once again. 

Those champions will be looking for more champions to join them. Will that include you? 

Meier Wright is the retired CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., former California secretary of trade & commerce, and a member of the Summit Management Team.