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How can Fresno make its economy more inclusive and prosperous? A new effort is underway

Community leaders gathered Wednesday, July 10, 2019 at the DoubleTree Convention Center in downtown Fresno for the launch of a new initiative called Fresno DRIVE (Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy) to develop a 10-year plan to make Fresno’s economy more inclusive and sustainable.
Community leaders gathered Wednesday, July 10, 2019 at the DoubleTree Convention Center in downtown Fresno for the launch of a new initiative called Fresno DRIVE (Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy) to develop a 10-year plan to make Fresno’s economy more inclusive and sustainable. Special to The Bee

The statistics are staggering.

Only 30% of Fresno County’s eighth-grade students are proficient in math. More than half of Fresno’s black children are living below the poverty line, according to Fresno’s 2018 Cradle2Career. The difference in household income in two adjacent central Fresno census tracts is $30,000 annually, census data shows. Since 2008, Fresno’s economy has seen only a 1.4% growth in its gross domestic product, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Nearly half of residents are struggling to make ends meet, and 70% of extremely low-income households spend half or more of their income on housing, a Brookings analysis found.

Organizers of a new initiative, called Fresno DRIVE (Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy), hope to improve some of those numbers.

The initiative to develop a 10-year plan to sustain and support an inclusive economy in Fresno and the region was launched Wednesday at the DoubleTree Convention Center in downtown Fresno, where hundreds of community leaders gathered to learn where Fresno stands and where opportunity to rise exists.

“The goal of DRIVE is to create opportunities for all residents to move from just ‘surviving’ to ‘thriving,’” said Tara Lynn Gray, CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, a participant in the DRIVE Initiative. “This is a bold and aspirational step for our community, and will hopefully serve as a catalyst for transformation here in Fresno.”

Partner groups will work to vet a number of proposed projects that together will build a plan to encourage economic mobility, address racial disparities and support a sustainable environment. The plan will focus on three key areas: economic development, human capital and neighborhood development. The plan will be revealed in November when the California Economic Summit is hosted in Fresno.

Lenny Mendonca, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief business and economic development adviser, said Fresno and the rest of California’s inland regions are a gauge for the state’s future economic health.

“In Fresno, there’s an enormous amount of leadership and enthusiasm around taking control of that situation and creating a narrative that we’re an exciting and fun place to be, and we want to invest in that success,” he said. “We are looking for Fresno to be a beacon for how this could be done on behalf of the state.”

The DRIVE Initiative is sponsored by the Central Valley Community Foundation with support from the James Irvine Foundation. The Initiative is also being supported with a consulting and research team that includes McKinsey & Company, Fresno State’s Central Valley Health Policy Institute, Brookings Institution, Urban Institute and Jobs for the Future.

Brianna Calix: 559-441-6166, @BriannaCalix

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Brianna Calix covers Fresno’s city government for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable, analyze city policy and inform readers how city hall decisions might affect their lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star.
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