After six years of focusing its job-growth efforts on the Fresno/Clovis metro area, the Fresno Regional Jobs Initiative is turning its sights to surrounding rural communities.
RJI brings together private businesses in a dozen industry "clusters," along with local government, nonprofits and colleges to help businesses expand and bring more jobs to the area. At the organization's annual meeting Wednesday, chief operations officer Mike Dozier said RJI "is escalating efforts to integrate the rural communities of Fresno County into its existing 12 industry clusters."
The needs of businesses and employers in the smaller cities and unincorporated towns, Dozier said, are bound to be different from those in Fresno and Clovis. Small-town employers joining the RJI network, he added, will bring "unique perspectives leading to innovative solutions" and gain access to expertise and information.
Each of the industry clusters -- agriculture and food processing, software development, construction, arts and culture, government, health care, clean energy, information technology, warehousing and trucking, manufacturing, tourism, and water -- is being asked to come up with ways to reach out to colleagues in eastern and western Fresno County, Dozier said.
More teamwork across the clusters is also being encouraged to recognize the overlap among different industries, Dozier said.
The regional expansion and greater collaboration are expected to be keys to the success of the Fresno RJI and similar efforts in other parts of California, said Joel Ayala, who was appointed about two months ago as director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
Ayala, the meeting's keynote speaker, said regional networks for economic development have grown in importance in California since 2003, when the state's Trade and Commerce Agency was shut down. "When that happened, businesses in different regions banded together and circled the wagons," Ayala said.
In the absence of a single statewide commerce agency, Ayala said he believes his job is to provide an avenue for cities, counties and regional business coalitions to overcome state regulatory, bureaucratic or paperwork hurdles in the way of economic development.
Ayala said he also wants to pluck the best features of different regional economic-development programs to drive better legislative and policy efforts in Sacramento.