Other Opinions

Fresno takes center stage in making the California dream work for all

A “Now Hiring” sign at the San Jose Career Fair in San Jose, California.
A “Now Hiring” sign at the San Jose Career Fair in San Jose, California. Bloomberg

The impact of California Forward and the California Stewardship Network’s recent integration may have been lost on many who don’t know the two organizations.

That’s understandable, but shouldn’t be underestimated.

What Californians now have is a robust statewide organization that has a network in every economic region of the state prepared to lead from the regions up to promote an economic policy that makes the California dream accessible and affordable to everyone.

Deb Nankivell, CEO of the Fresno Business Council. Melinda Downing/Special to The Bee

With half of Californians living in or near poverty, the California dream is perceived as a pipe dream for too many who are taking their place in California’s economy. They hear the words “sustainable prosperity” and wonder what that has to do with them.

For our organization, it has everything to do with them. The power lies with our ability to bring valuable voices from across the diverse regions of California together to address the unique challenges each region faces and strategize on actionable solutions.

Our new structure has also captured the attention of state leadership.

“We believe in a California for all. The state’s extraordinary prosperity and opportunity must be available to everyone,” said Lenny Mendonca, chief economic and business adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom and director of the governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. “This newly strengthened organization and its work on sustainable regional economic development can accelerate adoption of needed state policy and increase funding for projects that are working to increase economic mobility in our state.”

Micah Weinberg, CEO of California Forward. Courtesy photo

The California Economic Summit is coming to Fresno on Nov. 7-8 where Gov. Newsom will announce plans for his Regions Rise Together initiative. The summit is the state’s most influential bipartisan network of business, equity, environmental and civic organizations.

What the summit has done is create a civic infrastructure that is driving solutions for a triple bottom line solution that grows the economy, improves environmental quality and increases opportunity for all Californians.

Many of the issues and questions the summit has been addressing resonate what it is happening in our Valley. Not surprising, given that we’ve been a partner of the summit since its inception.

How do we continue to support and expand manufacturing? The San Joaquin Valley Manufacturing Alliance is an example of what the summit is based on — civic stewards working to not only better an industry, but a region, with an approach to economic development that embraces the triple bottom line.

How do we create more quality jobs and prepare a workforce to do those jobs? The summit helped create and pass the California Community Colleges Strong Workforce program, which is already making a difference in how the colleges work with employers to train students.

How should we address the water issue? The summit has long highlighted the potential of innovative financial strategies that can lead to investments in rural water infrastructure, especially in communities with polluted water sources, aging and inadequate infrastructure or both.

And for goodness sake, we must address broadband connectivity that is so inadequate in so much of our area. The summit has highlighted the potential for investment in high-speed accessible broadband that connects residents, businesses and institutions providing health care, education and emergency response.

We are making progress but we need to work faster — much faster — and embrace the need to accelerate this work with all stakeholders at the table — from employers and educators to civic leaders and elected officials.

The impact of the summit coming to Fresno and the Central Valley is already being felt. It is galvanizing community leaders in an unprecedented way. When the summit arrives, Gov. Newsom will get a respectful earful from dozens of regional leaders ready to accelerate change for the benefit of our residents.

Expanding the middle class may seem like a nice talking point, but it describes the challenge. It’s complex and a very “heavy lift,” but if we don’t address the issues that are holding millions of Californians back, it’s going to get worse.

No one should want that.

Join us and thousands of other civic stewards in California who are working to restore the California dream for all.

Deb Nankivell is CEO of the Fresno Business Council and Micah Weinberg is CEO of California Forward