More than 800 civic and business leaders from across the state met in downtown Fresno on Thursday for the first day of the two-day summit organized by the nonprofit California Forward. State and local stakeholders discussed how to advance job growth, environmental sustainability and racial inclusion throughout California, with a specific focus on Fresno.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech on Friday.
The Fresno investment plan is the brainchild of more than 300 community leaders who came up with the DRIVE initiative, which stands for Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy. The 18 projects to revitalize Fresno over ten years range from an expansion of the University of California-San Francisco Fresno campus, to a fund to support small businesses, to the creation of over 12,000 affordable housing units.
The group plans to fund these projects through a variety of public and private sources. Last week, several group leaders met with Newsom to discuss the initiative. They hope he will set aside funding in next year’s budget for the program.
“I feel pretty confident that he’s going to make resources available through the existing programs that the state already runs and make us in the Valley more successful in competing with other places in the state for those dollars,” said Tara Lynn Gray, Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce CEO and DRIVE executive committee member. “But I think we win with even half of the investment. We have nowhere to go but up.”
The group relied on funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the Kresge Foundation and research from McKinsey & Company, The Brookings Institution, the Urban Institute, Jobs for the Future, and the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State to come up with the draft investment plan.
Other community leaders spoke about the struggles facing the Central Valley, from a dearth of high-paying jobs to poor air quality. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, provost of Fresno State, said education is key to attracting employers, but his university turned away 8,260 eligible students this fall.
“We need more investment,” Sandoval said. “We need more because we are not restricted at Fresno State by capacity. We are restricted by funds.”
The call for more money was a common thread in most presentations. So was the need to include low-income communities and people of color in development plans.
Veronica Garibay, co-founder and co-director of the Leadership Counsel, who also sits on the DRIVE executive committee, said the health of residents would need to remain a top priority in efforts to usher in more jobs, like a city plan to create a 6,000-acre industrial park.
“We are the fifth-largest city in California. Let’s own that and let’s set an example of what that looks like,” Garibay said. “We’re asking the city and the mayor and the city council to fully fund a community plan process that will allow families and children and schools in that area to be able to breathe and to live in dignity just like the rest of us want to live.”
Some state money is already on the way.
Josh Fryday, state chief service officer, announced a $13.1 million investment in service projects scattered across the San Joaquin Valley. The money will fund nearly 600 local volunteers to join 4,000 AmeriCorps members in the region. Students who commit to a year of service will receive a scholarship worth $10,000.
“Governor Newsom is saying loud and clear, if you are willing to invest in your community, we are going to invest in you,” Fryday said.
California Forward honored The Wonderful Company, Shasta College in Redding and VOLT Institute in Modesto for their partnerships between industry and education to achieve success for students and communities.
The organizers also presented California Steward Leader Awards to Pete Weber, co-chair of the California Forward Leadership Council and adviser to Fresno Mayor Lee Brand; Jim Mayer, senior fellow and former CEO of California Forward; and Kathy Moxon, director for the Redwood Coast Rural Action, for their contributions to advancing the summit’s goals: promoting economic, social and environmental progress.
In preparation for Friday’s keynote, Newsom has been on a listening tour around inland California, visiting cities like Merced, Bakersfield and San Bernardino. In his keynote, the governor will discuss his findings and ways to address the region’s biggest economic roadblocks, according to Micah Weinberg, CEO of California Forward.
Manuela Tobias is a journalist at The Fresno Bee. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.