Kate Gordon and Lenny Mendonca, Office of Planning & Resource and GO-Biz: California is a high road economic development state. Our innovative spirit includes a responsibility to leave the world better than we found it. We are excited to see regions step forward with their own visions for this high road approach to regional economic development. Metro Bakersfield and Kern County is a great example.
When Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposed budget, he reaffirmed a deeply held belief that some of California’s best work happens at the regional scale. We are, he said, “many parts but one body,” and laid out proposals for major investments in regional economic development and inland California.
This commitment goes beyond the budget to the day-to-day operations of state government. A year ago, the governor tasked the two of us to launch Regions Rise Together, an ongoing initiative to better connect state government to all of the diverse regions across the state.
We have spent the past year traveling to the Inland Empire, Kern County, Fresno, Northern San Joaquin County, the far northern part of our state, and beyond, listening to Californians talk about their unique assets and challenges, and bringing those ideas back to Sacramento. This budget is a reflection of those conversations.
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First, the budget proposes four ongoing regional positions in the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development—we call it GO-Biz—to be located in the Central Valley, Inland Empire, Central Coast, and North State, both coast and inland.
These new staffers will help expand sectors that are inherently tied to the region, such as wood products in the north, while supporting economic diversification by leveraging existing regional assets, such as Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.
Second, the budget proposes to invest in our inland communities. Gov. Newsom proposed $25 million for the UC Riverside School of Medicine to help address the Inland Empire’s physician shortage.
He also proposed $50 million to support two projects that emerged as priorities out of the multi-stakeholder DRIVE initiative in Fresno. DRIVE stands for “Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy.”
It’s an initiative bolstered by new but robust collaborations resulting from the State’s existing $66.5 million Transformative Climate Communities Program investment in Southwest Fresno.
If the additional investments for DRIVE are approved by the Legislature, the first project would provide $33 million toward a Fresno-Merced Food Innovation Corridor, a partnership between UC Merced, Fresno State, and private enterprise to expand precision food systems and agricultural tech opportunities in the Fresno to Merced high-speed rail corridor.
The second project would direct $17 million toward creating an integrated K-16 system that would graduate an additional 8,700 students by 2030 and connect them with higher education and quality job opportunities in high growth sectors.
In addition to these specific projects, the budget also proposes commitments intended to benefit the Central Valley region, including $2.4 billion investment in high-speed rail.
The message emerging from the governor’s budget proposal is clear:
- We want to reward collaboration and encourage regional economic development that brings all voices of the community to the table, including industry partners and social justice advocates.
- We want economic inclusion and climate resilience to be at the center of economic development efforts.
- We want regions to use a data-driven approach to identify historic inequities and economic barriers.
- We want to see regions propose specific, measurable projects that leverage existing assets.
And we will support those regions taking this approach, through direct engagement with new regional staff, through targeted investments, and through public-private partnerships in specific projects.
We are not suggesting that we will or can fund every region’s proposals that are the result of an inclusive process. But we can say with certainty that our doors are open to any region that takes seriously our charge that economic development must include all voices of the community and move toward a vision of climate resilience and quality jobs.
We are seeing more regions approach economic development in ways that place inclusion and sustainability at the center of the table. As Gov. Newsom said during his budget presentation, you can’t have growth without inclusion. It’s about both.
Metro Bakersfield and Kern County is a great example. Leaders there are coming together to prepare their economy for long-term economic and climate resilience, leveraging the historic strengths of agriculture and energy while recognizing changing dynamics in those industries. Kern County is the state’s leader in solar, wind, biodiesel, and oil.
California is a high road economic development state. We are where the future is born. And our innovative spirit includes a responsibility to leave the world better than we found it. We are excited to see regions step forward with their own visions for this high road approach to regional economic development out of the realization that we are all interconnected.
And tackling our issues can only be done in a holistic way working across the cities of our regions. Gov. Newsom’s proposed budget demonstrates a commitment to these key goals. Please join us as we collectively define what it means to be a California for all where all Regions Rise Together.
Kate Gordon is director of Office of Planning & Resource, [email protected] Lenny Mendonca is director of Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, [email protected] They wrote this commentary for CalMatters.