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Rural Broadband a Top Priority for Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue

On Wednesday, April 18, the 2018 Cap-to-Cap Food & Ag policy team had the opportunity to meet with Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue. The meeting, secured through the leadership and persistence of Linda Budge, mayor of the City of Rancho Cordova, was held Wednesday morning at U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters, located in the historic Agriculture South Building in Washington, D.C.  Mayor Budge and Secretary Perdue are former high school classmates, having attending high school together in Georgia, Purdue from a local farming family and Budge from a military family. The two have remained in contact over the years.

The Food & Ag team was there to talk about several policy priorities for the greater Sacramento region including rural broadband, forest management, conservation, and expanding support for and access to healthy foods for the hidden hungry, including college students and working families.

On the issue of rural broadband, Secretary Purdue noted that the lack of “e-Connectivity” is the top issue he hears about wherever he visits, most recently Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. Purdue believes “e-Connectivity is the number one issue holding the [U.S.] ag industry back.” In fact, after meeting with our team, the Secretary was launching the first of a series of national listening sessions on improving e-connectivity in rural America, along with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and a coalition of industry leaders. (The Food & Ag team held a meeting with the Chairman’s office earlier in the week on the same topic).

Relaying to Purdue the challenges from a California perspective were third generation Clarksburg farmers, David and Phil Ogilvie. David shared his personal story of his ability to apply modern farming techniques to drive efficiencies in water use on several of his fields through sensors and remote irrigation management with an iPhone app. Due to lack of broadband access, he isn’t able to deploy the technology on all of his fields. His farm in Clarksburg is located is a community less than a fifteen-minute drive from the California State Capitol. Unfortunately, lack of broadband access in rural areas of California is not an issue unique to Clarksburg. In fact, as a whole, the region has relatively poor grades for broadband infrastructure.

The world views California as leader in technology and innovation. However, we are not leading in terms broadband speed and access. Many rural residents are disconnected from the many benefits of e-connectivity, including opportunities for distance learning, expanding global markets for small businesses, connecting to information on employment and job applications, and accessing telemedicine for improved health.

Fortunately, there is growing awareness of the importance of broadband as a critical utility for 21st Century competitiveness. As affirmed by Secretary Perdue, it’s time to build a 21st Century Highway of Connectivity. We can look to models from the past that have expanded utilities such as electricity and telephone service to all for ideas. Solving the problem will require creative partnerships between federal, state, local government and private partners.

The Connected Capital Broadband Consortium is working with partners and stakeholder across the region to elevate the importance of this issue and to help fill our broadband infrastructure gaps. Together, we can envision the future-ready e-connectivity infrastructure we need for regional prosperity and competitiveness. Let’s work together collectively tackle the challenge!

Tammy Cronin was a Valley Vision Project Leader working in the 21st Century Workforce and Healthy Communities strategies.

Partnering to Craft an Inclusive Economy

Today over 200 leaders gathered from 28 cities and counties at the Regional Futures Forum hosted by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments to hear from a national expert about how our region’s economy has restructured since the global downturn nearly 10-years ago.

“The Sacramento region benefits from an educated workforce, world-class research institutions, and the presence of the state government, but our research shows that the region also faces significant challenges, including lagging growth of its export industries, stark educational and earnings disparities between white, black, and Hispanic residents, and investment needs in transportation and broadband infrastructure to connect residents to opportunity,” said Amy Liu, Vice President and Director of of the Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

“In an age of rapid technological changes and an ongoing demographic transformation towards a majority-minority future, existing disparities will be exacerbated without deliberate action,” continued Liu.  “Now, leaders across the region must do the hard work of creating a shared vision for inclusive growth, mobilizing people in government, business, and the broader community to tackle these challenges and make the Sacramento region truly inclusive and prosperous in the years ahead.”

Earlier this year, Valley Vision, the Greater Sacramento Economic CouncilSacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments partnered to engage the nationally recognized Brookings Institution to conduct a market assessment of the six-county Sacramento region. The study examines the economic drivers of successful economies in regions and benchmarked Sacramento against national markets with similar characteristics.

The findings from the Brookings Institution informed the full-day Regional Futures Forum that included breakout sessions and group conversations to dive deep into topics and to develop priorities and actions to take the region to new levels of economic growth, prosperity and inclusion.

“This report shows just how important it is that we build an inclusive economy that provides opportunities for everyone in the Sacramento region,” said Jay Schenirer, Sacramento City Council Member and SACOG Board Chair. “Together, our region needs to provide — among other investments — more workforce development and job training opportunities for youth and young professionals. Investing in digital skills training and connecting young workers to in-demand occupations and industries will help our industries grow while creating access to jobs for more people.”

The full Brookings Institution Sacramento Region Market Assessment can be accessed at:

The Future of Work in the Capital Region

I got my first smartphone in 2011. Only seven years ago, yet, this technology has fundamentally changed my daily life, for better and worse.

It is simultaneously amazing, overwhelming, enhancing, and distracting to have nearly every piece of information I need at my fingertips (not to mention a lot of information that I don’t need). Of course it’s not just phones. Technologies like 3D printers, the ability to collect “big data,” autonomous vehiclesartificial intelligence, and so much more have fundamentally changed our personal and work lives, and the worldwide economy. As Thomas Friedman describes, technology is accelerating faster than humans can adapt, creating tension and uncertainty. I already feel this in my work and family life.  As I think about me and my children’s ability to thrive and be successful in the future, I wonder, what are the consequences of life immersed in technology? What will happen next? How do we prepare people for this future?

These are the questions that underpinned the recent series of forums that Valley Vision hosted, entitled Workforce Technology Forum Series: Changing Occupations and Skills in an Automated World. These forums were supported by our regional Workforce Development Boards (WDB), demonstrating the leadership and collaboration of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA)/Sacramento Works WDB, the Golden Sierra WDB, the North Central Counties Consortium WDB, and the Yolo WDB. The goal is to bring together workforce development practitioners, educators, employers, community partners, and elected officials, including Congresswoman Matsui and Congressman Bera, to have critical discussions and start prioritizing actions to ensure that our regional workforce (and their children!)  can readily adapt to whatever changes the future brings. Valley Vision held forums in Woodland, Rocklin, Marysville, and Sacramento to understand the unique issues going on all around the region.

What did we learn?

National research provided the basic foundation to inform our discussions. Valley Vision compiled a research brief that framed the discussion and documented national trends. We drew from many sources, including a recent report from The Brookings Institution, published in late 2017.  A major focus was the rate of digitalization (or penetration of digital technology into the workplace) in sectors, geographies, and occupations across the nation. Some of the key findings included:

  • Jobs are becoming more digitalized at every level – fifteen years ago you could get an entry level job without any digital skills. Today those jobs are fewer and fewer. This goes for middle skills, or “good jobs” as well. Today 86% of middle skill jobs require digital skills, compared to 49% fifteen years ago.
  • The more a job is digitalized, the higher the wage is, on average. So, moving into the future, digitalization will be a major driver of social mobility.
  • Right now, there is uneven access to digital jobs – Latinos, Blacks, and women are underrepresented. Without intentionally working to level the playing field, significant demographics of people will get left behind.

The most important learnings were from the participants of the forums themselves, which helped to support national research findings and provided an important local context. Some of the highlights include:

  • The national findings were consistent with what employers across the region are experiencing. For example, Gordon Rogers with the Owens Group is experiencing the jump to higher levels of digitalization across occupations in architecture. Yet, it is difficult to find enough employees that are prepared to use the digital technologies that are required to meet customer demand.
  • Sectors that you might not expect to be impacted, are. For example, the standardization of recipes, processes to monitor food safety, and the digitalization of menus and ordering has transformed the restaurant industry, according to John Pickerel from Buckhorn Steakhouse, headquartered in Winters and employing 600 people in the region. Information technology is a fundamental skill across sectors.
  • Information technology needs to be a basic skill taught across all disciplines in school. Employers also need workers with adaptable skills who can learn new technologies on the job and be ready for continuous learning.
  • Lack of resources and bureaucratic systems get in the way of educators preparing students for the technology needs of today and tomorrow. They can’t afford the tools they need and investing in changing technologies can be difficult to rationalize. Educators need support from employers to increase occupation awareness, provide information, and assist with resources to effectively train students.

Our complete report with top recommendations will be coming out soon and we are planning a Summit this summer to discuss how we move to action. Additionally, the Brookings Institution has been hired by Valley Vision and local partners to conduct an “economic stress test” on our region. This report will dive into a more detailed, region-specific analysis of the digitalization rate of the Capital region and the implications for the future. Their analysis and recommendations will help inform our understanding of what the future of work will look like for our region, and what we should do about it.

We never could have imagined the way smartphones and other technologies have changed our lives just ten (or so) years ago. As we think about changes to come, we can’t predict the future, but we can use data and good collaboration practices to transform our current systems to be resilient, inclusive, and adaptive.

To collaborate or stay up-to-date with Valley Vision’s work, please subscribe to Valley Vision’s email newsletters or contact us.

Evan Schmidt is Valley Vision’s Director of Strategy and Evaluation working on the Public Opinion Surveying initiative and projects in the Healthy Communities and 21st Century Workforce strategy areas.

Standing up for Cleaner Air in Our Communities

For over 30 years, the Cleaner Air Partnership has brought environmental advocates, business leaders, and decision-makers together to fight for cleaner air and job growth across the Sacramento region. Investing in clean air improves public health, grows and attracts businesses, and is simply the right thing to do.

The work of ‘CAP’ has been an immense boon to our communities for a long time. But the time has come to do more.

The Sacramento region has 5-7% of California’s population. It also has 5-7% of the state’s population who live in disadvantaged communities, as designated by the state’s CalEnviroScreen 3.0 mapping tool. But in key programs like the statewide Cap & Trade system, which reinvests money charged to polluters into a variety of state agencies and projects, our region is not getting its fair share. As a whole, our region only receives 1-2% of air quality-related Cap & Trade funds, while Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Bay Area in particular receive many times more funding to do this work. This is about more than money – it’s about the ability of our low-income neighbors to live healthy and full lives. It’s about making our communities more livable for everyone. It’s about our region’s future.

The Cleaner Air Partnership coalition, led by Breathe California Sacramento Region, the Sacramento Metro Chamber, and Valley Vision, is a catalyst for the vision of the future that I just described.

As an example, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District has identified over $365 Million worth of shovel-ready projects in Sacramento County alone, much of which could be funded if our region were to receive proportionate Cap & Trade funding. Potential projects include electric bus conversionselectric vehicle charging infrastructurecleaner locomotiveslow-emission agricultural equipment, and more. The region’s other four Air Quality Management Districts (AQMDs) have similarly identified numerous shovel-ready projects in need of funding.

Through the leadership of Sacramento County Supervisor and CA Air Resources Board representative Phil Serna, CAP has been meeting with our region’s state-level elected officials and advisors, further building its coalition to include leaders skilled at navigating state legislation, the budget process, and the inner workings of California government. Our recent trips to the State Capitol to educate and inform leaders about how the state allocates Cap & Trade money have proven quite fruitful, as our region’s leaders at all levels are ready to do what it takes to modify the system. Addressing the Cap & Trade conundrum is a tangible first step in this new area of activity for CAP; as we become more connected and knowledgeable, we could engage with state representatives and agencies in all sorts of ways to the benefit of our communities.

Consider this a call to action. Over the next four weeks, the Cleaner Air Partnership will host three working sessions to build out a ‘Cap & Trade Playbook’ – a comprehensive plan to secure a balanced share of Cap & Trade funds for important air quality-related projects in the Capital region. We will be having additional meetings, beginning in May, with our elected representatives to share the Playbook with them and begin to implement our new strategy.

As the new Project Manager for the Cleaner Air Partnership beginning in January 2018, I’ve been tasked with continuing to build upon the strong foundation set by fellow VV’ers Tammy Cronin and Tara Thronson before her, their clean air colleagues, and surely others beyond my memory. I’m also responsible, under the supervision of Managing Director Meg Arnold (Valley Vision’s Clean Economy guru), for ensuring that this stepped-up level of activity leads to success. It’s a tough assignment, but achievable with the right partners, good data, and the wind at our backs.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to Valley Vision’s Clean Economy newsletter, share this piece through your networks, or email me if you want to be involved in these efforts (or know someone who does). Join us! Together we can ensure a more healthy, prosperous, and equitable Sacramento region.

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.