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Roger Ruvolo Is Wrong About the California Economic Summit

Key points:

  • The State of California lacks a coordinated policy framework to support and invest in California’s 15-18 economic regions. This is the main deliverable of this year’s California Economic Summit.
  • New York’s Regional Councils have proven effective over the past eight years at creating jobs and economic opportunity using a bottoms-up, regionally focused strategy. Let’s borrow a page from their playbook.
  • The Summit will be what we make of it. Let’s have the courage to set aside our differences and work together.

Last week the assistant editor for the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, CA, Roger Ruvolo, wrote an opinion piece called “How Coastal Elites Pat Inlanders On the Head.”  The timing coincides with this week’s California Economic Summit in Fresno. Governor Gavin Newsom is due to give a major economic address there. 

Mr. Ruvolo contends that central planners in Sacramento are bent on fixing one-size-fits-all policies firmly across the state – that the Economic Summit is political staging for already-existing projects like High Speed Rail “that misuses gas tax money.” What really ails Inlanders the most, says Ruvolo, is a local land use pattern that discourages dense downtown economic centers, which tend to spark new business connections and deal making, knowledge sharing and product innovations. Ruvolo implies the State is not helping Inlanders here, citing the work of economist Chris Thornberg.

Ruvolo’s message could easily be dismissed as just another political rant that is all heat and no light. Yet his core message is worth paying attention to for those who attend the Summit. After all, no one could be blamed for being a bit skeptical about a State that grinds on as economic conditions have worsened for one in six Californians; a State that has been known to be disinterested in practical policies that encourage business growth and job creation for all. Could this time be different?

After 10 years of working directly with State and local policy makers, and 20 years in the private and public sectors before that, I feel that this time is different.

California currently lacks a coordinated policy framework for investing in individual regions.

One size does not fit all. Policies that activate downtown LA cannot possibly be made to work in sparsely populated Markleeville in the remote Sierras. At 40 million people and 164,000 square miles, our State is simply too big and diverse for one-size-fits-all economic policies. I believe we all have learned this lesson the hard way – look at urban and rural poverty levels currently. Thankfully, the California Economic Summit and its leaders start with this basic understanding – it’s the bedrock upon which all other conversations are being advanced. Check out the newly released Summit 2019 Playbook to see for yourself.

The much harder job facing the Newsom Administration and lawmakers will be constructing a coordinated policy framework that respects and aligns with individual regions and their economic aspirations. Depending on how you count, there are 15-18 economic regions in the State, necessitating a framework that is adaptive and scalable. In past years the State had something close to this, and made strategic investments in our workforce system which we still benefit from, for example. But nothing like a comprehensive, regions first, bottoms-up policy framework exists today. Yet this is the primary deliverable at the 2019 Economic Summit – to leave with early agreement around a regionally-focused economic framework that is driven by local leaders and supported (vs. directed) by the State. The good news is that there is practical inspiration for how the State can do this at the level we need. Take New York State, for example. 

Ten years ago, New York was falling behind economically, poverty was rising, and the State invested little in high-growth innovation industries or supporting business start-ups. So in 2011, Governor Cuomo established 10 regional councils to develop long-term strategic plans for economic growth in their region. Each Council created their own economic playbook informed by data and evidence, built from the ground up by business, education, local government, and community-based organizations – not by central planners. The State provided regional actors parameters for performance, participation, and desired outcomes. New York’s Governor and Legislature, knowing that these job growth strategies came with local buy-in and a lot of consideration, then put the weight of the State government behind them. After seven annual rounds of funding, over $5.4 billion has been awarded in performance-based grants and tax credits to these 10 regions, plus targeted investments from aligned State programs. More than 220,000 jobs have been created or retained since the program launched. Future funding rounds are focused on unmanned systems and preparing people for the future of work.So it can be done: regional groups that represent broad-based economic, social, and environmental interests can work closely with State government to achieve measurable economic results that transform lives.

The 2019 Summit is the start to a regionally-focused framework for economic growth that is driven by local leaders with State support.

Here in Sacramento, we have a six-county-wide inclusive growth strategy that’s been in the works since the Brookings Institute provided us a wake-up call about several underlying weaknesses in our local economy. Our response was built with input from business, government, education, labor, and community-based groups and championed by Valley Vision, GSEC, SACOG, and the Metro Chamber. Core features include focusing on building a current and future workforce fluent in digital skills, placemaking investments like Aggie Square and the California Mobility Center, innovation centers that can generate thousands of new jobs, and ensuring job-creating mobility infrastructure investments to move people and goods around the urban core and beyond.

Our Regional Playbook will be unveiled at the Summit. And we aren’t alone. Riverside and Fresno, as well as coastal areas like the San Francisco Bay Area, LA, and San Diego are each advancing their own regional playbooks that leverage unique local assets and economic strengths. Now what we need in 2020 is a policy framework at the State level that can unleash each region’s economic potential, using locally-built economic strategies designed by people and groups who have a big stake in their success. Like New York, some State funding to back up these regional job strategies are high on the list for Sacramento and other regions. The pay off? Greater employment, more tax revenue, reduced social service needs, and an improved quality of life for all Californians.

This week’s Summit in Fresno will be what we make of it.  We can do the easy thing, like criticizing “coastal elites” and “central planners” who we judge don’t understand our communities. Or we can do the hard thing – that is, to summon the courage to use the Summit as a place where we all set aside our differences and find agreement to act boldly together on a bottom’s up, regionally-driven, inclusive growth strategy that fosters economic opportunity for all. The choice is ours.

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive through January 31st, 2020.

Promoting Opportunity for All Californians

For the past 10 years, a group of regional business, government and nonprofit leaders have been gathering to answer a big question: In a state as big and diverse as California, how can we all come together and get behind a focused set of economic growth strategies with the power to build a California for all? As we can all relate, this is a monumental challenge in a state that is home both to great poverty and inequity, as well as immense wealth and ingenuity.

We knew the answer could come if we created a place open to all Californians to problem-solve. Where business, environmental groups, entrepreneurs, educators, labor, big corporations, nonprofits, and community organizations could each suspend their differences and look instead for areas we could agree upon on some of the toughest economic, equity, and environmental issues we face. The California Economic Summit, co-hosted by California Forward and the California Stewardship Network, was our answer. Over the past seven years, thousands of civic leaders from all parts of California have joined together to focus on building more affordable housing, improving the skills of middle income workers, and making key infrastructure more resilient to disaster, among many other areas. We have made great progress in some areas, changing policy and increasing investment in the workforce arena in particular, but not enough in others.

Sacramento has hosted many of these Summit conversations, and Valley Vision and our partners have played host. Perhaps you have been to one of these 2-day working meetings. Governor Gavin Newsom is proud to say he has been to six of the previous seven Summits, but he had to miss the last Summit in Sonoma due to the wildfires in both Northern and Southern California. He is co-sponsoring the next Summit set for November 7-8 in Fresno saying he will be there along with many of his senior staff, where he intends to lay out some of his economic strategies.

Since 2011, the California Economic Summit has been the leading forum for California’s regions to problem-solve together. Summit organizers California Forward and the California Stewardship Network are merging to power prosperity across the State.

To place even more horsepower behind this “regions up” inclusive growth strategy for the state, the California Forward and California Stewardship Network organizations announced this week that they are combining forces, growing staff and adding capabilities to push this effort forward. What I call the new “California Forward 2.0” has already recruited a major round of additional funding from the Morgan Family Foundation and The James Irvine Foundation, and is growing their staff team.

While we often work behind the scenes with little fanfare, it’s important to let you know that the Valley Vision board and staff team has dedicated themselves for years to working with others to create the conditions necessary for this inclusive growth agenda for California to happen, and even more importantly, to have the level of support and buy-in that can activate new business, housing, workforce, and infrastructure policies and investments across the entire state so that we see real results. Read more here about the combination announcement and what lies ahead. We hope you join us in the call for a more prosperous, just, and sustainable California for all at this year’s Summit on November 7-8 and beyond.

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.

Featured photo credit: Habitat for Humanity

Leadership Is a Team Sport: My Time with CSN

Leadership is a team sport.” This expression resonated as I sped down the hill toward Fresno. I turned the wheel of my trusty 2006 Honda Odyssey to match the curvature of the country road before me. “Sometimes success is a change in the tenor of a conversation.”

I’d just spent two days in the foothills below Kings Canyon participating in the Orientation of the California Stewardship Network’s new Leadership Program. The California Stewardship Network (CSN) is an alliance of fifteen unique regional organizations committed to the economic, environmental and social wellbeing of our regions and our state (the “triple bottom line”). Notably, CSN collaborates with California Forward to host the annual California Economic Summit (set to be held in Fresno on November 7-8). Valley Vision represents the 6-county Sacramento region and serves as the backbone organization and fiscal agent for CSN.

As I reflected on the groundbreaking and brilliantly subversive lessons of the past 48 hours, I can’t help but be eager for the continuation of this program – a series of upcoming exchanges over the coming year where my “cohort” of 19 young leaders will grow and collaborate on creative solutions to the challenges our State faces. Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller left me with a key nugget of wisdom prior to my departure, which I also shared with the other participants: “it is really hard to build a statewide network through a conventional career. This is your chance to do exactly that while better connecting our diverse regions to one another.”

19 young leaders are taking part in the 2019-20 program.

The Orientation kicked off with a storytelling session, where each participant was tasked with telling their “origin story,” including why we are dedicated to advancing triple bottom line approaches to persistent problems. I was able to connect my upbringing in rural Mendocino County to my current work at Valley Vision on issues like wildfire resilience, rural broadband, air quality, and so much more. It was quite an icebreaker! Then, we took part in a very comprehensive Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 session with Gallup Certified Strengths Coach Adrian Ruiz, where we identified our talents and those of others in our cohort. We also dug into how sometimes our strengths can translate as weaknesses in certain circumstances (for example, an “Includer” needs to be mindful that at times they might be seen as too deferential to others). Strengths are like muscles, and it takes the intentional ‘exercise’ of talents combined with skills and knowledge to create a true “strength.” I had no idea that my unique ‘DNA’ of five talents – Strategic-Maximizer-Adaptability-Developer-Includer – is shared by only one in every 33 Million people. Crazy!

In the second half of the program, Micah Weinberg of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute and Kriselda Bautista of the Local Government Commission put our strengths and knowledge to work. We tackled a tough case study out of West Oakland where a new housing development was being considered for development (replete with NIMBY opposition group, cerebral city planners, et al), and we had to balance equity, economy, and environment in determining how to move the project forward. Our considerations ranged from the right number of affordable units, to design of a human-centered community engagement process, to the proper means of evaluating our entire effort.

Did I mention that it was super fun?!

Finally, we learned how to de-escalate difficult situations by appealing to emotion. Doug Noll, a former trial lawyer who has dedicated himself to peacemaking and conflict resolution, led our group through a science-based journey into human brain chemistry and cutting-edge psychology. Doug Co-Founded a nonprofit called Prison of Peace, which since 2010 has helped inmates develop peacemaking skills to reduce violence and promote problem-solving within their prison community. We learned how our society regularly invalidates emotional expression, which is manifested in how so many of us say “It’s OK” and attempt to problem-solve when another person is experiencing difficulties. This is actually a selfish act, and a form of self-soothing that is hurtful to the person we are trying to comfort. If you really want to help people who are angry or sad, you need to learn and practice affect labeling – essentially “lending them your prefrontal cortex” and helping them process their emotions through a specific set of actions. This simple yet effective process is detailed in Noll’s book, De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less, and I’m happy to share more if you send me an email! This tool stood out to me in a world that desperately needs more healers.

I want to thank Joanna Wessman, the Network Coordinator for CSN, Kathy Moxon, CSN’s Past Chair and Director of Redwood Coast Rural Action, and Deb Nankivell, CEO of the Fresno Business Council, for introducing us to this awesome network and guiding us through such an impactful and thought-provoking 48 hours. Thanks also to Bank of America for sponsoring. Of course, I’d also like to thank Bill Mueller for nominating me for this program, and my fantastic cohort – I so look forward to seeing you all again in May! I’ll continue to share my experiences as I learn how to apply triple bottom line outcomes and work to elevate California’s diverse region’s to build a stronger and more equitable California. Stay tuned!

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

Building Stronger Leaders and Regions

“Regional stewards are integrators who cross boundaries of jurisdiction, sector and discipline to address complex regional issues such as sprawl, equity, education and economic development. They see the connections between economic, environmental and social concerns and know how to “connect the dots” to improve their regions.”

 – Alliance for Regional Stewardship, 2006

Regional stewards provide important leadership by pursuing triple bottom line values, including economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and social equity. The California Stewardship Network (CSN) brings together regional stewards, like Valley Vision, from across California to seed collaborations, share stories, challenges, accomplishments, and, yes, dinners and drinks. These quarterly exchanges have been occurring for nearly 10 years and have created important relationships and collaborations that set the stage for a united vision of triple bottom line values across California.

In early 2017, the group of fifteen regions decided to widen the net, build leadership capacity, and invite a group of young leaders to join a brand new Leadership Fellows program hosted by CSN. I was fortunate to be invited to participate as a Sacramento region representative, along with Maritza Davis of Unseen HeroesLeah Moehle of California Forward, and Patrick Guild of Sacramento Metro Chamber Foundation. We joined about 25 other Fellows to participate in the exchanges in addition to a leadership program uniquely focused on steward, or service-based leadership.

As the 2017 Fellows program comes to an end, here are some of my take aways from the program and the exchanges that I have participated in:

  • Stewardship is humble leadership that is in service to the greater good, and in this case, to triple bottom line values. This interpretation of leadership resonated with me more than any other that I have heard and has provided an aspirational vision for how to approach work and life.
  • Relationships, relationships, relationships – the key to getting cool things done is building relationships. That’s why dinner and drinks is important – you aren’t surprised are you? The cohort approach helped foster these relationships.
  • Grappling with complexity – in our latest exchange, June 27-29 in Ventura, we were given the time and open format to discuss hard questions. For example, we grappled with how automation will impact the workforce, and meandered from the importance of skill-based job descriptions to preserving the values and qualities that create meaning in people’s lives. This ranging conversation brought about new perspectives for all of us, which in turn created deeper understanding into an important and complex conversation. We need this kind of time and nuance in our age of sound bites and memes.
  • Cross generational dialogue – as a Gen Xer sandwiched between two generations that take up a lot of air in the room (Boomers and Millennials, you know who you are), I know the importance of cross-generational learning. Respectfully, Millennials need to learn and Boomers need to cede some of their power. Just saying. Fortunately, CSN created dialogue and safe space for leaders to explore how to support each other across generations.
  • Regions are where it’s at – It’s easy to get frustrated, or even depressed, about statewide or national policy. Working from the ground-up, sharing successes and failures, and creating spaces, like the CSN exchanges, where leaders share a commitment to stewardship and a vision for the future of California, sets a hopeful path.

CSN has invested in the future leadership of California by bringing new leaders into the fold. Having now spent a year gathering with new and not-as-new leaders through the exchanges, I feel confident that CSN’s investment will seed stewardship values for many years to come. CSN will soon be recruiting new Fellows for next year’s class – I look forward to continuing to work with CSN and to helping usher in a new group of Fellows, strengthening the stewardship network and building new leaders across the state.

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.

707 Is Rising

Region Rising.  That’s what Valley Vision branded our first-ever regional town hall back in 2015, produced with our government partner SACOG.

But it wasn’t this innovative conference that drew 1,000 participants that kept coming to my mind at last week’s California Economic Summit in San Diego.  It was a single region.  The counties of Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, Lake, and Solano now working jointly.  People and institutions rising after the wildfires that killed 43, destroyed 8,400 structures, and laid waste to a land mass equal to the size of 13 cities – each the size of San Francisco.

A special session organized by Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore one evening drew dozens of political and business leaders from across the state, matched by their own school, business, government and community service leadership.  We sat in a circle, looking eye-to-eye at each other, seeking to understand the extent of the damage to lives and property, and what was needed next.  The stories were riveting.

One story hit me deeply:  A mother admonishing her teenage son on his way home from college to keep his eyes on the road when driving down Highway 101.  The devastation is so jarring, drivers get fixated on the apocalyptic scene, lose track of where they are, and crash into each other.  Another: A wife and husband, already struggling to make ends meet, pay their mortgage bill this month on a house that is now an ash heap.

While you couldn’t help but be deeply moved by countless stories of personal loss and suffering, the conversation didn’t stay there long.  The focus instead was on action.

Attending as a friend of Sonoma County leaders and as co-chair of the California Stewardship Network, it was clear to me that this is not a disaster impacting a few, but instead thousands.  Area residents are making decisions now (or over the next few weeks) about whether they will stay and rebuild their lives or leave the area or even the state. I asked Supervisor Gore, “How are you and others staying in touch with residents to know their needs and to make decisions based on real-time information?”

His response drew the room quiet, “Our first action was to teach community organizing,” he said.  “In town hall meetings attended by hundreds of people across the fire-impacted areas we placed big blown-up maps of the cities on easels and trained people to organize at the block level to form a support network,” Gore explained.  Neighbors selected their own leaders to support and serve them.  People stepped up. Communication is disseminated instantly using Facebook or Twitter… emerging needs are raised.  “It’s just how we do things in Sonoma County,” Supervisor Gore said matter-of-factly.  “I stay in touch with these new community leaders – we all do…” as he looked around the room.

In the wake of events like these, I was reminded again of the very best aspects of humankind.  Selfless acts.  Neighbor helping neighbor.  Government moving smartly and swiftly to provide the right safety net services to those who need it most, coordinating closely with nonprofits doing the same.  Businesses mobilizing and rebuilding, providing both the philanthropy and investment capital necessary for forward progress.  More real-world proof of the power of networks to improve people’s lives.

The devastation is also driving unprecedented conversations and collaboration across city and county boundaries.  California, the nation-state, is actually a state of regions – areas with distinct but connected economies, transportation networks, workforce, and food systems, all interlaced.  It’s a truth upon which the California Economic Summit is based and policy advanced.

I witnessed this again and again over two days with my peers from across California on affordable housing, water and workforce, punctuated this year by new needs rising from the wine country fires.  These local leaders aren’t talking about rebuilding communities that once were, but instead seizing this awful moment to accelerate well-thought-out plans that pre-existed the fires to transform their communities to be more prosperous, just and sustainable – but 5-15 years faster than earlier envisioned.  They need the State’s help to do so, and the State is responding.

We will see this on display when the California Economic Summit is held in Sonoma County next fall.  They will have much to teach us about resiliency.

James Gore ended the meeting with a comment that this region might be called “707” for short after the area code that covers them all.  Short.  Memorable.  Everyone smiled.

707 is rising.

Bill Mueller was Chief Executive of Valley Vision.