When a group of Kern County and southern San Joaquin Valley leaders gathered with officials from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration recently in Bakersfield, the message was clear: not all of inland California is the same. Understanding our areas’ unique regions that have both common and individual interests is critical to expanding prosperity in our communities.
The meeting was part of the Regions Rise Together initiative that Gov. Newsom has launched, in partnership with California Forward, as a way to build a blueprint for inclusive and resilient economic development, sustainable land use and transportation planning across California and its diverse regions.
These listening sessions, which are being held in San Bernardino, Merced, Redding, Stockton and Bakersfield, will result in a speech that Gov. Newsom will deliver at the California Economic Summit on Nov. 8 in Fresno about how to invigorate inland California economies.
The power of these sessions comes from its participants, who provide unique insights into the region’s distinct economic segments. These experts are local leaders like Cindy Pollard of Aera Energy, Melissa Frank of The Wonderful Company, Rob Arias of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, Laura Whitaker of Castle and Cook and Kristen Beall Watson of the Kern Community Foundation. Kern’s business community, including Bank of America, were also engaged.
Their assessment of what makes the area tick included familiar themes:
We feed the world: our growers deal with the needs for a reliable water supply and a trained workforce every day. It’s important the state hears us and helps us on water, trade and labor issues, which are vital to the region.
We fuel the world: Kern County is the largest oil producing county in the state and has long been an industry that California needs. In addition, Kern County leads in alternative energy sources like wind, solar and biodiesel.
Education is critical: the Kern Pledge, an innovative cooperative effort among local school districts, colleges and universities, is helping improve how we prepare students. This effort is exceedingly important given that 75 percent of K-16 population – around 240,000 students – live in or near poverty.
Greater Bakersfield Chamber CEO Nick Ortiz also shared with the administration the results of a two-year project that helps Kern County and the region describe itself as the “boundless and better” area that contributes mightily to the state and national economy thanks to the agriculture, oil, renewable energy and aerospace industries that populate our vast landscape.
It is appreciated that the state is looking inland. The Newsom administration’s proclamation that the state is complex with many different economies that demand a sharp focus to ensure every region is included in its effort is welcome.
The governor and his leaders are trying to change what it calls the “mental map” of California, so that we see our state as the large interconnected group of regional economies that it is, and not just the region where we live.
We need, and are ready for, the state to help train a workforce for the 21st century economy, improve and expand transportation infrastructure to move the goods we make and we need, build enough housing and improve the educational performance of our youth.
That’s the message delivered last week, and the governor’s team heard it.
Let’s see what comes next at the California Economic Summit on Nov. 8 in Fresno. Join us.
Andy Stanley is vice president of Bank of America and a member of the Kern Economic Development Corporation. Micah Weinberg is CEO of California Forward.