For the eighth year — and the first time in Fresno — California Forward is holding an economic summit focused on how to improve the Golden State across many different sectors.
And, according to California Forward’s co-chairman Pete Weber, the two-day event — dubbed “Regions Rise Together” — will be the biggest in history.
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Weber told a Fresno Rotary crowd on Monday that 900 people have signed up, and hundreds more are on a waiting list.
Weber said a group of about 150 CEOs — several from the Valley, but at least from one as far away as Atlanta — also will convene beforehand for a Wednesday luncheon.
The California Economic Summit itself starts Thursday at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Fresno.
Weber on Fresno Economy
Weber, a retired Fresno Fortune 500 CEO who has lent his economic expertise to the past three Fresno mayors and many organizations, talked about the causes of Fresno’s economic challenges and strategies to overcome them.
“We’ve made some progress, but we need to massively accelerate,” Weber said about Fresno’s economic growth compared to the state and national averages.
One of the obstacles to improving the local economy and quality of life is the erosion of the family structure, which negatively affects youth. Weber noted that single mothers experience the highest level of poverty.
Fresno’s topography — the Valley’s natural shape of trapping air pollution from other regions — has cost private businesses $40 billion over the last 30 years to clean up. That has caused some businesses to leave and take high-paying jobs with them.
In addition, the city’s education gap and poor land-use planning have stopped some sectors from enjoying economic growth, Weber said.
“There are thousands of jobs available today,” Weber said, for area residents with at least an associate’s degree.
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Public policies that improve the economy, the environment, and social equity play a role in upward mobility. Weber said the state no doubt is good on the economy, questionable on the environment, and shameful on social equity.
There also is a disparity between where the jobs are growing (coastal regions) versus where the population is growing (the Valley), according to Weber.
But Weber is optimistic about Fresno County’s growing manufacturing industry. He also pitched a plan for more cargo to be shipped from ports in the south to the north end of the state via rail instead of relying on trucks traveling through the Central Valley.
Gov. Gavin Newsom will deliver the summit’s keynote address on Friday at 10:30 a.m.
“He’s given every indication that he really cares what happens in the Valley, and every other region left behind,” Weber said.
But, Weber added, “We are not waiting for Superman or Superwoman to come to save us. We are doing amazing work in our community. We are making progress in building our human capital like never before.”