Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief economic adviser believes in Fresno.
As the California Economic Summit convened at the downtown Double Tree Hotel ballroom, an estimated 900 attendees from around the state listened to what makes Fresno tick. And holding it here is key for Lenny Mendonca.
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“It’s incredibly important that the Economic Summit is in places where the future of California is and representing both the opportunities and challenges in the state of California,” Mendonca said. “People are thirsting for real conversation about how do we move the economy forward in a way that is vibrant, inclusive, sustainable, and Fresno is the place that is pushing that conversation forward.
Agriculture, of course, is a significant driver in the region’s economy. At a panel session called “The Fresno Showcase,” Fresno Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen succinctly summarized the formula for success in his industry and others.
“Water is the magic ingredient,” Jacobsen told the audience. He added that labor shortages continue to be a problem, asking for comprehensive immigration reform.
Lee Ann Eager, CEO of the Fresno Economic Development Corporation, said more space is needed to develop industrial parks.
Other common themes, heard from former Fresno mayor — and current head of the Central Valley Community Foundation — Ashley Swearengin and others, were the three “bottom line E’s”: economy, environment, and equity.
At another presentation, a newly formed group called Fresno DRIVE (Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy) unveiled its goal to see $4 billion invested in the Fresno area over the next 10 years. The plan calls for using the money in economic development, human capital, and neighborhood development, with an eye on racial equity.
However, where the $4 billion comes from is still being discussed.
Fresno is Telling Its Story
Micah Weinberg, CEO of California Forward — the group responsible for the summit — hopes that booking the event in Fresno will place a focus on how state policy impacts the economies of the various regions.
“it’s really difficult to know about the different regions, if you don’t go to the different regions,” Weinberg said. “(Fresno) is really telling its story to the rest of the state through this event.”
“There’s no silver bullet. It has to be a combination of economic development, human capital investment, and ensuring we are connecting the community so the growth that happens is more inclusive in creating opportunities for everyone.” — Lenny Mendonca, Governor’s Chief Economic Adviser
There’s no simple solution to overcoming Fresno’s economic challenges, according to Mendonca.
“There’s no silver bullet. It has to be a combination of economic development, human capital investment, and ensuring we are connecting the community so the growth that happens is more inclusive in creating opportunities for everyone.”
Weinberg said the summit is having a positive economic impact on Fresno, at least in the short term.
“We are hitting a lot of the local restaurants and breweries,” Weinberg said. “We just really appreciate the extent to which Fresno has embraced all this.”
$13 Million for Volunteers
At the summit, the governor’s office announced a $13 million investment in the San Joaquin Valley for volunteerism. The money will help fund AmeriCorps, and also offer $10,000 educational scholarships for those who volunteer for a year.
“The governor is very interested in figuring out how we mobilize and engage all California in tackling some of our pressing issues,” Josh Fryday, California’s Chief Service Officer said.
The money was set aside in last year’s budget.
Governor Speaks Friday
Newsom will address the summit in person Friday at 10:30 a.m.
According to a news release from his office, Newsom “will discuss initiatives to strengthen economic growth and inclusion across California communities, and his administration’s commitment to inland regions through the work of his Regions Rise Together initiative.”
His speech will be live-streamed at this link.
The governor is scheduled to appear at a fundraising event for Congressman Jim Costa (D-Fresno) at a private residence tonight.