Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January 5, 2012

Reflections from the Chair Emeritus—Richard Johanson
As we welcome a New Year, it occurred to me that we don’t need to propose New Year’s Resolutions. Our goal must be to keep our focus to scale and accelerate what is already in place. While innovation and renewal are an ongoing exercise, we are fully engaged in activating the concepts developed years ago. We have overcome the siloed thinking and behavior that stifled necessary collaborative work. We have learned the language of economic, infrastructure and human development and understand their equal value and interdependence. By working together, we have discovered resources that were invisible when we looked through a narrow lens. Fresno is ready—investment ready. Whether you invest your time, financial resources or both, the onramps are all around you. In so doing we shall see the fulfillment of HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL in 2012.

Clusters—The Ecosystem Silver Bullet
When we launched the first cluster, Water Technology, in 1999, the notion of Blue Tech Valley wasn’t on the radar. However, through steadfast effort from the partners of the Regional Jobs Initiative, the cluster continues to grow and strengthen as our region becomes known as the solution shop for the world’s water challenges. Today, I received a call from a solar firm in San Francisco. The caller was enthusiastic about doing business in Fresno because “you are so organized. The Clean Energy Cluster is amazing—the broad attendance makes Fresno the place to be.” Kudos to the Economic Development Corporation that leads this cluster.

Payoffs of the Cluster Approach
As governors across the nation scramble to reignite innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation, a recent Brookings-Rockefeller report points to clusters as a low-cost way to jump start the economy. “Cluster strategies provide a direct route to economic renewal because they build on existing assets to promote growth in regions by enhancing the interactions by which firms complete transactions, share ideas, start new enterprises and create jobs.” States are encouraged to get out of the top down, industrial style of economic development and shift to a paradigm that links, aligns and leverages the resources and knowledge of many agencies behind a shared strategy. Economic, infrastructure and human development are equally essential to a strong economy. In addition, the authors emphasize the importance of initiating a new generation of cluster programs based upon regional customization. Besides coaching the states, the authors point to the federal effort to collapse siloes and “layer” federal resources behind state cluster initiatives.

What Does this Mean for Fresno?
As Dick noted above, we have built the civic infrastructure and we have identified our assets and opportunities. In 2012, through “the power of aligned decision making” we can accelerate and achieve significant impact, not just in the economy but in other critical issues. The cluster approach is transferable to social issues. You will be hearing more about hubs and platforms designed to support cross-cutting, bottom-up regional and local efforts to transform our community. We are learning how to align vertically (neighborhood, city, region, state, federal) and horizontally (programs and resources aimed at the same outcomes.) We have practiced the cluster approach to achieve specific goals. Now we are ready to apply it to the whole community. Watch for information about the Fresno Stewardship Initiative.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22, 2011

Below is a column from the Citistates Group, the organization Neal Pierce founded years ago to advance the notion of regions as economic engines from his national platform. Doug Henton, one of our coaches, is a member. As it is so timely for our work, not just in Fresno but in our region and state, I hope you will take a look at it. The lessons learned across the country mirror ours. Economic prosperity and opportunity are a shared responsibility and no one sector can advance them alone. A way to align nontraditional allies is citizenship. When people act as citizens first, single and special interests second, extraordinary things happen.

Nearly every day this week there has been another announcement about Fresno getting a federal grant or philanthropic investment. The SC2 (Strong Cities, Strong Communities) commitment from the federal government to the City of Fresno is paying off. We demonstrated we are investment worthy. Now it’s time for us to prove it with results across all indicators. This will require unity, alignment and relentless discipline. We have one of the critical elements many communities do not have—“a visionary elected public sector leader willing to cross political divides and work with nontraditional allies for the common good”—Mayor Ashley Swearengin. But for her, SC2 would have stayed east of the Mississippi!

Studying Regionalism on a Palatial Estate

What can you learn in two days and two nights at a palatial estate in the Hudson Valley with a room full of smart, experienced regionalists? I’m sure glad I’m in a position to answer. In late October I participated in a symposium on states and regions organized by the Citistates Group. The event was generously hosted by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and supported by the Carnegie Corporation and the William Penn Foundation. Citistates founders Neal Peirce, Curtis Johnson and Farley Peters pulled together this “meeting of the regional minds” to address one central challenge: metropolitan regions are the geography of the economy but not the geography of government.

Along with a couple of chamber leaders, I was joined by representatives from MPOs, COGs, universities, foundations, think tanks, and several former big city mayors. To articulate the professional accomplishments and accolades of this distinguished group of veteran practitioners and thinkers would easily run two hours or more. And it did. Thirty minutes into the introductions my suspicions were confirmed; I was the low man on the totem pole in both credentials and class. I just hoped a few of the collected IQ points might rub off on me.

From Wednesday evening through midday Friday we discussed and debated. What is the best structure to organize regional stakeholders? Can state governments help, or do they need to just get out of the way? Can you expect regional cooperation without a galvanizing crisis? Does the “ism” in regionalism turn people off? Can the Cardinals really come back with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the bottom of the ninth?

Scattered amid the discussion were some fantastic success stories from leaders in the field: Atlanta’s regional regulatory and infrastructure action to quickly solve an acute water crisis, Seattle’s alignment of two major ports and dozens of distinct municipalities to speak with a unified voice on international trade and investment recruitment. Plus Southern California’s multimodal logistics solution to moving goods in and out of the L.A. and Long Beach ports.

At the end of the day I left with renewed confidence in some core convictions about regional cooperation:

• Business leadership is essential to regional action. Business groups are the only entities with political leverage across the multiple jurisdictions that comprise a region.
• The outcome of regional action is far more important than the structure or governance of regional organization. As the Atlanta Chamber’s Sam Williams said, “Results and outcomes equal power and influence.”
• Someone has to provide neutral turf to get suspicious stakeholders together. Whether COG, MPO or chamber, the regional convener role is vital.
The symposium also clarified some new concepts for me:
• Economic competitiveness can be the great unifier for regions. The downturn has compounded our challenges but it has also provided a rallying point for individuals with different political affiliations and groups with different agendas. We will disagree about a lot, but I think we can all agree that jobs, trade and investment are key priorities.
• We’re all the same, but we’re not. There is plenty of head-nodding and “me too” expressions when someone describes the challenges facing her region, but the context is always unique. Orlando is not Cleveland is not San Diego, but they can learn a lot from each other’s experience. That’s why I think detailed stories of success and failure are as important (if not more important) than conceptual models.
• Business can’t do it alone; it needs a strong public sector partner. I’m not talking about public/private partnerships, I mean a visionary elected or appointed public sector leader willing to cross political divides and work with non-traditional allies for the common good. Almost every success story cited mentioned dynamic individual players from the public and private sectors.

I’m not sure I picked up any IQ points from all the big brains in the room, but I did leave the Citistates symposium with a renewed conviction in the important role chambers of commerce must play as regional leaders and conveners.
Ian Scott is vice president for communications and networks of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 5, 2011

Reflections from the Chair Emeritus—Richard Johanson
Does it ever seem weird to you that the marketing frenzy of “Black Friday” is centered around the observance of the upcoming Christian and Jewish religious holidays? Perhaps amid all of this contradictory activity it is appropriate that we take some quiet time to do some personal reflecting. What are the good things that have happened this year? How can we sustain them? Where does our focus need to be next year? Who can lead us? Can we become an Abundant Community with an opportunity for everyone to make a contribution? I see a no better return on a community based investment than renewing our membership in this Business Council and inviting others to join with us. Together with our community partners our destiny is strengthening our ability to make a significant transformation in this place not because of a temporary frenzy but out of a deep commitment to our Statement of Community Values.

A Tribute to Fresno State To Be Published in the Collegian
As we approach midyear in another demonstration of collegiate excellence at California State University, Fresno, it is fitting that we set aside a few minutes to thank all of those on campus who are contributing so much to bringing about a reevaluation in our expectations of ourselves.

Increasingly, we who are oriented to the business world understand that each segment of our society is a critical component of its whole. We must all be willing to reach out to each other. We recognize that community successes do not come from each sector traveling down a selfishly focused road. Organizations such as United Way, Council of Governments, Economic Opportunities Commission, Workforce Investment Board, Fresno State and others are interacting with each other and the private sector in an ever closer spirit of cooperation. For this we all owe a vote of thanks to their unselfish leaders.

Fresno State is a major leader in helping to unite our extended community. Administrators, faculty, staff and students are taking leadership and supportive positions to improve the quality of life for all of those who live, work, play and pray among us. Over sixty-two percent of its student body contributed a total of over one million hours of volunteer service during the schools years 2009/10 and 2010/11.

As a direct result of this spirit of cooperation between Fresno State and the community at large this region is attracting nationwide attention for the higher standards it has set for itself in public affairs on its pathway to a regional transformation. Our community’s widely endorsed Statement of Community Values is the platform on which every man, woman and child among us can stand with pride. Some of these values are: Stewardship, Boundary Crossing and Collaboration, Commitment to Outcomes, Fact Based Decision Making, and Truth Telling.

As the University approaches the second semester of this academic year, we wish to take this opportunity to simply give thanks for its ongoing contribution to the many positive things happening in our community. We thank those at all levels of service that are traveling together on the pathway to a better tomorrow.

Submitted by Bud Richter and Richard Johanson

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 31, 2011

Reflections from the Chair Emeritus—Richard Johanson
The longer we refine pathways that can strengthen our relationships, the more a single concept unites us in our discussions--Stewardship. This region has become widely known for its perseverance in promoting our innovative Four Spheres Approach to addressing critical issues based upon our statement of community values. Major foundations are becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities available for a more measurable return on their investments by funding public service organizations operating under the banner of Stewardship.Two months from now will see the start of a new year.It is my hope that throughout the community individuals renew their commitment to working together as stewards of the whole—one community aimed at prosperity and wellbeing.

Abundant Communities, Indeed!
When the idea of convening over 800 people from the San Joaquin Valley to spend a day with nationally regarded authors John McKnight and Peter Block, it sounded implausible. Yet, nearly a month before the event—November 16—it was overbooked with over 80 cohorts of 10 people. Participants have agreed to read the book Abundant Communities, develop action plans and put them into action. In 2000, when the Great Valley Center issued a report assessing our challenges, lack of connection, competitiveness and capacity were the key themes. Many rose to the challenge. We developed industry clusters, new platforms for action like the Lyles Center and multiple institutes at Fresno State, two incubators, CART, and the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. We learned how to collaborate and align resources. Our educational partners worked with employers to insure students are prepared for careers and life challenges. Using a shared set of values we have developed relationships horizontally and vertically. We have become a prepared and investment worthy community. Evidence? The White House designated the City of Fresno as a Strong City, Strong Community experiment and last week the James Irvine Foundation committed $3 million dollars to the Fresno Regional Foundation, due to its significant increase in capacity.

Flourish—We Have Found the Solution and It Is Us
When the Mental Health Cluster set out to better understand the challenges in this arena, it didn’t take long to realize many of the solutions could only be found in the community. The Fresno Flourish Initiative is based upon this premise. Research has determined that behavioral change is largely dependent upon personal commitment, role models, peer support and environmental conditions. As upwards of 75% of health conditions are lifestyle related and adherence to prescribed protocols is under 50%, the answer to the health care crisis clearly is not within the industry, it is in us. Flourish is based upon an internal Kaiser Permanente strategy to improve the health and well-being of their employees. Institutions and individuals are stepping up to take the pledge.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October 24, 2011

Reflections from the Chair Emeritus—Dick Johanson
As you read what Deborah has written below, I would urge you to mentally put yourself back in a school classroom once again. To me the key word in the entire educational process is “relativity”. Nothing is more boring than staring at a text book preparing for a written test on an academic subject that will be significantly forgotten soon thereafter. However, tying in the subject matter to a future career changes the entire learning process. Then “motivation” comes into play. When a student becomes motivated to learn teachers become partners and an all too common resistance to an academic education falls away. In short, in this person’s opinion, vocational education needs to resume its rightful place with academia in the relativity of our educational structure.

The Innovative University
Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Prescription, and Disrupting Class, has co-authored a new book, The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out. As a professor of innovation at Harvard’s Business School, his life work involves deep reflection about critical issues and the seed thoughts that give rise to existing systems and structures. Disruptive innovations are impacting every sector as the pace of change has accelerated and resilience, creativity and adaptability have become essential life skills. Is it possible to embrace change by building upon strengths and letting go of what simply doesn’t work anymore with an eye to minimizing economic dislocation? His latest book speaks to a customized future that meets the needs of a far larger population of students and the diverse communities in which they live. The authors also underscore the importance of shared values to insure a deeper context in which knowledge develops.

Shared Responsibility for Workforce Preparation
Considerable progress has been made at Fresno Unified to prepare career ready graduates. In 2008, FUSD launched a commission on Workforce Readiness and Career Technical Education to determine how to scale and accelerate toward their goal. The report is available at http://www.fresnounified.org/about/reports/workforce-readiness-and-career-technical-education-commission.pdf. Thanks to the sponsorship of Heald College, there will be two career nights in October to connect students to the pathways and educate their families about them. There are 25 Career Readiness Pathway Programs representing 14 industry sectors offered across Fresno Unified. These programs expand student understanding of the world of work and identify career pathways and specific occupations within them. By working together on economic and human development, we can align strategies to succeed in both. While knowledge workers are essential to a prosperous economy, restoring pathways for craftsman, artisans and technicians of all sorts is equally important. As explained by Michael Crawford, “Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the ideal of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 15, 2001

Community Values—A Contract for Behavior in the Civic Sector
At our recent board meeting, Richard Johanson shared his thoughts on one of our community values. This regular practice sets the tone and reminds us our responsibilities as citizens. The value he addressed was Commitment to Outcomes—We are willing to take responsibility for tasks and achieving specified outcomes. We are committed to staying involved until the task is completed. “The other nine values lose some of their importance apart from their connection to their ultimate purpose—a commitment to making better things happen in our own lives and that of our extended community.” As one of the eight founders of the Fresno Business Council, Dick pointed to the journey we have been on from concept to reality. While clearly we continue to face many challenges, the impact is visible. In 1993, concepts like collaboration, sustainability, asset-based approach, and power parity were foreign. We were busy addressing symptoms in siloes and blaming those who today are valued partners in community transformation.

Stewardship & Citizenship Pipelines—Sustainable Civic Infrastructure
A better future is a shared responsibility. Citizens are responsible to the whole and stewards, those with positional authority, are responsible collectively for the whole. Self-reliance and collective action are two major strands of the DNA of American citizens. In order to foster these values, we have a new partnership with Fresno Unified. Student leaders from the various high schools will attend our board meetings to learn about the community business and hear a value presented. They will present what they learned at a school board meeting and back at their site student councils. In reverse, FBC members will have an opportunity to attend student meetings to learn from them and report what they learned to the FBC board. Effective communication runs both ways.

Student Leaders From Cambridge High School Attend FBC Board Meeting
The academic and civic progress at Cambridge High School is inspiring and the sense of community pride in the students and staff palpable. The staff provide holistic services and support, recognizing that many of the students face personal and family barriers making success more challenging. The expected learning results for all students reflect the values of both the students and the staff:
• Problem Solvers (ability to identify and resolve problems)
• Responsible Citizens
• Informed Citizens
• Demonstrators (competence in all academic areas)

Inspiring News from the Fair

Deb Cohen reported that the community came together this week and bringing in 54 tons of food breaking our own national record from last year of 51.7 tons of food. 235 volunteers helped collect, sort and load the semi-trucks. It was hot but there was an amazing show of support. The Fair leadership launched a the first ever 4.0 & Above program where all Fresno County high school students with a 4.0 or better were provided free entrance to the Fair and an enter-to-win ticket for a car and assorted prizes. A junior from Sanger High won the car and her principal told Deb that it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving student. These are terrific examples of how improving academic performance and supporting students is everybody’s business and the power of collective action.

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18, 2011

Implications of SC2—Smart Cities, Smart Communities
What would it look like if local communities decided what they wanted and came up with the most effective way to make it happen? As every community is unique, a customized approach rather than one size fits all, makes sense. What if adaption to changing circumstances was built into the strategy and the opportunity to align resources of multiple agencies behind one plan became the norm? What if leaders in every sphere—economy, environment and equity (the 3 E’s) understood the priority strategies of their colleagues and worked together effectively? What if the people who work in the various sectors understood interdependence and looked for ways to share resources to achieve the goals everyone wants—prosperity, safe neighborhoods, an educated and engaged citizenry, vibrant health and a widely shared community pride. SC2 offers us these opportunities and more. The choice of engagement is ours. We can act like a spectator and point at government or we can take responsibility as citizens and realize it is merely the reflection of us—fragmented. As a stand-up commented, “Blaming government is like yelling at your computer when the problem is in the software."

Vertical Integration—Bottom Up/Top Down
If you think of the neighborhoods and the federal government as two poles far apart, what would happen if they had direct communication with one another? Rather than going through channels—layer after layer of systems—SC2 offers direct access. As many resources make a stop at the state and the county before reaching communities, it is not surprising so many programs are ineffective and necessary infrastructure is so extensive to build. Triangulation is unhealthy. Direct communication works.

Fresno Is In a Unique Situation
Because of the Obama Administration’s confidence in Mayor Swearengin and the evidence of our ten year effort to build a strong civic infrastructure, we have an opportunity to take a quantum leap forward. Success will impact our community, our region and the state because our many colleagues will learn alongside. Everyone engaged in community transformation wants this experiment to work. It’s up to all of us to learn, figure out how to help, and engage.

The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods

Reading the same books has been a powerful tool for building teams and communicating. Good to Great, Civic Revolutionaries: Igniting the Passion for Change in America’s Communities, Leave No Child Behind, Reinventing Government and many more….all have influenced our experiment in self-governance. Thanks to the hard work of the Smart Valley Places team, John McKnight and Peter Block will be coming to Fresno in November. McKnight is the inspiration behind our Asset-Based Approach community value and Block has written extensively about stewardship, community and transformational change. I encourage you to read their new book—The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods. It is happening in Fresno. Like Apollo 13, we turned to one another, worked with what we had, and committed ourselves to community transformation. Others are noticing.