Planting the See for a New Economy & the RJI Transition
What a difference five years make. When the Regional Jobs Initiative launched in 2003 to fundamentally change they way we think, act and invest in economic development, we were just beginning to develop our collaborative skills. Today, with the launch of the next version, a joint venture between Fresno State and the Economic Development Corporation, collaboration is normal operating procedure. The RJI also added two other key commitments--a passion for excellence and an ongoing focus on innovation. This new culture has spilled over into other sectors along with the ten Community Values and has become what Fresno is known for across the state.
Kudos to all the presenters at today's Fifth Annual Meeting of the RJI and those that helped pull the event together behind the scenes. A large crowd at Tornino's heard Mike Dozier, the new director of the Office of Community and Economic Development discuss the the transition of the RJI and the critical role of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. Following Mike, a panel discussed "Leveraging RJI Resources For Your Business' Success". This team was kicked off by Professor Timothy Stearns, executive director of the Lyles Center. He focused on three areas for wealth creation--innovation, entrepreneurship and captial. The Lyles Center is spreading this message to young people reaching into high schools, grade schools and community colleges across our region.
Travis Sheridan, director of member services at the Central Valley Business, Incubator explained how existing businesses are thinking about themselves as start-ups as they change course and add new lines to make it through the changing economy. The first goal is profitability. This leads to wealth creation and jobs. He also talked about our world leadership in water technology and the huge opportunities the water technology cluster holds for our region.
Blake Konczal, CEO of the Workforce Investment Board, detailed new and restored programs for businesses. Funds are available to employers who could retain employees if they were retrained. The youth employment program has been restored with funds for 3,000 youth for six weeks. All salary and benefits will be picked up via government funds.
Steve Geil finished up with an overview of the new EDC--"our staff is your staff." The BEAR Network, winner of a statewide award, turns one staff person into six by tapping resources of other agencies. He talked about wealth being about more than money; it is first class healthcare, first class arts and culture and first class education.
Financial Advice for Today's Economy
A second panel kicked off with Riley Walter who discussed what he is seeing as a bankruptcy attorney across the region. While much of the report was grim, he noted that angel capital is on the increase. People are demonstrating that the economy is beginning to turn around and those who have charted an effective course can capitalize. Dan Doyle, president of Central Valley Community Bank, offered his insights as a seasoned banker who has experienced a number of downturns. He talked about the importance of communicating with all partners, employees and customers. He also said banks are lending, it's a matter of sector. He talked about the importance of morale and the basics of self care. He said one thing local governments can do to help is keep their money in local banks. Brad Triebsch, a partner in Central Valley Fund talked about the difficulty of finding capital, the growth of angel networks and the importance of setting clear priorities in terms of customers.
Focus on the Future
Mayor Ashley Swearengin completed the program by telling the transformation journey beginning with the Collaborative Regional Initiative and the release of the Community Values. She emphasized that the reason we collaborate is to achieve better outcomes for the community at lower cost. Self interest and limited thinking had held us back for too long. She urged everyone to stay focused on their unique part, be extremely honest with one another and aim for excellence across the board. If you are charged to lead...do it. If not, be an excellent follower. Bottom lines--be honest, be excellent, be connected and be ready. As a community, we will achieve the extraordinary.