Thursday, January 26, 2012

Solano Economic Development Corp. guest discusses future of California's growth

by: Richard Bammer,

Longtime Bay Area and state public servant Sunne McPeak said Solano County and California are making a comeback from the Great Recession, but, to maintain economic growth, political and business leaders must be "focused on outcomes" and work together.

The president and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund and a former Contra Costa County supervisor, McPeak, speaking Wednesday at a Solano Economic Development Corp. meeting in Fairfield, wondered, "Is California going to be a global leader again?"

The county and state boast "amazing assets to build upon" in the lingering wake of the most serious recession since the Great Depression, she said at the noon luncheon marking the EDC's 29th annual meeting, held at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Speaking to more than 200 area government, business and education leaders, McPeak quoted President Woodrow Wilson to support an assertion that the key to political and economic success, whether it be at the county or state level, is for stakeholders to bridge ideological divides.

"The most efficient form of government is the spontaneous cooperation of its citizenry," she said, quoting the 28th president and an allusion to ongoing political gridlock in the halls of the state Capitol and on Capitol Hill in Washington.

McPeak, who served for three years as secretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, cited the state's multibillion-dollar agricultural industry, life-science research and high-tech companies as reasons to be optimistic about the future. But the key to any successful economic strategy, she said, "is to play to your strengths."

Saying California has historically relied on a "research base" laid down by biotech firms, the military and universities, McPeak, who earned a master's degree in health education and medical care administration, said it provided "an added value" to the state's economy found nowhere else.

As the chief of CETF, a statewide nonprofit group with a mission to close the so-called "digital divide" among underserved communities, she called California "a natural leader in broadband connectivity."

McPeak said California, once ranked relatively low among states in broadband service, has emerged in the last five years as a national leader in the field, recognized by bureaucracies "in the Beltway," a reference to regulatory agencies in Washington.

The private and public sectors work best when their goals are mutually beneficial, she noted. While the private sector may be the source of most jobs in the United States, economic development in communities "is determined by the environment of the public sector," she asserted.

California can regain "its place in the sun," said McPeak, when leaders in Sacramento and Solano County focus on outcomes, forging plans that declare "here's where we're going and this is how we'll get there."

To be competitive in the global economy, state and local leaders must encourage innovation, improve quality of life, govern effectively and forge a culture of accountability, she asserted.

McPeak noted that the Government Performance and Accountability Act will be on the November ballot. If approved, it requires that policies, programs and fiscal decisions by local and state governments be driven by data that indicates what is or is not working.