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Look to the State’s Economic Regions for Solutions

By Rebecca Morgan, president of the Morgan Family Foundation, former president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, and a former state senator.

For related commentaries and content, please visit the Untangling the State-Local Fiscal Relationship page.

My experience as a member of the California Legislature and my subsequent role as founding CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley has instilled in me a keen awareness of the complexities of the fiscal relationship between state and local governments. Can we improve this relationship? Absolutely, and we must if we are to revive the potential within California.

To fundamentally change our broken system, I urge all of us to look to what is already working and to allow innovations to come from these successes. We must look at our economic regions. There, we find regional stewards implementing solutions through partnerships across sectors. Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of that with which we are entrusted. I believe that being a steward of the Golden State requires a concern not just for economic prosperity, but for environmental sustainability and social equity in the achievement of that growth.

In 2008, the California Stewardship Network (CSN) was launched as a way to connect, to network regional groups that have strong track records of collaboration within their regions. The members of CSN are proponents of what the business community calls the "triple bottom line,” which factors in natural and human capital, as well as economic, in its approach and decision-making. CSN involves regions from San Diego to the Redwood Coast and from the Monterey Coast to the Sierra Nevada. It includes eleven regions, thus far, with more to be added. CSN stewards believe that "Thriving Regions Lead to a Thriving State.”
These regional stewards mobilize leaders from the private, public, and civic sectors to collaborate to solve persistent problems or unlock new opportunities that no single organization can accomplish. They see opportunities for change and improvement and bring the same passion, rigor, and persistence to community problem-solving that business entrepreneurs bring to launching new ventures. And so, when I am asked to provide ideas for the challenges facing our state, I say… the solution will come from the regions.

The state of California must organize around these economic regions, promoting our economic recovery through regional strategies. We must recognize that these regions have unique economies and will require unique solutions. We must understand that while the regions’ opportunities may vary, many of their obstacles are the same: lack of a streamlined regulatory and permitting process, lack of a "front door” for business retention and expansion, lack of a skilled workforce, lack of access to capital, and an inadequate transportation infrastructure. We must recognize that we live in a state where a "one size fits all” approach to progress will fail, but a shared approach to addressing obstacles "closer to the people” will aid progress efficiently.

I ask that California state and local governments partner with regional leaders to unlock the full potential of the state’s economic regions by providing more autonomy and incentives for collaboration in return for accountability and results. Each region of California needs the necessary support to develop and implement an economic recovery strategy that reflects its own unique challenges, industry mix, and innovation assets. We must align state resources and regional efforts around comprehensive regional strategies focused on prosperity, people, and place.

Regional stewardship calls for compromise, collaboration, inclusion, trust, and the motivation to find solutions for "us” not "me.” By working together in this way, we will find solutions that address the fiscal relationship between state and local governments. Long-term solutions cannot even be conceived until we build our capacity to collaborate and think through the systems that have put us in this predicament. Let’s learn from prior Band-Aid approaches that have been well-intentioned but short-sighted. Our problems are too large and too complex for isolated solutions. We can no longer expect a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach from the state to work. The true solutions will not come easy. But if you take time to see what regional stewards are doing and learn more about their innovative ideas for the future of California, you will see that solutions to our most complex education, environmental, and economic problems are possible.

The California Stewardship Network is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based on the belief that Californians are up to this challenge. Regional leaders seek to be productive partners with state and local government, working together to identify and implement specific changes that will increase regional innovation, collaboration, and results. We have proven successes to share from the regions. We ask PPIC and all who care about the future of our state to learn more about our work and to support our vision of a "Thriving California.” Check with your local regional leaders listed on our website:

I have committed much of my professional life to finding solutions that go beyond our state’s quandary—solutions that are more systemic and transformational than short-term fixes for today’s budget crises. In so doing, I have come to the conclusion that we must look to California’s unique regions for innovative solutions to the state’s most pressing economic, environmental, and community challenges. We must, nevertheless, have a collaborative relationship with our state government that doesn’t leave regions, counties, cities, and our communities in fiscal straitjackets.

Let’s all be stewards of California and work within our regions, hand in hand with other regions, to bring prosperity to a new California dream.