(This article originally appeared in the Merced Sun-Star on October 23, 2017)
Some of the most affluent and most impoverished zip codes in the country are separated by just a valley. Ironically, the problems of both might be solved by the solutions of the other.
Recently, we hosted the first-ever Valley-to-Valley conference in Merced. The discussion brought together local leaders and industries from the Silicon Valley to discuss the future of technological innovation in the Central Valley.
Prior to the conference, the Silicon Valley delegation joined us for a tour of UC Merced which showcased the tremendous work being done by the students and faculty. We met with Mark Matsumoto, dean of the Engineering Department, and learned that 40 percent of the engineers who graduate from UC Merced stay and work in the Central Valley even though only 27 percent of the engineering students grew up here.
That means we are already benefiting from the UC’s ability to attract and retain world-class engineering talent to the Valley.
Beyond our advancements in developing the skilled workforce necessary to support a growing tech industry, we also are now becoming a hub for major commuter and intercity rail systems. High Speed Rail, the Altamont Corridor Express and expanded Amtrak service from Bakersfield to Sacramento and the East Bay are all under development. These major improvements in California’s infrastructure make the geographic divide between the Silicon Valley and the San Joaquin Valley smaller than at any other time in history.
With the growth of our educational opportunities and transit, expansion of the tech industry would be a game-changer for the region. Despite possessing the most productive agricultural industry in the world, the San Joaquin Valley has consistently high levels of poverty and unemployment. Fifty-three percent of children in Merced County live in poverty and 51 percent of the population is on Medi-Cal.
The figures in the rest of the Valley aren’t much better. An infusion of technological investment could have significant impacts on our overall economic outlook.
For years we have encouraged those with businesses in Silicon Valley to consider establishing some of their operations and jobs here in the Central Valley, where their employees can access affordable housing and easy travel to their work sites. The knock against us has always been the lack of a qualified labor force from which to recruit new employees.
Drawing upon and enhancing the career technical education programs – such as computer and robotics labs – will prepare local students for careers in the expanding field of technology.
With the maturation and emergence of our education institutions, and leaders working to create partnerships between our universities, local businesses and the tech industry, we have an opportunity to diversify our economy and change the lives of the people living and working here for the better.
We appreciate Technet and CALinnovates for cohosting the Valley-to-Valley conference and recognizing the need to develop a nexus between our valleys. The conference was the first of many steps in the right direction.
Adam Gray represents the 21st Assembly District, which includes Merced and part of Stanislaus County; Anthony Cannellta represents the 12th Senate District, which includes all or part of Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, San Benito and Fresno counties. They wrote this for the Merced Sun-Star.