Economic summit

Focus will be on resiliency and recovery efforts, plus government collaborations

Very few positives have come from the aftermath of the 2017 North Bay wildfires that destroyed 5,300 homes in Sonoma and neighboring counties, while claiming 43 lives.

But one valuable lesson has been shared across a legion of government and public agencies that are finding all kinds of new ways to collaborate, combining goals, resources, efforts and outcomes. The work has stretched beyond just doing fire recovery projects, now including education, training and broader economic and housing initiatives.

For government, it is anything but business as usual.

Sonoma County will host the 7th annual California Economic Summit, Nov. 15-16, which has been spreading the word about government innovation and regional partnerships since 2011. (The event was scheduled to be held in Sonoma County before the October fires, but as a result of the fires, the county will have a raft of interesting stories and new initiatives to share with other local governments.)

This year’s forum will focus on generating jobs, strengthening rural economies and environmental protections and improving responses to natural disasters.

“We are thrilled that the Summit is coming to Sonoma County and the North Bay for the first time,” said James Gore, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.  “We will be focusing on our triple bottom line of equity, prosperity and sustainability. We view this effort as not about the government, but about all of us.”

The two-day summit will include multiple field trips around the county, two plenary sessions in Santa Rosa and a culminating “equity dinner” at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts on Friday, Nov. 16.

The Summit is led by California Forward, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to increased accountability and transparency in California governments.

“Our experience in Sonoma County with last year’s wildfires shows that in order to address challenges, we have to work across sectors,” said Oscar Chavez, assistant director, Sonoma County Department of Human Services and 2018 Summit Steering Committee co-chair. “It’s fitting the summit is being held in Santa Rosa where we can share what we’ve learned in the last year with other regional leaders.”

Sonoma County Tourism was instrumental in underwriting and coordinating the summit, which 500 to 700 attendees are expected to attend.

Far beyond the wildfire recovery efforts, Gore said the desired outcome is to produce a “blueprint for regional economic development,” including specific targets for moving more people out of poverty, improving rural-urban economic ties and becoming more resilient in the face of increased threats from natural disasters, including fires, floods, earthquakes and climate change.

Since 2012, past summits have set a series of “One Million Challenges.” Some of these challenges have included creating one million new jobs, one million new housing units and one million new acre-feet of water for rural communities and agriculture.

Field trips next week will include a tour of the Maker Space in Santa Rosa that supports Career Training Education (CTE) programs; a tour led by the Sonoma County Water Agency of the Laguna de Santa Rosa; and a walk across the recovering open lands and natural habitat of the Pepperwood Preserve that was scorched by the Tubbs Fire last year. (The field trips are separate from the main summit and require participation fees.)

More information is available at summit.caeconomy.org. The primary location for the event is the Hyatt Regency in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square.

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