Inland Southern California has more residents than the state of Oregon
and about 20 other states. Both San Bernardino and Riverside counties are among
the dozen largest counties in the United States.
But the two counties are not classified highly in many other areas, and many of those problems were discussed by a roster of business, educational and civic leaders at the Inland Empire Economic Partnership's second annual Quality of Life Summit held Wednesday at UCR.
The all-morning discussion featured panels on education and transportation and goods movement, but the theme was how a region with more than 4 million residents can establish its own geographic and political identity and shake a lingering image that the Inland Empire is nothing more than a poor cousin to wealthier and better-educated coastal California.
Paul Granillo, the IEEP's CEO and president of the group, has been trying to use the organization to do more than its traditional task of drawing in new businesses. He and the organization have looked at making the area attractive by unifying communities and looking inward at the area's own issues.
Granillo admitted that it isn't easy. But he said that the consensus he drew from Wednesday's panel discussions is that it's time to put plans into action.
"Our follow-up now is convincing all the stakeholders to identify strategies," Granillo said. "If we don't raise these issues, who will? If we don't identify our quality of life, others will define it for us, and more often than not they'll get it wrong."
Lucy Dunn, president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council, said that to the typical person in her area, the Inland Empire is "the wild west." But she said that a few generations ago Orange County was Los Angeles' red-headed stepchild, strictly considered a suburb.
Today, Orange County has a healthier economy than Los Angeles County, and probably as many people commute south to work there as the other way around. The key to that was a unified approach, she said.
"Keep at it," Dunn said during one of the panel discussions. "Make it a goal. You are more powerful together."
Inland cities, the two counties and subregions of the counties have competed with each other for many years. Today those rivalries are considered unproductive, especially because Rialto's problems are usually very similar to Moreno Valley's or Hemet's.
Also, when federal grants are given out, the monies tend to be awarded to regions, not cities and counties.
"I know the two counties need to work together," said Greg Devereaux, CEO for San Bernardino County. "It's kind of amazing that we have to say it."
Much of the day's discussions were on education. Only about 18 percent of the Inland population hold bachelor's degrees, compared to 28 percent nationwide.
But as good as a degreed workforce is, Inland students need to at least enter the 21st century when it comes to the technology that now drives manufacturing and distribution operations.
"We seem to have backed away from career pathways and applied learning," said Mike Gallo, president and CEO of Kelly Space and Technology and a San Bernardino County United School District board member.
Much of what is lacking is interest in math and sciences, which can be started in the early grades, said Pam Clute, UCR's assistant vice chancellor of educational and community engagement.
Clute used Japanese origami as an illustration. An 8-year-old is likely to be fascinated by it. But if that child learns that a piece of origami became a model for car air bags, that fascination could lead to an early attraction to science and technology.
(c)2013 The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Calif.)
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