What comes to mind when you think of California? Is it Hollywood or Silicon Valley? Disneyland, perhaps?
Conventional narratives about California have long focused on the areas closest to its coast. The state’s coastal metropolitan areas — including San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco — have generated much of its overall economic growth; they’re also where the benefits of that growth are most visible.
A new coalition co-founded by Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, wants to change the way you think about the Golden State. The goal is to shift perceptions about the state’s overlooked “backbone” region — Inland California — and shine a light on its potential as a site of innovation and opportunity, Ramakrishnan said.
Stretching from Riverside and San Bernardino counties through the Central Valley and up to Sacramento, Inland California is experiencing rapid population and economic growth. Its more than 11 million residents account for nearly 30% of the state’s population — a portion also larger than the populations of 43 states.
The region is home to dynamic leaders and opportunities in a broad range of sectors, including business, government, higher education, nonprofits, philanthropy, and technology, among others. Ramakrishnan, who has dual appointments in UCR’s School of Public Policy and Department of Political Science, co-founded the coalition, known as Inland California Rising, to showcase the strengths of these assets — and, ultimately, to increase investments in them.
Last month, he and coalition co-founder Ashley Swearengin united nearly 200 leaders from Inland Southern California and the Central Valley at the Riverside Convention Center. The occasion, a regional summit organized by UCR’s Center for Social Innovation, also directed by Ramakrishnan, was the coalition’s second convening after its February launch in Sacramento.
A former mayor of Fresno, Swearengin is now the president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation, which provides charitable funding to the six counties of the Central Valley.
Also participating in the summit were senior advisors from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, as well as Jovan Agee, the state’s deputy treasurer for housing and economic development, who used the occasion to share opportunities to partner with the new administration in Sacramento.
In addition, the summit explored a variety of innovative partnerships and policies that already exist within Inland Southern California’s Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Panel discussions highlighted collaborations within the region’s nonprofit sector; programs that have spurred progress and equity in higher education settings; and opportunities for investment in advanced manufacturing and high tech.
The gathering also served as a forum for unveiling several new partnerships benefiting Inland California, including:
• Regions Rise Together: Inland California Rising is one of multiple partnering organizations in this initiative from members of Gov. Newsom’s administration, designed to ensure economic growth across all California regions.
• Inland Empire Innovation Ecosystem: UCR’s Center for Social Innovation will work with the Milken Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, and other regional partners on building the Inland Empire Innovation Ecosystem, or IE-squared. The ecosystem will bring together business, government, academic, and research partners to devise strategies for driving further investment in the region’s biotech, clean tech, and information technology sectors.
• SoCal Policy Forum: The Center for Social Innovation will collaborate with Southern California News Group — whose publications include The Press-Enterprise, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, and San Bernardino Sun — to create a platform for expert opinion on policy matters facing Southern California. Opinion pieces by experts in government, business, academia, and the nonprofit sector will be published online and in the news group’s print newspapers, and will inform signature events with community partners.
• “Opportunity zone” deal jockeys: At the May 10 summit, City of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the additions of two “opportunity zone” dealmakers: one for Inland Southern California and the other for the Central Valley. The dealmakers will work to develop long-term prospectuses and build larger frameworks for drawing investments in their respective regions. They’ll receive financial support from the James Irvine Foundation and technical assistance from Accelerator for America, an initiative co-founded by Garcetti in 2017 to address economic insecurity at the city level across the country.
• New support for social enterprises: The Roberts Enterprise Development Fund, or REDF, which invests exclusively in social enterprises focused on employment, will launch a pilot project in Inland Southern California. The project will include up to $50,000 in strategic grants and technical assistance to strengthen the region’s infrastructure of social enterprises. Local partners assisting with the effort include the Center for Social Innovation, Goodwill Southern California, and the Community Foundation, which serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The coalition’s next convenings will take place in Stockton on Sept. 20 and Fresno from Nov. 7-8. The Fresno convening will coincide with the 2019 California Economic Summit, a gathering of private, public, and civic leaders from across California.
Inland California Rising is a coalition of leaders seeking to significantly boost public, private, and philanthropic investments in the Central Valley and Inland Empire, and was made possible by early support from the James Irvine Foundation. Partners in the coalition’s Riverside summit included the Center for Social Innovation, Voice Media Ventures, the Community Foundation, the Central Valley Community Foundation, and the James Irvine Foundation.