Op-Ed: Local growth needs a local understanding
Over the last several years, we have seen our local economy go from one of the fastest growing in the nation to one of the hardest hit by the Great Recession. As I began my first term in Congress, I knew that I had to go straight to the community to determine the most effective way to support the Inland Empire’s recovery.
This is why I decided to embark on a district-wide listening tour where I sat down with local economic leaders, education professionals, employees and owners of businesses small and large to discuss some of the challenges facing the Inland Empire economy and their ideas for creating jobs and jump-starting economic growth.
Out of those conversations I developed a comprehensive jobs plan focusing on four areas key to growing our local economy: investing in our region’s infrastructure, developing the Inland Empire’s workforce, helping small businesses succeed and diversifying the local economy.
As the Inland Empire continues its economic recovery, investing in vital infrastructure projects makes our local economy more competitive and resilient. While long-term federal planning and funding are essential, it is also imperative to support incentives to attract private capital in order to meet the growing infrastructure investment gap. On the local level, given our region’s strategic location and hub for logistics and processing, the completion of the Gold Line Foothill extension to Ontario Airport and gaining local control of our airport would not only increase our freight capacity but also travel options for residents and a wider variety of businesses.
At every stop on my listening tour, I also heard about the need for improved workforce development programs. If the Inland Empire is going to effectively compete with other employment hubs in our state, we need a workforce that meets the needs of the 21st century economy. One successful program already working to achieve just that is the partnership between Chaffey College, California Steel Industries and the Inland Empire Regional Training Consortium. Their model should be replicated to engage both employers and potential employees to form relationships and placements for graduates right here in the Inland Empire.
While the Inland Empire is a hub for large companies, it is our small businesses that are creating opportunities for countless Inland Empire residents and will ultimately fuel our future growth. Many small business owners stressed not only a lack of access to capital but also the difficulty in finding information on available federal programs. Congress must work to support micro-lending programs and increase access to financing from community banks and credit unions, streamline duplicative programs to make the Small Business Administration more efficient and effective, and work within our communities to increase awareness of available resources.
Finally, if we are truly going to build a lasting economic recovery, we must diversify the employment opportunities in the Inland Empire. Not only would this help create a more stable economy that is less vulnerable to economic downturns, it would also reduce commutes for residents who have to leave the area for work. Reducing traffic on our local freeways will help the environment and also clear the roads for truckers and small businesses who must transport goods.
After seven roundtable discussions and conversations with more than 200 local stakeholders, one point became clear: the Inland Empire has enormous economic potential. I believe the recommendations we developed are the first step toward bringing quality, high-paying jobs to our district and creating a stronger, lasting economic recovery for us all. I encourage local residents to visit my website, torres.house.gov, to see the full report with detailed recommendations, and I welcome their feedback.
Norma Torres is a congresswoman representing California’s 35th district.