By Ruth Gadebusch
The local daily recently printed an article by Jerry Nickelsburg, an adjunct professor of economics and senior economist at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, on the Valley’s economy. We would do well to heed him.
Professor Nickelsburg focusing on the Valley’s lagging economy reasoned why the Valley has not recovered as quickly as other parts of the nation and state from the depression begun in 2008, declared officially over in 2009. Better yet, he offered suggestions for leaving behind what he had in 2010 called “Californillachia.” As the rest of the state moves forward, he notes we still exist in a bifurcated economy, an assessment that few of us would disagree with. He urges us to avoid the mistakes of Appalachia, to think well past our current inclinations.
After all, we see the poverty surrounding us. We feel the excitement of parts of the state thriving in a way that the inland area has not known for a long time. We hear the negativism expressed by our citizens. And now with the drought taking its toll we are drowning—perhaps the wrong word to use—in pessimism.
He offered a vision, but it is up to us to follow through. He most assuredly did not put his money on automobiles, or opening the Fulton Mall to them. To be fair, he did not specifically address downtown Fresno. He is looking at a much broader picture, not destroying what we have but building what could be.
We have a history of putting plans on the shelf or taking only a step or two and wondering why they are not successful. We built Fulton Mall, but we did not follow through. We allowed all manner of building to go north. We had money for a Victorian restaurant, for a downtown ballpark and other such projects, but no money for upkeep of the mall. Then we are shocked that people are not attracted to downtown.
Despite our water concerns, we are living in an ideal climate when compared to the parts of the nation suffering so from ice storms after heavy snows and more of the same. Has it ever occurred to any of us that we could rival Florida in attracting retirees fleeing snow country? Of course, to do so would require infrastructure to accommodate the recreational and health needs of seniors.
We have a start on both. Then too our “middle of the state” position could be exploited. Day trips to metropolitan San Francisco, megalopolis Los Angeles, the coast and the mountains are quite feasible. More mountain resorts near our magnificent national parks could be great attractions.
Cities like Fresno would need public transportation far greater than the Bus Rapid Transit recently turned down by our city council. To the naysayers, high-speed rail could be much more than connections to the aforementioned cities, but to Pacific Rim cities across that ocean. No, not trains. Planes! A huge regional airport connected by high-speed rail to the rest of California would open a whole new vista. Don’t we already have the nucleus for such an airport in the former Castle Air Base? Land is far more available in our region than in the heavily populated areas currently enjoying that reviving economy.
The professor notes that the existing higher education facilities within the region have far more potential for attracting outsiders than currently utilized. Education enhancement would also be longer lasting than the Monterey Shale gas so many are counting on. This latter would be more the way of Appalachia than a long-term future.
We can continue as is, thereby convincing the rest of the state that we really are the Podunk Hollow that they think. Or, we can drop the excuses of why it can’t be done and show them a revitalized region beyond our, and their, wildest dreams. A bright economy could be in our future if we act.
Ruth Gadebusch, a community activist, is a veteran, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.