Business council shows Lode at critical crossroads

July 15, 2007 11:00 pm

When the audience heard, "One of our biggest exports is our children," at a Sierra Business Council (SBC) seminar Wednesday in Sonora, it got our attention.

Is it going to get our action?

The SBC, a nonprofit membership organization, provides research and planning services to business and governments in the Sierra Nevada region. It has just issued a report, "The State of the Sierra."

Here is some of what the report says about our subregion (Calaveras, Tuolumne, Amador and Mariposa counties) of the Sierra Nevada:

• Home prices have escalated rapidly, but jobs have not kept pace. Many of our residents work in retail sales and construction which are subject to booms and busts. These jobs do not pay enough to enable those in these fields to buy a home, and if they can buy a home, and then lose their job, chances are they will lose their home.

• Our economy is largely based on income that comes from outside the region, "the mailbox economy" — retirement and investment income.

• Second homes in Tuolumne County are 21. 3 percent, and in Calaveras County 24.2 percent, of total housing units.

• Higher-paying jobs require our residents to commute. Approximately 40.6 percent of Calaveras County residents commute outside the county to work. Many of those residents commute to Sacramento.

• Small, locally-owned businesses comprise 92 percent of all businesses in our region.

• Because of the historic nature of our area, tourism is big business. As a percentage of total tourism revenue, Calaveras County is one of the top producers in the state.

• The region has seen a dramatic decline in 15- to 35 year-olds, according to Steven Poncelet, one of the SBC presenters at the seminar. "One of our biggest exports is our children. It's critically important to keep our young families in the region," he added.

Here are some of the issues we need to address now to be ready for the future that faces us:

• Aging Baby Boomers continue to increase in this region, bringing their "mailbox economy." Looking out 25 to 30 years when this segment of our population dies, what will happen to their homes and the social and financial investments they made here?

• When gasoline tops $5 a gallon, will tourists continue to support our heritage economies?

• The Internet and technological advances allow for some businesses to locate almost anywhere. Are we building the technology "backbone" to encourage these businesses to locate in our region?

• Are we looking at a mix of housing options, such as workforce housing and mixed-use developments, to keep young people and attract young families to the community?

We comprise communities with many multi-generational families who have found ways to remain in some of the most beautiful and naturally rich areas in the world.

We would not be looked upon kindly by those who follow us, if we exported our children because they could not afford to live and work on the land where they were born and raised.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Geoff White, Editor Teresa Chebuhar, Managing Editor, news Craig Cassidy and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.