City, county on right track for economic development

March 02, 2008 11:00 pm

Tuolumne County and the city of Sonora are moving forward to adopt a joint partnership agreement on economic development. This is good news and a positive step in the right direction for our community.

A revitalized effort is needed to attract new companies providing family-wage jobs and employee benefits. Local government must also create a business-friendly environment that allows existing companies to grow and increase their workforce. All agree that this must be done in a way that protects and preserves our rich historic and cultural heritage, the scenic beauty and recreational opportunities we all enjoy and the quality of life we all expect.

At a recent economic development summit at the Sonora Conference Center, public officials, business owners and community leaders gathered to share ideas, set priorities and propose specific steps needed to be successful in this effort.

Facilitators from the California Association for Local Economic Development (CALED) were there to stimulate discussion and share success stories from other rural communities in the state.

Prior to the summit, CALED officials interviewed a number of community leaders and business owners. There was a consistent message that the community wants more jobs and better jobs. Many are concerned that their children will be unable to find jobs/careers with sustainable wages — that they would be unable to live, work and raise their families in our unique part of California. We must always look to the future — to the next generation.

Sonora and Tuolumne County have a rich inventory of assets to market and promote to tourists and prospective residents: our gold rush heritage, our state parks and forests, the Yosemite corridor, our unique shops, restaurants, a casino, music, entertainment and community theater, good schools and teachers, Columbia College and Sonora Regional Medical Center, to name a few. Yet these same amenities are also attractive to prospective business owners who may wish to relocate their families and employees to our area.

Entrepreneurs, software developers and bio-tech pioneers are especially attractive — bringing good jobs with a low impact on resources. And yet, unless we find ways to address an expansion of high-speed DSL and other technology needs to the Mother Lode, we may lose out on these opportunities.

To attract more traditional businesses, the city and county must develop, identify and market site-ready locations — and invest in needed infrastructure. CALED officials insist that this last item is crucial in the recruitment of new companies to any community.

It's encouraging to see that many of the elements necessary for a successful economic development effort are in place.

There is a broad consensus from the public/private sector to forge ahead, dedicated, sustainable funding in place, a proposal to establish a new economic development commission and the leadership and cooperation needed from public officials and the business community. A good summit — important work yet to come.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Ron Horton; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.