Former state Assemblyman and owner of a government consulting group, Mike Villines speaks about the need for infrastructure funding and private investment in the Valley.
“Why are we so poor and what can we do about it?” That was the title question of the town hall meeting held Thursday evening at the Satellite Student Union. The answers given by the four speakers focused on the latter half of the question.
The meeting was moderated by Bill McEwen, a columnist for The Fresno Bee. In his opening statement, he mentioned that Fresno’s current unemployment is 13.1 percent. In 2002, the national unemployment rate was 5.8 percent, in Fresno it was 14.4 percent. In other words, the problem was not caused by the 2008 recession.
Dora Westerlund was the first speaker. As the chief executive officer of the Fresno Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Westerlund advocates for and advises Hispanic business leaders.
Westerlund spoke of the need for investment in Fresno.
“80 percent of the deposits in Fresno county go to national accounts,” Westerlund said.
Her presentation focused on the need for investment into the city and county.
Mike Villines is a former state Asemblyman and owner of a government consulting group. He said Fresno needs infrastructure jobs like those possibly provided by high speed rail. Infrastructure improvements, Villines said, not only provide jobs, but also improve the resources in the region. This helps establish Fresno as a place where business should invest.
“High speed rail is going to create a lot of jobs… That’s a significant benefit to the Central Valley,” Villines said.
Villines also spoke of the need for more technology companies. He suggested technology firms could piggy-back off of agriculture, developing improvements for water and solar energy.
Chief executive officer of Economic Development Corporation serving Fresno County, Lee Ann Eager spoke after Villines.
In her presentation, Eager also listed the need for infrastructure improvements as well as more food processing companies. These companies could work in conjunction with agriculture. While agriculture uses seasonal labor or has become automated, food processing would provide permanent work for residents of Fresno County.
Eager also mentioned the need for skilled labor and technical education.
“There also need to be a push for technical schools. If you have people who shouldn’t and don’t want to go to college that there is an alternative for them that they don’t have to be ashamed of,” Eager said.
Rounding off the meeting was Mark Somma, professor of political science and economic development as part of the Master’s of Public Administration program at Fresno State.
Somma focused on the need for improvements in parks and recreation. He spoke about the way in which parks, walking paths and safe river access all play a part in bringing people to an area.
“Build a community where people want to come to visit, to live. They will bring their skills, their businesses and their entrepreneurship with them,” Somma said.
At the end of the meeting, seven students asked questions. These ranged from the streamlining of environmental regulations and business permits to healthcare funding.
Over 200 students attended this town hall meeting put on by the Smittcamp Family Honors College weekly colloquium program.