A New Vision for Southern California

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

Since the start of the last century, Southern California has been a pioneer in building ways of living, and an economy, that broke with normal convention. Our region created a new paradigm, one both defining suburbanism and friendly to middle class aspirations, that attracted millions here.

Today’s Southern California has clearly lost its innovative spirit, straining to emulate — both economically and socially — other models, whether that of dense New York or to reinvent itself as “Silicon Valley South.”

Neither gambit has worked, or is likely to succeed in the future. Instead, the region must focus on a strategy leveraging its most outstanding assets — creative industries, ethnic diversity and, perhaps most important, the entrepreneurial spirit of our people.

Learning from Dragnet. Just the facts.

Some may see high-housing prices as an avatar of success. Others simply tell people that, if they find costs and opportunities too restrictive, they are “cowards” to seek greener pastures. But great regions are shaped not by mindless forbearance, or real estate speculation, but following a city’s core mission, as Aristotle noted, to create conditions so its citizens can “live well.” Over the past quarter century, we have largely failed to improve our region, in part due to misplaced priorities.

Consider the facts. For all the hype of becoming a new “Silicon Valley,” according to the economic analytics firm EMSI, our region since 2006 has been created zero modern technology jobs; in contrast the nation saw an over 12 percent jump; the Bay Area has created STEM employment at nearly three times that rate. In a recent Brookings survey on the most “digitized” metro economy, our region, once a technical powerhouse, did not even rank in the top ten, behind not only the Bay Area, Boston and Austin but also places like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Albany and Salt Lake City.

More broadly, the area has failed to create high wage jobs at a rate close to those of key competitors. Overall, since 2010 the region has lost a net 26,000 high wage jobs while New York has added 122,000, Dallas-Ft. Worth 114,000 and the Bay Area nearly 200,000. Combined with high housing prices, the erosion of high wage employment has helped generate the nation’s highest rates of poverty, notes the Census Bureau, as high as high levels of overcrowding and inequality.

A search for solutions

We do not believe our region faces an inevitable descent into dystopia, but quite the opposite. But we must focus on those things we do better than most, or even any, competitor.

Read the rest of the article at The Orange County Register.