The Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce kicked off its 2018 Wine Country Luncheon Series with “Successes and Challenges for California & the Bay Area Region” on May 31.

Sid Voorakkara, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economics (GO-Biz), told the gathering, “The transformation of the California economy in the last seven-plus years is nothing short of remarkable. Today, California is the fifth largest economy in the world behind only the United States, China, Japan and Germany. The Golden State continues to lead the nation in several key metrics, including job growth, foreign direct investments and venture capital deals. California has the largest corporate tax-credit program in the country, the largest film credit and the largest tourism marketing budget. Moreover, Governor Brown’s climate action and sustainability goals are spurring innovation in emerging technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption, while laying the foundation for California’s green economy.”

While Voorakkara highlighted that the state leads the nation and world in industries, such as biotech, automotive and artificial intelligence, speaker Micah Weinberg, Ph.D., focused on the Bay Area core and Northern California megaregion, which stretches from the Monterey Bay area to the Sacramento area.

Weinberg, president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, stated, “We tend to think of the Tri-Valley as being on the periphery of the Bay Area, but to the extent that the relevant geographic unit is increasingly the Northern California megaregion, the Tri-Valley is the heart of it all. The Bay Area is the 19th largest economy in the world, with a gross domestic product of $748 billion and one of the highest growth rates for the last three years.”

The luncheon took place at the Robert Livermore Community Center. On hand for the presentation were 180 residents, city officials and business men and women.

One of those in attendance, Monika Nowak Binkney, co-founder of Lena Search in Livermore, said, "As a recruiter, I have to pay close attention to what is going on in our region. It’s important for me to understand the trends and data behind job growth, housing affordability and commuting in the Bay Area, as these are drivers for the industry I’m in. I appreciated that along with discussing all the economic successes that clearly are happening in the Bay Area, the guest speakers were not shying away from pointing out how it is becoming more and more difficult for people to afford to live here. This big and complex issue is what we need to work together to solve.”

Although Bay Area job growth and home values are spiraling upward, Weinberg stated that the Bay Area is building fewer homes per population-added than other metropolitan areas in the nation.

“Addressing the cost of living must focus on increasing the supply of housing,” according to Weinberg. “There was a time when people were worried about everyone leaving. People ask, ‘Are jobs going away?’ The answer is no, jobs are not going away. The jobs will keep up as industries continue to grow. However, it’s important to understand what a challenge is already: there are plenty of jobs, but are there really livelihoods? That is a huge challenge.”

The presentation was moderated by Lisa Vorderbrueggen, East Bay executive director for Governmental Affairs at the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area.

“The Bay Area is truly a remarkable region on numerous fronts, but it is far from perfect,” Vorderbrueggen said. “If we don't find a way to solve our housing crisis by significantly increasing production everywhere, the region's escalating cost of living will continue to outpace wages and we will generate more poverty.”

During a Q & A period, Vorderbrueggen said that the largest number of audience questions involved the lack of affordable housing.

“The Bay Area is rapidly turning into a country club that only a certain number of people can afford to live in,” Weinberg said. “The housing shortage is mainly a poverty creation mechanism. We have the highest rate of poverty in the state of California. All you need to understand about that is our unwillingness to build homes.”

Another question posed was, “What should California do to take our fifth-largest world economy and bring our students up to an equivalent position?”

“At GO-Biz, one of the top reasons we hear why companies choose California is our talented workforce. That workforce begins in our education system, and Governor Brown has continued to increase funding for K-12 and higher education as the economy and our state budget has strengthened during his administration,” said Voorakkara. “Additionally, the Governor and the Legislature have worked together to increase funding for affordable housing. Taken together, these steps will ensure California continues to be home to the innovators and entrepreneurs that will drive our global economy.”

The Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce (LVCC) is a membership organization representing more than 500 businesses and organizations.

“The purpose of the Wine Country Luncheon Series is to educate, inform and connect,” said President Dawn Argula. “The first luncheon’s state-of-the-economy theme sets the framework for the remaining luncheons in the series.”

The LVCC monthly luncheon series takes place from May to October at various Tri-Valley venues. Upcoming luncheons, held on Thursdays, are: “The State of the City” at the Robert Livermore Community Center on June 28; “Made in Livermore” at Garre Vineyard & Winery on July 26; “Agri-Tourism” at Concannon Vineyard on August 23; “Alameda County: Major Player in the Bay Area” at Wente Vineyards on September 27; and “#LivValBiz Awards Evening Reception” at The Vine Cinema on October 18.

All are welcome to attend the luncheons. Tickets are $48 for LVCC members and their guests, and $58 for “Not-Yet” members.

Binkney noted, “I appreciate that the Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce is bringing events like this to our community. It’s not only a good opportunity to network and meet people, but also to learn more about the issues that have a direct impact on business owners like myself.”

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