SPIE, economic events illustrate positive steps toward controlling our future

Lenny Mendonca and Kristin Olsen
Lenny Mendonca and Kristin Olsen bclark@modbee.com

I had the pleasure last week of witnessing the hard work our local companies, public agencies, nonprofits and educational institutions do in forwarding our community and understanding the instrumental role they’ll play in helping the Northern San Joaquin Valley take advantage of its upcoming “opportunity.”

That was my takeaway at Wednesday’s packed State of the Region Luncheon at the McHenry Event Center and Tuesday’s Stanislaus Partners in Education internship event at the Martin G. Petersen Event Center.

The economic summit, co-hosted by the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, featured two great speakers. Turlock native Lenny Mendonca, now Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief economic and business adviser took the dais after economist Jeff Michael, the director of the Center for Business & Policy Research at the University of the Pacific. Michael’s annual business analysis of the Northern San Joaquin Valley (NSJV) is a must-read.

More than their discussion or a taut, yet informative Mendonca-Kristin Olsen Q&A, I was impressed by the large turnout of business owners, public agency and nonprofit heads, education leaders and politicians who sat attentively (nearly all cell phones were down) to listen to how, if we act and work together, the Central Valley can be the next big thing in California.

Our connection with Sacramento — we already have seen Newsom give the region more attention than our past governor — is one positive step.

Without getting too far ahead because we know that a lot of nothing can happen in a five-year blink of an eye, the summit came on the heels of an annual evaluation of a great program going on right here — the Stanislaus Partners in Education internship program. It’s a project in which local teachers “intern” with local businesses for one week during the summer.

The Bee has been a past participant, and this summer we hosted Beyer High School’s Alissa Collins, who teaches journalism on the Sylvan Avenue campus.

Collins is attempting to move away from old-school approaches to the way we used to do the business of journalism, and add relevance to be more in line to what our reporters and photographers/videographers do on a daily basis.

She spent time on assignments with drone pilot Joan Barnett Lee, photographer Andy Alfaro, reporters Deke Farrow and Rosalio Ahumada, digital specialist Jim Silva and Pat Clark, who handles a lot of the coordination with our print product. She also picked everyone’s brains for approaches and workflows she could pass on to her students.

As always, we offered up our reporters and photographers for classroom visits, which we do quite often and enjoy.

At Tuesday’s SPIE event, where interns and business leaders discussed their experiences, I listened to one educator’s time working in Josh Harder’s office, receiving a great understanding of the myriad things that take place behind the scenes to support our Congressman and how to manage phone calls from prickly constituents.

It was something she already had taken back to her government class.

Another spoke of her time at Gallo, fascinated by all that makes that company operate and what she could bring back to students who might not be on the college track but would certainly be great candidates to take advantage of a growing technical career in manufacturing.

It was clear our community business and nonprofit leaders, and those intimately involved in governmental agencies and educational institutions, understand and take great pride in their roles as conduits between teachers — and thus, students — and our future here in Stanislaus County.

Additionally, both Mendonca with Newsom’s office and UOP’s Michael see the great, untapped opportunities in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and all areas bordering the Highway 99/Interstate 5 corridor from Sacramento all the way down to Bakersfield.

As The Bee’s Garth Stapley astutely pointed out in his column last week on the importance of smart and inclusive planning for Modesto’s downtown, there’s similar opportunity to do the same for our region.

With the energy and commitment from our local leaders I witnessed last week — both at the SPIE and economic events — it feels we’re on the doorstep of something special.