A Valley Rising

As cities sign on to a common economic blueprint, a partnership asserts its vision for smart growth.



Photo by Tom Brewster

In a demonstration of solidarity behind a set of ideals, a cross section of stakeholders — including nine municipalities — has literally bought into a plan to grow and strengthen the desert economy. The Coachella Valley Economic Blueprint, facilitated by Desert Lyceum and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, sets out to retain and attract new jobs by promoting four general themes: regionalism, economic diversification, workforce excellence, and quality of place.

The buy-in from desert cities ensures the regional focus of the blueprint, which acknowledges the market segments that have traditionally led the local economy (especially tourism and agriculture) and targets four sectors to develop:

  • Healthcare and life sciences
  • Supply chain management/logistics
  • Clean technology and energy
  • Creative arts and design

“When looking at economic development, there are things we can do as a region that we could not achieve at the individual city level,” says outgoing CVEP Chair Richard Ramhoff. “The blueprint is a recognition that we can amplify our voices by speaking as one voice.”

Ramhoff suggests that tourism and residential development were the driving forces here. But when the economy turned, a sense of urgency prevailed — as did a shared vision among cities, the business community, and other stakeholders — that the valley needed a more diversified economy. “Our economic development strategy has to recognize that this is a unique, beautiful place and tourism will be the linchpin to the economy here,” he says. “Now we have to do a better job of getting our marketing message to the groups that already come here — get in front of the right people, decision-makers coming to the valley. We have an enterprise zone, we have a foreign trade zone, and we have incentives that can help businesses come here. We need to do a better job of [selling] the benefits of having a business here.”

According to Ramhoff, the four sectors that CVEP has identified for development were ripe for the picking. “It’s easier to grow a business that exists,” he says, referring to the head start the desert has with green energy. “The windmills are a great start. The challenge is, how do we ensure that we’re not just an outpost for green energy? How do we bring the technical, thinking, long-term jobs here?”

To this end, the blueprint addresses education as a critical concern, particularly as the business community leverages higher education and workforce development programs.

In this wide-spanning report, Palm Springs Life captures some of the past year’s success stories and taps into plans on the drawing board in each of the market segments mentioned above, as well as in retail, preservation, infrastructure, and other categories that ultimately reinforce quality of place.

On Oct. 22, at Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa in Indian Wells, the Coachella Valley Economic Summit will assemble business, community, civic, and tribal leaders and educators, consultants, investors, and CVEP staff to review strategies and determine tactics to achieve the goals outlined in the blueprint. The event also features a keynote speaker — former White House economic policy adviser and Wall Street executive Todd Buchholz — and reveals CVEP’s annual economic report.

One day earlier at the same location, Women Leaders Forum — which emphasizes goal-oriented education, leadership training, skill development, and mentoring for women of all ages — hosts its LEAD program. An acronym for “Learn, Educate, Aspire, Demonstrate,” the event unfolds in nine tracks, such as Banking & Finance and Sports & Recreation. WLF, which collaborates with six other nonprofit women’s organizations, reaches young women through programs such as Wall Street Teens andYoung Women Ambassadors and awards scholarships to high school students. The program is one of many in the desert aimed at developing a sophisticated workforce — the charge of Terry Green, CVEP vice president for workforce excellence.

CVEP has raised more than $5 million for Pathways to Success programs, which link local business with educators and educators with each other to prepare students for careers in industries CVEP targets for growth, especially healthcare, energy and environmental technology, and media and arts. The program has 430 students under scholarship at 50 colleges and universities nationwide. “These students will become the business leaders of the future economy of the valley,” Green says, adding that Pathways to Success also facilitates job-based learning, internships, faculty externships, business tours, mentoring, and job shadowing. “Developing a college-educated workforce is a central strategy of the economic blueprint.”

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