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Let the debate begin

Nevada County residents are an opinionated bunch, especially when it comes to a subject like economic development in the county.

“We need higher-paying jobs so young people can afford to live here,” said Reg Pack of Grass Valley. “That’s why the school population is falling.”

“What’s the point of major economic growth if it ruins the quality of life we have?” said Cynthia Thoms of Cedar Ridge. “I grew up in the Bay Area, but I won’t go back.”

A working group from the Nevada County Community Leadership Institute wants to collect thoughts like those into a report on what kind of economic development county residents want.

Their hope is that the final report, expected to be completed in June, will serve as a catalyst for community discussion of how growth should be handled.

“We’re trying to bring some public input and attention to the issue of economic development, encouraging appropriate groups to move forward using some of the public input,” said group member Chris Craine.

“My sense is that when we finish all of this, we will present our findings to a group of supporters of the program,” said Carol Wong, a Realtor associate at Realty World in Grass Valley.

The group plans to propose a series of development-related questions to the public, then summarize their responses in the group’s final report.

“When we first talked about the idea, we asked a number of questions,” said Patty Park, financial manager at LectraMedia in Nevada City.

“Do people want Nevada County to be a bedroom community for the Roseville/Rocklin area? Do they want it be just senior housing, or do people want it to be a viable community where young people can stay here and live and work.

“Nevada County … has always had the label, ‘the pine tree tax,’ because wages are so much lower than other places,” she said. “Well, how can we bring good jobs to the area? We know it’s all tied in with schools and housing, the infrastructure.”

So the group is proposing the following question to get the debate started:

What kind of local economy do we want?

The group points out that while Nevada County has much to offer residents, “there is increasing concern about affordability. A key factor is quality jobs and their impact both personally and on the community.

“How can we provide quality job opportunities without losing the unique character of the community we love? Most people would agree that a healthy economy is critical to a dynamic, well-rounded community,” the group writes in a background document.

“Unfortunately, much of the public discussion is reduced to polarized pro- or anti-growth positions, often expressed in misleading terms and practices. Little good follows. How about an independent, balanced look?”

Park is confident the group, which also includes Rose Asquith, an accountant for the city of Grass Valley, will hear plenty. “The public has never been known for being quiet,” she said.

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Comments can be mailed to NCCLI, P.O. Box 1570, Nevada City 95959, or e-mailed to econdevl@macol.net.

By the numbers

A few facts about jobs and the economy in Nevada County:

• Per-capita personal income in Nevada County was $32,841 in 2002, 16th best in the state. Statewide, the average was $32,989.

• Total personal income in the county consists of earnings (51 percent); dividends, interest and rent (27 percent); and transfer payments (14 percent).

• Wages in private-sector jobs in Nevada County averaged $29,181 in 2003. The state average was $40,769.

• Nevada County’s working population is gravitating toward white collar jobs. Management, professional and related occupations lead the list with 34.3 percent, followed by sales and office occupations (26.8 percent).

• More than 27 percent of working Nevada County residents commute to jobs outside the county.

• The median price of a house in western Nevada County was $357,000 in 2004, a 58.6 percent increase from 2000.

Source: Nevada County Economic and Social Indicator Review 2004