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ERC plans to grow local economy with Chico State

Ivan Natividad
Staff Writer

Many local school district officials, business owners and residents have been concerned with the county’s inability to keep young professionals in the region. Many of the county’s best and brightest go off to college out of the area, and due to a lack of career opportunities, they don’t come back, which can lead to less young families, less students and less money spent in Nevada County.

That’s something the Nevada County Economic Resource Council, in partnership with California State University, Chico, is looking to change; it aims to bring more educational and professional opportunities to the county.

“Our strategy to recruit video technology companies means there will be more companies here and more opportunities,” ERC Executive Director Jon Gregory said. “So by creating this partnership with computer science and engineering with Chico State, now you’ve really created a direct linkage between the students of Nevada County and the employment opportunities that exist for them, it’s a much more linear pathway, which today is disjointed and fragmented.”

Chico State University College of Engineering, Computer Sciences and Construction Management Assistant Dean Jerry Hight gave a presentation to the ERC board Thursday morning that stressed the importance of providing new educational opportunities to the local region, which in turn would help grow the local economic pie.

“If you look at regions that have thrived and flourished from economic development, you’ll typically find that there’s a university presence as the anchor for that kind of activity,” Hight said. “We feel Northern California, specifically the 530 region, has the potential to grow like a Silicon Valley or an Austin, Texas or a Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.”

Hight, a 1978 Nevada Union High School graduate, said that two-thirds of Chico State’s student base comes from Southern California and other regions out of the area, those students, he says, typically go back to where they are from or find work in the Bay Area as opposed to staying.

While the other third of the school’s student population come from areas like Nevada County and Northern California, Hight hopes those numbers reverse in the coming years.

“Everything is on the table,” Hight said. “We’re open to course work that could be conducted remotely via the Internet or even having a physical presence here in Nevada County that has the CSU Chico name on it. I think we’re happy to have students come to our campus, we’re being aggressive, we’re being proactive in wanting to serve our regional constituency in a more proactive fashion.”

Hight added that building a partnership with Sierra College is something Chico State is interested in, adding, “We need to make those pathways more intentionally, in terms of supporting specific industrial sectors, and market those so students know if they fulfill certain requirements, there’s a strong chance for them working for a company in Nevada County that supports that type of job.”

Grass Valley City Manager Bob Richardson also gave a presentation Thursday, telling the ERC board of directors that he, and the city of Grass Valley, looks forward to working with them in their economic development efforts. As Auburn’s former city manager, Richardson has a history of working with large companies, and said he sees great potential in Grass Valley’s ability to grow economically.

“I came up to Grass Valley and was blown away by what you had up here,” Richardson said. “We have tremendous companies and industry leaders, but we don’t talk about it much. So working together with the ERC will be beneficial in getting that message out there.”

Gregory also looks forward to working with Richardson and the city of Grass Valley.

“What Bob and I believe in is that we need to concentrate on those companies that are scalable because they can bring higher quality jobs, more jobs, and when they have some kind of exit event that there’s then a liquidity, and anybody who’s a shareholder in that company, generates wealth,” Gregory said. “And they can use that wealth to start more companies, pay more taxes, buy more goods and services, do more philanthropy and all that good stuff.”

Gregory added, “You can’t get that when you work at the micro-enterprise level, that’s what we share is that distinction in the marketplace is where we should focus our energy together.”

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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