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Hilary Hodge: Nevada County’s revolving door

Hilary Hodge

Six years ago, my friend and I were sitting in front of the computer at the desk in our shared Sacramento apartment, which overlooked a busy street in midtown.

It was already warm enough to leave the windows open and I could hear the whistle and hum of an evening freight train making its way through town. The crowds headed for Sacramento’s nightlife and were boisterous, unaware that we could hear their every word. We had been going over our budget and calculating our bills.

It was 2011 and we were in the habit of scouring the local weekend newspaper for free concerts and restaurant deals. The economy was still recovering.

Jerry Brown had been inaugurated that January and had immediately set out a budget which included a major realignment of social services and public safety programs from the state to local governments. I supported returning county funding to the counties, but I witnessed firsthand how the shake-up affected good people and their jobs, distributing funding to organizations and agencies that often lacked the training or infrastructure to support the influx of money and the program regulations it came with. It would be a tough few years for the counties and for all the service organizations and government agencies involved.

Like other rural counties in California and across the nation, there is a lack of infrastructure and resources in our community, making it difficult to find work or develop opportunities.

In 2011, more than 30 percent of the people at the agency where I worked had already been laid off. The people with the very least seniority had worked for the agency for 6-10 years. There was no low hanging fruit for layoffs any longer. Most of my friends started applying for other jobs. We saw the writing on the wall.

My friend and roommate at the time, now my wife, had been commuting to Nevada County from Sacramento for more than three years. At the time, the average price of gas was about $4.60 per gallon. She had a steady job with a solar company and it made sense to think about relocating.

When we moved to Nevada County six years ago, I knew that I had found home. We moved to a small, detached unit next to a farmhouse on a 20-acre organic farm with three cats, two dogs, seven beehives and about 100 chickens. We tended to the orchard and vegetables when the owners traveled. We took care of the bees and the animals.

It never occurred to me that I might have a hard time finding a job after we moved. With my degree, my experience, my resume and my resourcefulness, I figured it would be easy for me to find a new job, even after relocation. I was incredibly qualified for many, many positions.

I have learned to understand the overwhelming and, at times, humiliating unemployment and underemployment rates in rural America and in Nevada County. Like other rural counties in California and across the nation, there is a lack of infrastructure and resources in our community, making it difficult to find work or develop opportunities.

Last week, my wife and I met Kyle and Mary, young professionals our age who grew up in the Bay Area and had spent time moving around looking for opportunities. These young transplants landed in Nevada County because of the incredible people and culture. Kyle is a professional welder and Mary works remotely in Information Technology.

Sadly, I have learned not to get attached to people like Kyle and Mary. Since moving to Nevada County, my wife and I have seen young professionals come and go.

Over and over, my wife and I have met talented young people who moved to Nevada County or moved back home after college, who stay for a couple of years only to discover that there are very few economic opportunities here locally and eventually leave.

There are a lot of ideas about what economic development should look like in Nevada County. There are several programs in this community that are based in broad economic trends and hopeful research. There are very few economic programs in this community that are investing in local people and those who are trying to build fruitful economic lives here in Nevada County.

In the next few months, my wife and I will lose another series of close friends who are college-educated and married but who are leaving Nevada County for better opportunities.

As policy makers continue to form ideas about what economic development should look like in Nevada County, I hope those plans include young people wanting to raise families and build lives in our community.

Hilary Hodge lives in Grass Valley. Her column is published by The Union on Tuesdays. Contact her at hhodgewriter@gmail.com.


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