Was it just one more lie UC told us? -- BLJ
Welcome and Greetings by UC Regents' Chairman Gerald Parsky
Distinguished guests, parents, students, members of the UC Merced family, our good neighbors throughout the Valley, our wonderful Chancellor - referred to as Carol by the young and old, and everyone will soon know her as Carol - on behalf of the Regents and the entire University, I thank you for joining us on this momentous day.
UC Merced has been in the making for 17 years since the Regents first proposed adding a 10th campus to address the education needs of the Valley and accommodate the rapid population growth projected for California. That makes the planning process as old as some of the freshmen who will begin college careers here this week.
However, vision takes time, courage and leadership. Throughout that time, UC Merced has been blessed with strong bipartisan support - across four gubernatorial administrations, a period of term limits that brought many new faces to the Legislature, and the arrival and departure of dozens of Regents in this historic campus-building process.
To all of the elected officials and community leaders who have been dear friends of UC Merced, we thank you.
Today, the state of California has the fastest-growing and youngest population in the nation. For the University, this population growth represents a challenge of educational access. For the Valley, the fastest-growing region in the state, these opportunities carry the possibility of renewed economic and community vitality.
UC Merced will help fulfill the promise of access to qualified students from all over the state. Even more inspiring, nearly one half of these students will be the first in their families to go to college. Today, we look forward to this new campus to help inspire the educational dreams of young people and their families throughout the Valley for generations to come.
To the parents and students here today, I cannot fully express how proud I am to share this day with you. As a parent, I have felt the excitement and wonder of sending a child to college, to dream of the future.
While creating new opportunities for students, the innovative research and intellectual energy at the new campus will also be a powerful engine for economic growth, new businesses and job creation throughout the Valley.
We look for UC Merced's presence - its faculty, its research, its alumni - to spark an economic renaissance for the Valley, just as the University has elsewhere in our Golden State.
Almost all of the industries in which California now leads the world grew out of university-based research. We have seen the economic potential realized in regions like San Diego, Santa Cruz and Orange County, where UC campuses were founded 40 years ago, bustling with new industries that didn't exist there before - biotech, telecommunications, information technology and environmental science clusters that lead the world, with companies founded by UC faculty and alumni that are the pioneers of today's economy.
In San Diego, where I live, UC has spawned a telecommunications revolution, creating dozens of globally competitive companies, thousands of high-paying jobs and strong economic growth for the entire community. Likewise, biotech innovations have fueled the regional economy and lead to amazing medical treatments and technologies that improve the quality of life for all Californians.
Across the state, one in four biotech firms was founded by UC scientists and engineers, and the overwhelming majority of these vibrant companies employ UC alumni in key scientific positions. Similarly, one in six California IT and communications firms has a UC connection, and a majority of them employ UC alumni as well-paid executives. More than 1,000 California biotech, high-tech and other R&D-intensive companies put UC research to work every day.
Where will the Valley economy be in 40 years? We look for the Merced campus to do for the Valley in the 21st century what earlier UC campuses did for other parts of California in the previous four decades.
Just as UC research a century ago transformed the alkali soils of the Valley into the greatest agricultural region in the world, UC Merced will again transform the life of the Valley.
To students, faculty and staff, as you join the UC fold today, let me welcome you on behalf of the Regents. We are grateful for your courage and adventurous spirit.
Challenge: Make Merced attractive to businesses
Permit process to be streamlined…MIKE NORTH
A flooded building, staff research and a vote by the Board of Supervisors are three key factors in the effort to make Merced County more business-friendly.
As part of the board's budget hearings Tuesday, supervisors unanimously approved a "one-stop" development review center aimed at streamlining the permitting process for large companies, small businesses and residents.
With an unemployment rate of 17.5 percent, county leaders see the move as a big step toward fostering business development and job growth.
Larger firms would still have to undergo stringent environmental studies, but officials said there would be benefits for companies large and small.
Mark Hendrickson, director of commerce, aviation and economic development for Merced County, said the move would help small businesses find success and help larger ones navigate governmental processes.
"The reality is really this: doing business in California is very difficult, and we want to be the première place within a very difficult state to do that type of commerce," Hendrickson said.
The plan will locate personnel from several departments to the second floor of the County Administration Building at 2222 M St. Though the floor won't be immediately remodeled as part of the move, those options may be considered by the board during another phase of the project.
Management started moving personnel from Castle Commerce Center to the M Street location after heavy rains caused severe water damage in the building they occupied at Castle.
It didn't take long for the benefits of the move to become apparent.
"By having our planning staff and our business- license staff at the same counter, those who are coming in for home-occupation permits -- those who have entrepreneurial spirit who want to do something at home -- they're walking out in 15 minutes with both their home-occupation permit and their business license in hand," Hendrickson said.
The cost of the project totals about $192,000, according to county documents. The county's capital improvement fund contributed $100,000, and another $100,000 came from Supervisor Hub Walsh's special district funds.
District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo said he hopes a more efficient permitting center will encourage other businesses to set up shop in Merced.
"Over the years, it's been a hassle," he said. "You have to go to the Planning Department, then you have to go across to the Building Department, then you have to go to the fire station, then you have to go to Public Works, and this way, everything's at one stop. It's more of a friendly attitude."
Hendrickson explained how that runaround is about to change.
"Right now, as it stands today, we have the buildings division, we have the business license folks and the Planning Department already here," he said. "What we're going to be doing is we're going to be bringing the fire marshal over, we're going to be bringing a person over from our roads division and from environmental health. Everybody who touches the development review process is now going to be co-located."
Walsh said more benefits of the permitting center will be realized as the project continues.
"With 80 percent of our employers in this community being small business, we really think that this is really an opportunity to simplify the process for them," he said.
Our View: County jobs outlook still seems gloomy
Merced County unemployment rate in July was 17.5 percent, down slightly from 17.7 percent in June, according to the latest state figures.
While the rate improved a bit, state job analysts said that probably has more to do with a shrinking work force caused by more people who have quit looking for jobs and are no longer counted as part of the jobless rate.
The question on everybody's mind: When will things improve? A report released this week by the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific isn't very promising.
It suggests that the unemployment rate for Modesto-Stanislaus County will average about 14.4 percent in 2013, 13.6 percent in 2014 and 12.5 percent in 2015.
In Merced County, the forecast is gloomier: 16.4 percent in 2013, 15.6 percent in 2014 and 14.5 percent in 2015. For California as a whole, the forecast is 9.8 percent in 2013, 8.9 percent in 2014 and 7.8 percent in 2015.
The gray forecast by Jeff Michael, director of UOP's Business Forecasting Center, cited several Valley uncertainties: education funding, lawsuits affecting the start of high-speed rail construction and the effects of the cap-and-trade greenhouse gas program on food processing, transportation and agriculture.
There's really nothing new here. The region's economy has been in a tailspin since the housing market collapse and the Great Recession hit nearly seven years ago.
When the housing bubble burst, home prices tumbled. As housing payments grew thanks to subprime and other unconventional loans, homeowners didn't have the equity to refinance and foreclosures soared. Then construction, finance and other housing-related businesses started cutting jobs to stay afloat. As those job losses mounted, cutbacks and business closures spread to service, retail and most other segments, including government.
Construction, which typically leads any recovery, isn't expected to rebound in Valley until the foreclosure inventory, lending mess and consumer confidence improves. Economists don't expect that to happen anytime soon.
Fortunately, Merced County and the city of Merced are working on plans to make the area more business friendly.
For the county it's a one-stop development review center, designed to streamline all the processes for getting a firm up and running. The city just unveiled The 2012 Economic Development Action Plan outlining strategies for improving competitiveness, pushing industrial growth, expanding retail in the downtown area and promoting entrepreneurship.
Businesses always complain, and rightly so, about overregulation in California. So programs that cut red tape, get businesses open faster and put people back to work sooner will definitely help.
Only time will tell how effective the Merced programs are at doing just that, but the city and county have taken an important step.
The quarterly forecasts are available at http://forecast.pacific.edu.
Without Cardoza, Merced is on the outside…JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH
MERCED Merced County has lost its hometown congressman, leaving residents to wonder if an "outsider" can do the job.
The resignation of Atwater native Dennis Cardoza after almost a decade as a House Representative gives area residents a choice between two candidates from Fresno.
Democrat Jim Costa and Republican Brian Whelan will be contending for control of the newly drawn District 16, which includes Merced County, parts of Madera County and the city of Fresno.
"I think it could make a difference in the short run," said Nathan Monroe, a political science professor at UC Merced. "At the very minimum it's going to take them some time to familiarize themselves with Merced's interests and problems."
District residents share many of the same concerns and priorities: Water for agriculture and improving the economy top the list.
As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Cardoza was able to deliver some funding for Central Valley farmers, but many feel he was never able to properly address the Valley's foreclosure crisis.
Having a district representative from Merced gave the community a certain sense of "security," said Deidre Kelsey, Merced County supervisor. However, she lamented Cardoza's inability to raise more concern around the Valley housing crisis.
"He's a homeboy and we appreciated that," she said. "It's also very important that a congressman have relationships with his peers in Congress because that's where the deals are done."
But being a congressman is not only about securing funding for the big ticket items, Monroe said.
"There's always earmarked dollars that go to specific projects -- freeway overpasses get built, roads get repaired, funding goes to particular programs," he said. "All of that can happen in a very targeted way."
For example, in 2009 Cardoza secured about $230,000 in earmarked funds for the Merced Theatre restoration project.
However, over the last few years, Congress has significantly curtailed the use of earmarks, which puts language into a bill for funding or tax relief on a specific project.
"I don't see it as being a very big deal as long as the earmarks are gone," said Merced Mayor Stan Thurston. "If you look beyond that, no matter where the congressman comes from they're going to have their field representatives here to take care of local issues."
There's a misunderstanding about who does what in the political system, said David Schecter, chairman of political science at California State University, Fresno. "I don't think it matters at all where someone lives," he said. "We don't even require a congressman to live in their district."
Once funding legislation is established in Washington, it's most often the state Legislature that decides how resources will be allocated, Schecter argues.
"It won't be an act of Congress that gets UC Merced a medical school," Schecter said. "It will be the infighting among the UCs for state dollars."
However, Congressman Costa disagrees: "You can't rely on getting funds for (the) UC and simply hope and pray that you can get a medical school in Merced. You (have) got to know how the system works and have to know Merced County."
Forming an advocacy group and reaching out to the UC Board of Regents goes a long way to securing something such as a medical school, Costa said.
Whelan echoed the sentiment that representatives can have an impact locally by fostering relationships and forming partnerships.
"Each local leader or group has their roles and functions, and ideally the representative will coordinate and be the voice in D.C. for those locally," he said. "It's a 700,000-person district -- it's not possible without the support of the local community."
Regardless of how precisely House members can focus their efforts, Schecter said, special interests in Merced County would be wise to reach out to the district candidates. "The voters have to step up in a democracy and tell their representatives what's important."
Monroe agreed: "They should expect a period of trying to get know those representatives, and those representatives getting to know them. It's going to be important for Merced residents to voice their concerns and needs."
"It's always a concern when that person doesn't live directly in your community," Kelsey said. "But it doesn't have to be. If the rep is good they will get to know the community."