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Economic study under way in Eastern Sierra

October 14, 2010

This family enjoys a ride in area waters, doing some fishing and probably some sightseeing – some of the many factors of the tourism cluster. The Eastern Sierra Business Council is hoping to identify other economic clusters, now and for the future, that will help point the way toward a positive economic development direction. File photo

Eastern Sierra business leaders are getting ready to launch off the spring board of the Digital 395 Project that will bring faster Internet connections to Inyo and Mono counties.
The Sierra Business Council and the Sonoran Institute are in the preliminary stages of identifying local economic strengths and weaknesses to take full advantage of the project when the time comes.
“The timing is right,” said Vickie Taton, Eastern Sierra field representative for Sierra Business Council.
She explained that the council is gathering information on local economic trends, resources, opportunities and needs with the goal of drafting a report available to the constituents of Inyo and Mono counties. The council hopes to identify five or six opportunities most likely to succeed in the Eastern Sierra. The report will also provide details on “the associated infrastructure, community assets leveraged and interventions necessary to implement effective economic clusters.”
The use of economic cluster analysis is a new way of looking at economic development, Taton explained.
Taton said the 395 project should be completed at the same time the council’s report is finished.
She said the 395 project is expected to be a great tool for economic development for the region and the council hopes the report will make business and county leaders ready to make use of it. Digital 395 is expected to be completed by 2012.
She said the project will be a major asset, but the existing businesses and infrastructure are just as important.
There are four key principles of the council’s report: build on existing assets; cultivate innovation and economic diversity; create long-term social capital; and catalyze community partnerships.
The council is gathering information from the community and past economic reports to create a baseline of what the community has to offer and what more it could be offering. This information is on what are called “economic clusters” such as tourism, government, even U.S. 395 itself.
According to a press release from the council, “In adopting a cluster strategy, states and regions hope to maximize their competitive advantage in existing industries and to build new strengths in the emerging industries that will replace older, declining sectors.”
Taton used tourism as an example to describe an economic cluster. The already existing tourism cluster includes hotels and restaurants, but, Taton said, “what can be enhanced or expanded?”
There may be elements of the tourism cluster that are currently being imported that perhaps could be provided locally. Taton used fishing as an example. She said there may be the possibility of a local business manufacturing custom poles or rods, boosting the local economic base and region’s recognition. “What can we do internally?” Taton asked.
The council has sent out a brief questionnaire to a select and diverse selection of the community asking what the clusters are, now and in the future.
Taton said one of the new clusters and one in which the Owens Valley will undeniably be a part of, is renewable energy. She said that some of the questions for renewable energy clusters would be whether there are ample educational opportunities for locals to participate in the renewable energy field.
Taton said cooperation between city, county and tribal leaders is needed, but there needs to be coordination with local high schools and community colleges “to implement educational strategies to provide local youth with the education and skills necessary to take advantage of the identified economic clusters and career paths within those clusters.”
The council is currently seeking members for a steering committee for the assessment. Those interested should contact Taton at (760) 258-1363 or via e-mail at vtaton@sbcouncil.org.

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