Inyo and Mono county entities have spent the last two-and-a-half years collaborating on an in-depth study to bolster economic development in key industries throughout the Sierra region.
The results of that study – presented to the Bishop City Council Oct. 9 – have been published in a report titled, “Eastern Sierra Innovation and Prosperity: An Industry Cluster Approach to Economic Sustainability in California’s Inyo and Mono Counties.”
The report includes recommendations and implementation strategies that could enrich the Sierra’s economic landscape, said SBC President Steven Frisch.
The recommendations were based on the input of a 40-member, all-volunteer steering committee representing community and business interests throughout Inyo and Mono counties.
The steering committee “dedicated hundreds of hours to conducting interviews with more than 60 business leaders, over 20 economic development professionals and multiple state- and federal-level agencies, attending workshops, participating in surveys and site visits and deliberating on the relevance and potential benefits of each strategy and recommendation proposed,” said Frisch.
The committee examined five key Eastern Sierra industries: broadband/internet technology; renewable energy; recreation; tourism, hospitality industry and arts; and agriculture. “The goal of the report is to insulate the area from suffering economic issues,” said SBC Manager of Development Anne Grogan.
At the Oct. 9 City Council meeting, Grogan touched upon highlights from the study’s 175-page report, which is available in its entirety at http://www.sbcouncil.org/Projects/ESEA . With these results, said Grogan, “we can understand and seek new approaches to old challenges of economic development.”
Following are a few of the many recommendations given in each area.
The Digital 395 Project was identified as “the most significant economic development opportunity in the region in generations,” the report states. Broadband/Internet is the area “most able and integral one to affect the other four areas,” said Grogan. Therefore:
• Expand Internet technology support services (web design, software, hardware, information systems, programming, etc.) and computer and telecommunications repair services.
• Develop regional, retail e-commerce to increase business/community revenues – since e-commerce is growing at four times the rate of brick-and-mortar trade. “Business owners and leaders can be brought up to speed with e-commerce training,” said Grogan.
The focus was on small-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy installation. Recommendations included:
• Partner with energy providers to access existing initiatives and programs, some of which are funded by every rate-payer in the form of a mandated monthly energy efficiency fee.
• Promote use of the California Solar Roof Initiative. Grogan said that it is now mandated that anyone who collects more energy than they can use, and feeds it back into the grid, has to be paid by the utility company for that excess energy. She cited one Colorado town that has put solar panels on all public buildings and all excess energy collected provides low-cost energy to residents. “That could be replicated on Sierra slopes.”
In response to Mayor David Stottlemyre’s observation that “we conserve (but) the utility companies raise the rates anyway,” Grogen said that although rates do increase, customers with energy-efficient upgrades can save 25 percent overall.
Tourism, Hospitality, Arts
The tourism, hospitality and arts economic cluster is a lucrative Sierra industry, Grogan said, and it is aided agriculture, which enhances the area’s rural appeal. Overall, a “regional service training program is needed,” said Grogan. Other recommendations include:
• Develop a highly-recognizable regional identity brand (like the Nike swoosh) to be used for marketing purposes (websites, signage, receipts, labels, shopping bags, etc.), creating “a movement of people who are invested in their area … A brand in Inyo/Mono would be very successful … When you see it, you know it,” said Grogan.
• Develop an Eastern Sierra-specific sets of mobile and handheld applications and maps and social-media-based outreach tools in order to, for example, link to existing local, state and national branded efforts, i.e. Sierra Nevada Geotourism Project and U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.
The implementation of a “way-finding system” was a top recommendation. It would incorporate “branding, signs, maps and directional devices that tell us where we are, where we want to go and how to get there. Symbols can contribute simplicity, clarity and personality to a way-finding system,” states the report. Other recommendations included:
• Promote geographic areas that people aren’t frequenting and improve and identify areas for various abilities and age levels.
• Improve access to recreational areas by improving infrastructure and coordinating the various means of transportation.
One recommendation involved a mobile meat packing facility, said Grogan. Since Inyo and Mono counties don’t have enough ranchers and farmers to generate investment in a central meat packing facility, she explained, if more counties got in on it, a mobile unit would be feasible and profits could be increased considerably. And “when I buy locally, I know where that cow lived, what it ate and where its water comes from.”
Other recommendations for the one of the area’s largest industries include:
• Advocate for increased assistance program funding through the U.C. Cooperation Extension Program.
• Identify market opportunities, especially in urban areas.
• Develop agreements that give local products preferred treatment in local procurement processes.
• Provide training on launching and operating an agri-tourism enterprise, and link agriculture with ranch/farm recreation, tourism and hospitality.
At the presentation’s conclusion, Grogan said that while funding is crucial, “trust-building is very important in moving forward creating economic development opportunities.” Grogan expressed appreciation for generous donations from Sierra Business Council members, private parties and the Donald Slager Foundation of Bishop, and for “the dedication of personal time residents of Inyo and Mono put into the process,” setting aside differences to create something better.