California is in danger of turning into a divided state. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: A state divided against itself cannot stand.
As a former technology executive and public official, I’ve seen all sides of California. I was privileged to serve as an elected official and as director of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Office of Business and Economic Development. Yet, while I was inspired by California’s capacity to create world-altering products and services, I was also disturbed by cities struggling with stalled industrial economies. These communities are dealing with poverty that is growing at an alarming rate, in part because too many people lack access to 21st-century infrastructure, a prerequisite for participation in the new global economy.
This divide is one of the great public policy challenges of our time. How do we unleash our full innovation capacity while ensuring universal participation? Our state’s entrepreneurs are great at delivering innovation to the masses, but our government has not figured out how to spread the wealth of these innovations beyond Silicon Valley, to the Central Valley, the Imperial Valley and all points between.
This must be fixed.
First, we need a climate where innovation flourishes. Government undoubtedly has a role in establishing necessary consumer protections. But government need not legislate to create opportunity. Rather, it should remove barriers to the expansion of the new economy across our vast state. This requires a modern regulatory approach that allows new technologies and business models to flourish. Forcing rules of bygone eras upon new marvels of modern technology only holds California back. We need a regulatory environment in which consumers, startups and investors can all participate – and win.
Second, we must have ubiquitous communications infrastructure, the interstate highway system of the new economy. Sharing economy platforms, the Internet of Things, wearable communication devices and other innovations require modern infrastructure to work. The 20th-century economy depended on robust transportation networks to efficiently move people and goods. Our state’s future prosperity relies on a connection to the Internet and access to wireless devices from anywhere.
As part of the Brown administration, we were committed to addressing these issues as part of our mandate to help grow California’s economy. Now at CALinnovates we work to advance the innovation economy. In cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose we seek policies supporting the growth of the sharing economy that creates new jobs and supports local small businesses.
These new business models exist in a new entrepreneurial culture that benefits the economy and consumers. We are on the brink of a new economic era, marked by the emergence of a new personal enterprise economy in which individuals use new technologies to market their assets and talents directly to consumers. We are convinced this helps answer the question: Where are the jobs of the future coming from?
California has always been the place where anyone can seek opportunity. California dreamers before us built an economy that remains the seventh largest in the world. Now it is our time, our responsibility, to ensure that the California dream is not restricted to the fortunate who are connected to the global innovation economy.
Through modernization, we can reconcile California’s two sides. Through innovation, we can do what we have always done: reinvent our world again and again.
Kish Rajan is chief evangelist at CALinnovates, a nonprofit tech advocacy coalition working with California companies.