Inland California: the backbone of our state

A look south on Fulton Street near Tuolumne Street in downtown Fresno is observed in this aerial drone image photographed on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
A look south on Fulton Street near Tuolumne Street in downtown Fresno is observed in this aerial drone image photographed on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.

California is home to nearly 40 million people. The world may know us best for Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the Golden Gate Bridge, but equally important is the backbone of our state, Inland California.

Stretching from Sacramento and Stockton through Fresno, Bakersfield and the Inland Empire, our region accounts for nearly a third of California’s population. Less heralded than our coastal neighbors, Inland California is home not only to an agricultural sector that is the breadbasket of the country, but also to vibrant and fast-growing enterprises in health care, transportation and manufacturing.

It’s no understatement to say that developments in our region will profoundly shape California’s economic future. Geography aside, Inland California contrasts starkly with the state’s coastal population centers.

Even though Inland California is home to seven public universities, our residents are only half as likely as people in the Bay Area to earn a bachelor’s degree. A key to improving educational outcomes among our fast-growing populations is ensuring adequate investments in four-year colleges and universities.

Investments in education are particularly important given our region’s younger population. Well over a third of Inland Californians are under the age of 25, compared to only 29 percent in Bay Area counties.


Transportation differences also abound. Residents of Inland California’s predominately suburban and exurban counties are four-and-a-half times less likely to take public transit to work than someone in Los Angeles. This creates unique challenges not only for our region’s transportation planning, but also for its housing needs.

Inland California residents are 30 percent more likely to buy a home than Los Angeles residents. Population growth in Inland California counties well exceed the statewide average, with some of the fastest growing counties including Merced, San Joaquin, Placer, and Riverside. Housing construction and growth in high-paying jobs will be essential to ensuring housing affordability and a vibrant middle class for the state.

Ashley Swearengin
Karthick Ramakrishnan

With our statewide elected leaders coming mainly from the Bay Area and Southern California, it is more important than ever that Inland California come together to present state leaders with a strong, united voice and expert opinion on our communities.

To this end, elected officials and thought leaders from across our state have united to form a coalition, Inland California Rising. Starting with our kickoff in the State Capitol this month, and continuing with regional summits up and down the state, we are uniting to call attention to Inland California as a land of innovation that deserves investment.

Who are we? We are social innovators who reach and empower communities across a wide swath of territory. We are policy innovators who are rethinking housing and transportation to meet the needs of urban, suburban and rural areas. We are economic innovators, reframing economic and workforce development to meet new challenges and opportunities like automation and artificial intelligence. And we are political innovators who collaborate across party lines to strengthen our region.

By focusing on our similarities, rather than our differences, we can address state officials with a united voice that will be hard to ignore.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Newsom committed to building a “California for All.” Clearly, our chief executive is ready to hear from Inland California. Now it’s up to us to meet him halfway by organizing and speaking with one powerful voice.

Ashley Swearengin is CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation and former mayor of Fresno. Karthick Ramakrishnan is professor of public policy and directs the Center for Social Innovation at University of California, Riverside.