Reporting

May 11, 2012 by Chris Nelson

The Summit so far: Incredible drive and energy

In any venture that requires a monumental amount of time, coordination and elbow grease, there will be nerves involved when the rubber hits the road.

Today, the California Economic Summit is underway after months of preparation, research and smaller regional events meant to inform the discussion had by the almost 500 attendees in Santa Clara.

In short, we are both humbled and blown away. And it's not even over yet.

The tone was set immediately by Secretary George Schultz, who bluntly stated to applause that "democracy is not a spectator sport."

It then moved into a Q&A session between Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Pulitzer Prize winning author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. As Joe Matthews pointed out in a tweet, it was the government official grilling the journalist this time.

Friedman offered his trademark global perspective but related it back to California, where he spends a decent amount of his time. Like any good journalist, he put things in terms that resonated with his audience.

He noted that when the Cold War ended, we put our feet up when we should have been rolling our sleeves up as 2 billion people hungry to compete with the United States were unleashed on the global marketplace. He touched on well-known concepts (faltering education will ensure this decline continues), the philosophical ("average is over" in this age of hyperconnectivity) and the inspirational (he wants American to once again be the launchpad for global innovation).

If anyone doubted he could be relevant at this summit, he also quashed that notion pretty handily.

We then saw presentations on the five pillars that the Summit team identified as critical focus areas for economic recovery: Innovation, Infrastructure, Workforce, Capital, and Regulations. 

Once again, everything resonated. The economy is always a hot button issue because it strikes a chord in everyone's lives, but the hunger in the room to actually get something done was palpable. One glance at the Twitter hashtag #CAeconomy we set up as a repository shows vibrant participation, positivity about the summit and an unwavering desire to shove politics aside in the name of recovery.

Much was discussed. CEQA and talk about regulation seemed to be of particular interest, but that's just one observation; nothing at all came close to falling flat.

Small group sessions (facilitated by crowdsourcing pioneers Crowdbrite) brought an eerie hush to the room as each table buckled down and calmly went about discussing region-specific goals and the actions needed to manifest them.

With iPads and an abundance of sticky notes and sharpies, the discussions were recorded in unprecedented fashion that could be broadcast in real time on massive screens flanking the area. Every thought will be saved, compiled and analyzed with the goal of presenting the top-level results in a month's time.

It's something you have to see to fully appreciate. Technology and ideas coming together in a room where the will to use both on the part of hundreds of people toward a common goal is truly inspirational. 

Luckily, we are shooting an abundance of photos and video and will be metering it all out through the day, week and month.

But for now, we're diving back into the electric atmosphere to finish up the work that we believe is not only groundbreaking in how we're going about doing it, but also truly vital at this critical juncture in our state's economic trajectory.

Onward and upward...

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