In his 2013 State of the County address, delivered Tuesday morning in Modesto, Board of Supervisors chair Vito Chiesa touched on issues of unemployment, gangs and education within the county's communities.
Chiesa called on community members to be innovative when looking for ways to alleviate the county's high unemployment rate.
The county continues to face higher unemployment rates than the rest of the state and nation — in December, Stanislaus recorded 15 percent unemployment compared to 9.8 percent for California and 7.8 percent nationwide.
“Looking to the future, our best estimates show that if we stay at status quo we will need an additional 26,000 jobs by the year 2035 for population growth,” Chiesa said. “The most current computer statistics reveal more than 42,000 Stanislaus County residents leave our county for their employment.”
Growth will continue to be stunted in the Stanislaus County if employment needs are not met, said Chiesa. He finds it problematic that even the largest manufacturing employers in Stanislaus County –E&J Gallo Winery, Frito Lay, Seneca Foods, Del Monte, ConAgra, among others – are employing only 14,000 people.
Chiesa said looking forward, there needs to be a focus on new ways to grow jobs rather than relying on strategies from the past.
The county's growing gang problem was also top of Chiesa's list of priorities for 2013.
There are approximately 5,000 gang members documented within Stanislaus County. Jail systems are already overcrowded as it is, and cuts to law enforcement budgets are now being seen on the streets.
Chiesa sees a collaborative effort as the only solution to this problem.
“This is a community-wide issue that needs a community-wide solution,” he said.
Making strides in bettering education throughout the county is one way to alleviate both unemployment and crime, said Chiesa.
Since the 1990s, the county’s high school dropout rate has exceeded the state average.
“Children who don’t have a high school diploma are more likely to commit crimes, more likely to be on public assistance and more likely to have a significantly lower wage,” Chiesa said.
A median income for person with a bachelor’s degree is roughly $52,000 compared to $19,000 for someone who drops out of high school. When education is affected, commitment to the community also becomes affected.
Chiesa’s solution is complicated: his goal is to utilize skills from the best leaders of private industries to create innovative practices in area schools. These leaders will be known as “champions,” and will collaborate with school officials, nonprofits, and other private sector leaders to advocate for better education.
It is Chiesa’s wish that public-private collaborations unite community members through leaders who are effective individuals in their respective fields. Those already on board for this project include: County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon; Dr. Jeff Michael of the University of the Pacific’s Eberhardt School of Business; and Professor of Business Economics from California State University, Stanislaus, Dr. Gokce Soydemir.
“I’m not so naïve as to think that some of the ideas I’m presenting today might fail. I know they
are inherently filled with challenge and some people might be skeptical of their success,” said Chiesa. “But I’m willing to accept that risk. And if we do falter, or if we fail for a moment in time, we will never give up trying as the stakes are too high.”