Wednesday, July 04, 2007

We need vision, infrastructure

We need vision, infrastructure

By Doug Ford

Article Launched: 06/23/2007 08:53:24 AM PDT

Two events in the past 10 days indicate that Solano leaders are on the way to developing a bright vision for the county's future. The first, on June 13, was a reception for new California Transportation Commission members Carl Guardino and Jim Earp at Solano Economic Development Corp.'s really nice new offices at 360 Campus Lane in the Fairfield Corporate Commons business park.

The second was the second Solano Economic Summit on June 19 at the Courtyard by Marriott. It was sponsored by Solano County, the City-County Coordinating Council, Solano EDC, the Solano Transportation Authority and the University of California, Davis.

I'm hopeful that the first event will help move us toward a solution to the county's biggest infrastructure problem: the very overloaded freeway interchange in Cordelia. For far too long, our state has been living off the capital of an infrastructure that was built two generations ago when Pat Brown was governor. We need a great deal of modernization of existing transportation facilities and the building of new ones from one end of the state to the other if we are serious about providing a good future for our rising generations. We can hope that Commissioners Guardino and Earp will be able to persuade state leaders to do that.

Economic Summit II brought together a broad spectrum of leaders from across the county and beyond to explore the possibilities and then to shape a common plan for our county's economic future. A lot of good ideas have been proposed, and several are already in practice. Too many ideas have been proposed to even begin to discuss them here. I'll only touch on a couple of the best.

First, there is general approval for continued emphasis on support for biotech. We already have the world's largest manufacturing facility for biotech pharmaceuticals, the Genentech plant in Vacaville. We also have biotech-related manufacturing by Alza, Chiron, Synder, and several smaller companies. This is a good start on a strong economic cluster. We need to continue to work on improving support for this cluster through better and expanding education.

Jim DeKloe, a Solano Community College professor, got things started more than 15 years ago when he proposed a program to train biotech technicians to work in the Vacaville cluster. Unusual for an academic, he made it a point to go out and talk with prospective employers about designing the curricula for the program. He worked at the Genentech headquarters in South San Francisco for six months, and at UC Davis even longer to learn about what was needed. Then he established the first biotech manufacturing technicians program, with laboratory equipment donated by Genentech. Many of the program's participants have been hired away before they could complete it.

More recently, the BioTech System consortium of Solano, Yolo and Sacramento counties has been established to partner with local biotech industry, community college and university faculty, high schools and regional organizations. It has been slow going to get high school students involved in the tremendous opportunities provided by biotech, but much progress has been made in the past couple of years. Now students at Vacaville, Benicia, Rodriguez, and Hogan high schools can get a head start toward careers in biotech through a Regional Occupational Program (ROP) offered by the Solano County Office of Education. Everyone involved, far too numerous to list here, deserves our accolades! We need to keep building on and expanding this effort.

Another area that has great potential in Solano County is energy. We already have a very large investment in the production of energy with the large Valero Oil refinery in Benicia and other energy companies that are developing and expanding solar and wind energy. And we have strong engineering departments at UC Davis and the California Maritime Academy, the first focused primarily on transportation applications and the second on improving energy use in ocean vessels and in buildings.

Now what we need for the field of energy is an effort comparable to what Jim DeKloe got started.

• The author is retired from the U.S. Air Force, lives in Dixon and serves on the Solano County Board of Education.

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