InterView – David White

InterView David White – CEO – Stanislaus Economic Development & Workforce Alliance Attitude is everything. In life, love, family and business. Our area has a perception problem and we need to shake everything up. Our area, like others across the USA faces some tough unemployment and some other rough statistics that don’t reflect well on our community. There are so many reasons and excuses for where we are, but the real solution to what ails us is jobs. We need to keep the jobs we have here and we have to bring new jobs in to our region. We have a rich agricultural history and there is a whole new world of high-tech food production from dairy and cheese to wine and soy and even energy production with methane and other alt fuels. Stanislaus County is uniquely positioned to be a leader in so many areas, so what is stopping us?

We have a new spark plug in our area that has recently become the CEO of the Stanislaus County Alliance. David White loves economic development, new ideas and most of all teamwork between the cities and the counties and believes we all have to link up and be strong to meet the challenges of a global economy. He has created innovative programs in Pittsburgh, PA, Riverside, CA and Colorado Springs, CO. He is an Eagle Scout, fluent in German and Russian and brings a much needed global view to our area. David is married to his wife Cindy and has five children. He is an active cyclist and outdoor enthusiast, loves travel and history. Sound interesting? Let’s meet David White.

ModestoView: We seem to think that we have problems that no one else has when it comes to economic development; how would you assess our current condition?

David White: Many communities across America have been challenged by a struggling national economy. Many communities and regions struggle with lack of diversity in their economic base. I started my career in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania back in 1987. During the five previous years, Western Pennsylvania lost tens of thousands of jobs in the steel industry. This was devastating to the regional economy, and the result was high unemployment, poverty and a big image problem. In fact, when I announced I was going to Pittsburgh for graduate school, many of my friends asked me why I was going to the dirty, steel town! My wife and I discovered a wonderful community of art, culture, quaint neighborhoods, and wonderful people. Sure, there were problems. But what changed Pittsburgh was how the public sector and private sector aligned themselves to make positive change. It was all about leadership. Now, Pittsburgh is a vibrant community with a strong, diverse economy. And they still are the hub for the steel industry. If it can be done in Pittsburgh, it can be done here. But you need great leadership and alignment.

MV: We hear people say that we don’t have enough talented or trained people to handle the jobs that may be available in our area, yet we lose 40,000 + people daily over the hill for better jobs that would love to work here and there are nearly 30,000 unemployed people anxious for a job. Is this a fair assessment of our work force?

DW: I see great opportunity in our workforce. But we need to do everything within our power to connect our young people today with the jobs of tomorrow. We have an exceptional educational system here, despite what some detractors might say. The biggest opportunity I see is how do we market the strengths and opportunities better to overcome the negative perceptions that employers may have? That is something that we intend to address at the Alliance. If we can convince local employers and employers in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley that we have a sufficient number of workers to satisfy their expansion needs, then we will start to see some traction. There will be a number of manufacturers in the Bay Area that need to expand and want to stay in California for various reasons. These companies won’t be able to expand where they are currently located because of space constraints and cost issues, but they can come here.

MV: Stanislaus County feeds the world, yet we are facing many challenges like water and lack of available production quality facilities. There is a high tech world of agriculture and food production that would be a perfect fit for our county. What do we need to do to attract these businesses?

DW: Again, we should build upon our strengths. As long as people need to eat, we will need agriculture and food processing. Stanislaus County can be the best in class throughout the whole world in terms of innovation in this vital industry. We have ag tech companies here that are doing amazing research and development of more efficient farming techniques, better vines and trees that are more drought and salt resistant, and more innovation into new equipment and procedures that modernize the industry. The Alliance is developing a cluster economic development strategy through which we will grow, support and communicate these strong local industries. We will form cluster teams of experts who will connect us to companies in their supply chain that should be here or to peers in their industry who are expanding. We will communicate their successes through our various means of communication;

MV: What would you say would be the 5 most important keys to success to jump start our local economic development and job creation?

1) Make the Alliance the best economic development organization in the state – make sure our team holds true to our values of trust, respect, passion, and alignment. 2) Develop a spirit of cooperation throughout the county. Even though we compete, we need to project unity and collaboration to the outside world. 3) Make sure the public sector and private sector are aligned and totally committed to economic development. 4) Everyone be proud of our county and the cities in which we live. We don’t need to apologize for anything. 5) Make Stanislaus County the most business friendly county in the state. We do this by how we handle permitting, how we welcome and support business, and how we address the needs of business. You should never have an antagonistic view toward business no matter where you live but especially not in a county with 12 percent unemployment.

These are all things we can control. A lot of it has to do with our attitude. As Stephen R. Covey put it, do we possess an “abundant attitude” or a “scarcity attitude”?

MV: If you had a magic wand, what would you do to fundamentally change our community?

DW: I would want to change our attitude. What changed Pittsburgh was their can do attitude. They loved their city, and they would not accept failure. Again, we should not apologize for anything.

MV: What idea that you have seen in other communities would you most like to do here in our area?

DW: We are implementing a very intense and comprehensive business visitation program. We will do hundreds of interviews this year with business executives. The survey is designed to understand the issues that businesses face and also to gather lots of aggregate data which will help us influence public policy decisions. We will also develop a cluster economic development strategy to truly build upon our strengths.

MV: Like you, ModestoView is a strong supporter of making downtown Modesto vibrant both for our own civic pride as well as our economic well being and attracting travel and tourism business. What is your view of the role of a strong downtown?

DW: Downtown is a community’s living room. It’s what people see when they come to a city. When the Downtown is thriving, the whole city will thrive. I was just in Turlock, and I saw young mothers pushing strollers along Downtown Turlock streets in the middle of a work day. That is a sure sign of a thriving Downtown when young mothers feel safe enough to take their young children out for a stroll in a Downtown environment. Downtowns also attract young professionals. Every city wants the 25-49 year old young professionals. We should understand their needs and wants and then do what we can to accommodate them.

MV: Since you have recently relocated here, what have been some of your favorite Modesto moments to date?

DW: Riding our bikes along the various trails. We especially love the Dry Creek Trail in Modesto. We also love the various local restaurants. People here may not realize this, but the restaurants here are exceptional. We love all the beautiful trees, shrubbery and gardens that we see everywhere. But most of all we love the people. Good, down to earth, friendly, hardworking people.

MV: Describe your ideal evening in Modesto?

DW: Going out with my wife to a quaint Italian restaurant in any one of our Downtowns and then catching a show at the Gallo Center or any other local theater (of which there are several all throughout the county).

MV: And the most important questions of all, Beatles or Stones?

DW: I am a huge Beatles fan. In fact, I have been singing and playing the Beatles for the past 30 years. My favorite Beatle is John, an amazingly gifted talent who in my opinion drove the creativity of the Beatles. My favorite Beatle as a person was George. He had a big heart and great compassion for people who suffered in life. My favorite Beatles song? A Day in the Life.

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