As Institute chairman and panel moderator Mike Milken pointed out, California's strength has always been its human capital and its ability to innovate. But today our schools are not producing students with the right skills to compete in the global economy -- and business goes where ability is.
It's counterintuitive, said Ace Clearwater CEO Kellie Johnson, that unemployment is so high but she can't find workers with the skills to fit her openings. Today's manufacturing relies on sophisticated technology, and it takes more than a high school diploma to fit the bill. She believes we need a return to vocational education, and community colleges are the key.
Edison International CEO Ted Craver Jr. agreed, noting that as billions are invested in building out smart grid infrastructure, he needs high-quality workers. Edison has taken matters into its own hands by providing funding to local community colleges to provide content and scholarships that will train engineers.
Beyond the education issue, Milken challenged all the CEOs to provide practical solutions for California. See the video to hear more, but among their ideas:
o Macerich CEO Art Coppola suggested a concerted push toward "e-fairness" to standardize and enforce collection of sales taxes on Internet purchases. He noted that the current situation penalizes brick-and-mortar businesses, and the taxes could provide much-needed revenue to the state and to local governments.
o Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton called for California to take the lead in protecting intellectual property.
o Craver recommended streamlining the permitting requirements to get large infrastructure projects built. Coppola echoed this point, suggesting an expedited process for LEED-certified developments.
o Johnson suggested that the legislature take better control of the sweeping regulatory bureaucracy. Cost-benefit analysis needs to be applied to new regulation, and old rules need to be periodically re-evaluated.
Craver brought up the elephant in the room: California can't be a leader if our finances are in a shambles. We've got to demand that government deal with the structural issues behind the budget deficit. As Johnson noted, we can't keep delaying the day of reckoning: The uncertainty of putting it off is the enemy of investment and growth.