California's economy continues to perform robustly and the state is well positioned to capitalize on the opportunities offered by the so-called "New Economy," according to a group of business leaders, academics and government officials.

But the good times could be fleeting unless the state solves serious problems, including substandard schools and a lack of affordable housing. The state's mixed picture was painted before more than 400 attendees at the 2000 California State of the State Conference, sponsored by the Milken Institute.

But the good times could be fleeting unless the state solves serious problems, including substandard schools and a lack of affordable housing.

California's vast potential was underscored by a Milken Institute study that showed the Golden State second only to Massachusetts among states poised to benefit from the growth of high-tech industries. The study examined factors conducive to success in those fields, such as venture capital investment, the proportion of residents with advanced degrees and research and development funding.

"California's recent economic performance has been impressive, with growth well above that of the rest of the nation," said Robert Parry, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and the conference's keynote speaker.

Parry noted that strong employment growth and a surge of investment in high technology fields in recent years have propelled California's economic fortunes. He also pointed to the state's strong position in international trade.

While the conference's tone was optimistic, many speakers sounded warnings during the daylong event.

"Despite flush times, ours is a state facing enormous challenge ahead," said State Treasurer Philip Angelides. "We must expand opportunity for places struggling in our midst."

Angelides noted that while some regions, such as San Francisco, Orange County and San Diego, enjoy record low unemployment, the situation is not as rosy elsewhere. The San Joaquin Valley, for example, has an unemployment rate five percentage points higher than West Virginia, the state with the most pressing employment problems, he noted.

While the state's agricultural center might be struggling, newer industries appear destined to play an increasingly important role in the state's future.

A panel of venture capitalists said investors remain keen to pour money into California's high-tech ventures in spite of the recent turmoil of the stock market. And biotechnology leaders noted that California stands to benefit as that industry continues to blossom. The daylong event at the Los Angeles Marriott Downtown drew leaders in finance and business, academia, think tanks, government and the media.

More than two dozen prominent speakers appeared at the conference, which was broken up into a series of morning talks and then a series of panel discussions.