California's strengths - its first-rate universities, technologically advanced workforce and entrepreneurial spirit - should keep the state in the forefront of the global economy for years to come. But its legislative stalemates, high business costs and K-12 education concerns remain significant barriers that must be solved if California is going to maintain its leadership position.
This was the consensus of panelists at the 6th annual State of the State Conference, who offered a mixed outlook for the state.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown, mayor of Oakland, perhaps summed up the conference best: "There are a lot of good years in the offing," he said, "though there will be some disasters along the way."
The panelists described a state with many challenges, but many agreed that the election of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has changed attitudes in Sacramento and elsewhere for the better.
"We are going to be able to solve our problems," said Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee, an organization devoted to creating a business-friendly California legislature, "but we're going to have to work hard at it."
Kevin Starr, California State Librarian Emeritus and University Professor of History at the University of Southern California, was the conference's keynote speaker, delighting the audience with historic and current tales about the state and its leaders. He, too, agreed that the state is undergoing a major change.
"We're now in a time of change, of transformation," he said. "Californians are saying, 'Time out.' "
Some 500 of California's top business people and policy makers attended the day-long event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Sessions focused on job creation, the state's high cost of doing business, political and economic reforms needed to improve the business climate, state funding and numerous other issues.
Speakers included some of California's leading business executives and political officials, including former governors Brown and Gray Davis, who joined moderator Michael Milken, Chairman of the Milken Institute, in a session examining the challenges in governing California.