A Step Ahead Podcast

Silicon Valley Rejected Trump. How Will The Industry Work With The New Administration?

Steve Westly moves easily between the worlds of technology and politics. The venture capitalist, who was an early investor in Tesla, served as state controller and chief financial officer of California between 2003 and 2007.

Now, like many in Silicon Valley, he is watching cautiously as President-elect Donald Trump forms his cabinet and starts to signal what his priorities will be over the next four years.

Despite Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign, when he railed against immigrants, called climate change a hoax and threatened to start a trade war with China, Westly believes that when it comes down to making real policy, Trump will back down on some of his most damaging rhetoric.

“I think Silicon Valley will fare just fine,” Westly told CALinnovates Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan. “Silicon Valley is getting bigger, not smaller. It is the tech center of the world, and I don’t think Trump wants to slow that growth for any reason.”

Immigrants have proven to be the secret sauce of Silicon Valley helping build companies that have created thousands of jobs. Renewable energy is quickly getting more affordable than coal and natural gas, and almost every economist agrees that a trade war with China would be a disaster.

But that doesn’t mean the Valley should be complacent. The economic dislocation that swept Trump into office is a growing problem.

“The 800-pound gorilla in the room is that new technology is coming,” says Westly. “But we have to get smarter about re-educating the American workforce. We have not done that nearly well enough in the past.”

Listen to the full interview here:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

Monday Meditations: Where We Are Now

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

A Step Ahead: Mike Kish

Mike Montgomery, Executive Director CALinnovates. How you doing?

Mike Mongtomery: What’s up, Kish? How are you?

I’m doing great. I’m going great. I’m enjoying the conversations that we’re having on the podcast. The guests have really been enlightening, and we’re still dealing with the reaction and the fallout to the presidential election. We just talked to Steve Westly, California’s former Controller whose very involved still in the Silicon Valley. He brought great perspective. We talked to Dex Torricke-Barton, really fascinating guy who has a background in communications in technology, but also in the public sector most notably at the United Nations. He’s starting a whole movement around using technology platforms to try to constructively engage people in politics. What these gents were talking about and what we’re going to continue to talk about is the role and the responsibility of technology broadly, social media in particular, in what’s going on with our politics.

It’s a fascinating thing to continue to hash out.

Yeah. I think it’s a real opportunity for the technology community at large to try to correct a little bit. Kish, you were in the Bay Area back at the fall of the dot com-

Right.

We saw a lot of venture capital go to a lot of companies that didn’t really do much for many people. One of the biggest failures back in the day was Webvan, and that Webvan idea has now morphed into something that can help everybody everywhere in the country…

I agree with you…

wealthy elites in San Francisco and so…

Yeah, and I think … Oh, go ahead. Sorry.

I think we can be helpful that through convening these thought leaders, what we’re going to hear more about over the coming podcast is how these thought leaders view the world moving forward and view technology as a piece of that, rather than this stand alone fun grouping of tools and platforms that help some people but not all people.

It’s a great point. I think you’re dead right. I think there are a couple of different traps. Substantively, what are these new solutions, technologies, applications, and gadgets? What are they doing to contribute to broader public impact and important public outcomes? What’s the substantive value if you look at it through the public policy lens of what Silicon Valley’s producing? I think that’s obviously a really important question. Then in a near term here, we’re also asking these political questions. What I pushed on Dex about was what responsibility did social media have in contributing to arguably division and the coarseness of the political campaign? Now, he wasn’t quite willing to accept that social media was a culprit in that.

I think he was thoughtful in saying but we do have to recognize that if we’re in politically divided times, these tools can contribute to the division. Maybe they’re not driving the division, but they may be contributing to it.

Right. The contributing factor though is meaningful. We’ve grown up in an era where we thought the news was the news, and now we have this term fake news. The only fake news that I had thought about prior to this election was The Onion. Now, we have this idea of fake news being propagated on social networks.

Yeah, and to your point and you started the word there. It’s not satire, which is The Onion. It’s propaganda if it’s being used explicitly for political purposes.

Right. It’s no different than dropping flyers over a town hall from an airplane. It is propaganda and so it’s a total new era. Not to mention, one of the other components of…well, two of the components of technology that people spend a lot of time thinking about are security and privacy and so we witness hacks. That’s something that maybe you consider a Watergate hack, but when’s the last time we had a political hack of great significance?

It’s extraordinary. I don’t think we have at all really come to grips fully with what apparently was the Russian government’s involvement through technology hacking of our election systems. It’s really an extraordinary thing that we’re talking about, but we still don’t really know the full extent let alone the implications of what that really meant.

Right. Down the line we’re going to talk to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla who…

That’s going to be great-

It is, and it’s going to be great to hear his perspective on this ongoing debate about the votes. Is a recount needed in certain states across the country? Is it possible that an organization actually played a role in those certain states? We may never know. It’s going to be interesting to talk about it because technology is the thing that is not only going to help people understand and maybe regain their footing after at least many millions were displeased with the results of the election, and many millions were pleased. I do think that there’s so many people who need to feel, not just see, but feel the benefits of what Silicon Valley is bringing to the world-

You’re totally right.

So that…

You’re totally right.

Silicon Valley needs to fully embrace the fact that their worlds changed on election night.

You’re totally right. I think that not only around the sanctity of our voting process but then also, again, the role of social media and other sites that had become so prevalent in our lives, what responsibility do they have? Other conversations I’m really looking forward to are with Hemant Taneja and Ron Klain. People that at the Silicon Valley level and at the national level are thinking a lot about things. Like what Hemant talks about. Algorithmic accountability which is to say if we know the sites are designed, their intent is to be as popular as possible, to be as self-fulfilling and self-gratifying to the user as possible. That’s what makes us go back to the site and continue to use them so extensively in our lives.

Knowing how big those sites have become, how massive their influence is, I think the question is that we’ll explore with Hemant in particular is, is there a responsibility on the part of those applications to consider the impact of their individual users and society writ large? Then further, may there be some role for, wait for it, government to get involved in how these sites behave and what their impact is? Those are really big questions that I think have to be on the table.

Those are huge questions, and we’ve been fighting against the idea of government intervention for edge providers. Then you just suppose that with what, say for instance, a site like Reddit and that the power that a site like Reddit has. The mantra there is that it’s really a free-for-all. The idea of opinions, or fake news, or bluster, or whatever noun or adjective you want to plug in there, it’s hard to parse. It’s a very popular place. I’m not saying anything negative about Reddit…

Sure.

I learned a lot about Westworld on Reddit recently trying to figure out what on earth is going on there. If you’re getting your political news from Reddit, or your political news from Facebook, or Twitter, we may be doing a disservice to the American public in terms of how broad the perspectives may be.

I think that’s the question, and I’m really looking forward to our upcoming episodes of A Step Ahead. I think that we’re going to continue to dive into these issues with people that are extremely knowledgeable and thoughtful. I think they’re going to be engaging conversations as we’re wrestling with questions that I don’t even think we could have imagined a year ago. Here we are with really big important questions that have to be asked, and answered, and explored so A Step Ahead’s going to be a fun place to chop it up.

Definitely.

For Mike Montgomery, our Executive Director. This is Kish Rajan, Chief Evangelist at CALinnovates. Thanks, folks, for listening to A Step Ahead.

Dex Torricke-Barton

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

A Step Ahead: Dex Torricke-Barton

Hi everyone, Kish Rajan, Chief Evangelist at CALinnovates and welcome to this edition of A Step Ahead.

This time we’re talking to Dex Torricke-Barton. Really, a fascinating guy and a fascinating story. Someone who is a communications professional that’s worked both in the United Nations early in his career, and then with major technology companies in the Silicon Valley, but then decided to move on from that and get more involved in an effort that’s about trying to bring people together in a more constructive way around politics and policy. A really fascinating conversation that we had about someone who was trying to bring his enormous talent and background to bear on innovating the way communities come together in politics. It was a great chat and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

All right, Dex Torricke-Barton. Thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate you being on A Step Ahead.

Dex Torricke-Barton: It’s great to be here.

Well listen, your story has gotten a lot of attention and we certainly are captivated by it and I’d love to jump right in. I saw a quote from you that said that you were motivated to take a big action in your life because, in your words, I believe you said you see the world as “under threat”. I’d love to know what you mean by that.

Yeah, absolutely. The last couple of years of just seeing communities in the United States and Europe, particularly, moving in a direction that I think is less open, less compassionate and really as someone who is an immigrant to the United States, nearly nine years ago, and as someone whose dad was a refugee, all the things that we’ve seen with the global response or lack of response, to the refugee crisis, Brexit in the UK, the rise of the far-right in Europe, and then finally the election of Donald Trump, convinces me that the world is not on a good path for somebody who cares about a common humanity and the possibilities and the challenges that we need to solve in order to serve that population. So for me, it was something that has been concerning me for a long time and the election results this month have just been one more step along this increasingly dark path.

Yeah, no kidding. You’ve had such an interesting journey, career wise, working early with the United Nations at one level but then, of course, famously going into technology. We at CALinnovates, of course, are very focused on the impact of technology.

We’re based in Northern California in the Silicon Valley, which is this melting pot of multiculturalism. It really celebrates this alchemy that’s been created. It’s produced so many wonderful things, and yet those political events that you’ve just described appear to be a rejection of that. I’m interested in your perspective. How you see that and what you see as the danger in that.

Right, well I think in many ways Silicon Valley has always sort of been a bubble. A lot of people who work in the Valley talk about the bubble with a sort of wry smile on their faces. But the fact is, Silicon Valley and California and the communities that are dedicated to innovation really do not represent most of the world. Having worked at both Facebook and the UN, two organizations that closely engage with topics around global connectivity, I’ve really seen first hand just how ignorant, in many ways, people are about communities beyond our borders. Most of the world is not online and a lot of people think, “Oh, everybody’s using my app, my service, my product.” The fact is, the vast majority of humanity has never ever used the internet, ever.

And even close to home, I think people often exaggerate the extent to which Silicon Valley attitudes or values or interests have penetrated the United States. The fact is, most people don’t feel that connected to Silicon Valley and vice versa, I would say.

Yeah, it’s a really interesting point. One thing…we certainly look at that as well and I’d love to explore this notion of a bubble for a minute.

In California and the Silicon Valley, we love to celebrate our uniqueness, our specialness, the amazing innovations and applications and gadgets that emanate from this part of the world, but it can often be quite detached. And I think when you look at political events like Brexit or perhaps the election of Donald Trump, it in some ways is being described as a backlash against attitudes that seem elitist, ivory tower, and perhaps in a way that’s unacceptably disconnected from the lives of everyday people.

Absolutely, and I’m not saying that I think that’s necessarily a fair characterization, but the fact is technology is only truly useful when it serves social ends. It’s not good enough to just build a shiny new product or an app if you’re not actually solving something fundamental in people’s lives. A lot of the time, I think the technologies and innovations coming from Silicon Valley really are serving truly transformative ends and creating economic and social value in communities all over the world, but the folks who build these things don’t always think about the right way to communicate these things. They don’t think about the right way to illustrate what that value truly looks like.

One of the first and most obvious signs of that, when I arrived in the Valley back in 2011, was how people were so fond of the word “disruption.” “Disruption” means something very specific and positive in Silicon Valley. It’s about changing old industries and building new forms of growth and new ways to communicate, new ways to collaborate. But to the world, the word “disruption” is a scary one that implies the things that you have grown up with, and cherished, and which you rely on may well be disappearing, and when disruption happens, that is both opportunity but also just a massive everyday challenge for people who are living through that. And Silicon Valley has not always been good at explaining and mitigating the affects of that disruption and especially the unintended effects of that disruption.

Well, it really is an interesting question. I think that because of the different impacts that technology had, certainly on the US election, and I’d love to take a few minutes to look at these, but on the point that you’ve just made, one worry is that the tremendous growth of the innovation and technology economy, it’s astounding, the valuation of companies and the wealth that’s being created, but the worry is how narrow the band is of people who are actually benefiting from that economic explosion. And to your point, I think the question is, not only how do we actually make those economic gains broader, how do we expand that bandwidth, but how do we communicate to people that that indeed is a laudable and important pursuit of what comes out of places like the Silicon Valley?

Absolutely. In terms of communicating that value, I think there is a huge need for us to get better sources of data and ways to measure the impact of the knowledge economy. Right now, we still think about economic progress in terms of GDP and a lot of the metrics that were developed specifically to measure an industrial model of the economy. How do you quantify the economic value of the gains in productivity and the ability to collaborate much more closely, which come from, for example, social networks? Those are things which don’t necessarily get reflected in that value. But certainly, I think there is a need, as well, for us to build tools that are serving the needs of folks who don’t live in the Bay Area, don’t live in New York, don’t live in the major urban centers, and to begin by thinking, “How can we solve challenges in those communities first?”

Products like faster grocery delivery, the ability to carry out chores in your local community, better ways to access restaurant reviews or recommendations through an app, these things often start by benefiting folks who really live in very small, urban, prosperous communities. They aren’t necessarily the kinds of things that would work in rural communities where there aren’t these surpluses of services, and Silicon Valley should be playing a part in thinking, “How do we actually begin developing the overall ecosystem for growth there?” Not just solving the needs of places which already have well built-up infrastructure and ecosystems.

It’s a great point. I want to ask one last sort of political question that I’d love to tie to the work that you are doing, that you have moved to.

We are still just in the aftermath of the election and one of the things that folks have pointed to is the rise of social media having such a huge impact on political activity now. That is to say, it seems to be a central way that people are getting information and sharing information, but the challenge is that because the nature of these applications are so self-affirming, there’s a worry that social media is just contributing to our tribalization. To getting us into our own camps and keeping us there. I’m wondering if you agree that that’s a challenge that needs to be addressed.

I think it’s something that we should pay close attention to and I have yet to see any good research that has been done in any recent time which actually tries to quantify whether the filter bubble exists and is real. I have, on the other hand, seen great research in the last few years which suggests that the filter bubble, at least on Facebook, is something that is exaggerated. And on Facebook everyday, people are really exposed to a lot more diversity of content and perspectives than they might sometimes even think themselves.

I think part of the recent backlash against Facebook after the election is driven by the fact that people right now really are just stunned by the results. They are casting around furiously, trying to find simplistic answers to what are pretty complex questions. Why did people ultimately vote for Trump and why did people, in many cases, seem to vote against their own self-interests? And it would be really great if we could blame all of our troubles on something as simple as an algorithm.

The fact is, what this election has communicated so strongly, is that there are deep-seated social and economic problems in many communities which have been overlooked by successive governments, and that unless we actually get to work on solving them and tackling the root cause of polarization, we will continue to see this drift away from a more open world. And that is not a thing that can be solved simply by tweaking an algorithm or by making changes to a product. That would be the absolute worst misinterpretation of what happened and we really would reaffirm that Silicon Valley is disconnected from the rest of the country.

Yeah. We really do have to think about cause and effect, right? And I think that it’s a good time to reflect upon that.

Well, listen, let me turn to then, you did famously leave your role in corporate America. You’ve moved on and have founded a new organization, Onwards. I would love for you to tell us, what is that and what do you hope to accomplish?

Absolutely. Onwards is a non-partisan effort to try and tackle the root social and economic causes of polarization in communities in the United States. And I want to stress that this is something that is very different than the vast and rapidly proliferating set of grassroots organizations that are working specifically to fight back against Trump-ism through the Democratic Party machinery.

This is not an effort that is tied to one party, and frankly, Onwards is something that I’m working on with both Republicans, Democrats, and folks who voted for neither party to develop. And I think, here’s the challenge, communities across the United States are increasingly polarized and we are seeing the effects of polarization in the fact that people no longer feel capable of having debates about the sensitive social, economic, and political topics that are most divisive.

This whole election, if you’ve ever had a debate during this electoral cycle with somebody who disagrees with you, that experience can be incredibly fraught. You wonder if a disagreement over politics is going to become an existential threat to your relationship. I think if we want to make progress as a country, if we want to start finding practical solutions to the problems ahead, we need to learn how to talk to each other again, and to talk to people we don’t necessarily agree with. And so the first set of programs I’m working on are designed, really, to give people the tools to have conversations in their own lives and their own communities with their friends, their families, their coworkers, through town hall meetings, however they’re engaging with the political process, and to actually begin working to find common ground with people that they may disagree with vehemently.

Are these tools … sorry-

Sure.

-really quickly, are these digital tools, are they online, are they in the context of online or social communication, or are these just plain old getting people to be able to understand and talk with one another tools?

I think that it’s a combination of both and communications and conversations are taking place both online and offline. We need to have tools and programs that can help people communicate in both ways. It will probably rely on both a combination of online training and facilitated conversations in person, in communities. Small group sessions, listening sessions, and town halls.

And really, these are based on the proven set of models that have been developed in societies everywhere from Northern Ireland to post-apartheid South Africa, where folks have developed expertise on how to bring people together around a table who may feel that they have nothing in common with each other. And I think that’s really something that hasn’t been tried, or at least done at a large-scale way in the United States and I think there’s a huge utility which will come from that.

Wow, fascinating. So you really are drawing upon your time at the United Nations.

You’re talking about the types of extremely difficult, seemingly almost intractable, cultural, political difference in places around the world where organizations, NGO organizations and others, had intervened to try to bring about dialogue and conversation. You’re really talking about that scale.

Absolutely. And you know what? For the last decade we’ve heard politicians talk about how we should try to create a less-partisan form of politics, and then they’ve gone about doing exactly the same old stuff, the same old way, and made absolutely no effort to actually try and change that. I think there are actually practical things that we can do, which will shift the conversation, and we need to do them and I think this is something that is long overdue.

It’s not the only thing though, and so the other set of activities is really around, “How can we engage with the jobs problem?” And I think unless we can get to the root cause of the economic factors leading to polarization, then it will just be a lot of talking.

The other part of the challenge will be, “How can we work with folks in Silicon Valley and beyond to equip more people with the skills to find jobs, to get the skills they need to apply for jobs which don’t require a college degree, and to get the support to create businesses as well?” And these are things that all can draw on the huge wealth of resources, but also the existing tools that are available online and through internet services to really build something new. The ability to create a business today is easier than ever, but a lot of folks still struggle with that and it really is something that’s tremendously difficult if you’re starting out down that path-

Sure.

-and having support and giving people the tools to set that up and put them on the right path of success, I think will be really really important for creating the next waves of jobs and growth in communities where traditional industries and manufacturing have declined.

Well, as we wind up, I wish we had more time and I’d love to continue this conversation perhaps down the road, but I guess my last question is, what do you think is the inclination of people in the Silicon Valley to engage in this kind of work? A lot of what you’re saying feels like it would need to be governmental or at least NGO-type of activity. It isn’t traditionally the obligation or even the inclination of private businesses to engage in the type of work you’re talking about and yet, you seem to be optimistic that people will plug into this effort.

I am optimistic and part of that is just the enormous number of folks I’ve had conversations with over the last few weeks coming from companies all over the Valley, entrepreneurs from all types of backgrounds, who are really concerned about the future.

Somebody asked me the other day, “Do you think the Trump administration will be hurtful to innovation?” And I said, “Well, look. If the world goes to war, that’s going to be bad for everyone. If the world ends, that tends to take everyone with it.” We are in a situation now where we’re far from the end of the world, but we are in a situation where the social and economic challenges are rising to the water’s edge. And if we don’t work to address those challenges now when we have been given such a loud and increasing set of warnings, then those challenges will imperil all of the progress in society which innovators depend on.

Openness is a set of conditions that is not just whether I can get access to funding or whether I have access to academics at local universities. Openness is something that absolutely depends on having a national and a global framework for peace and prosperity, and those are things which should deeply concern Silicon Valley innovators who want to serve humanity. I think the good news is that a lot of folks who come to Silicon Valley really do honestly care about serving humanity and they do see technology as something that is inherently connected to social ends. I think we will continue to see folks speaking up and standing up for communities that are imperiled and to deal with the challenges ahead.

Well, it’s an enormously inspiring message, and clearly amongst all those folks that have come to the Silicon Valley to pursue amazing ends and tremendous achievements, clearly you, Dex Torricke-Barton, are one of those people and we’re grateful you’re bringing your talents and capabilities to Onwards, something that seems incredibly worthwhile that we’ll continue to watch. We appreciate you sharing part of your day with us on A Step Ahead.

Absolutely a pleasure, thanks for having me.

You bet.

City Permitting Is Complicated. Technology Can Make It Easier.

When big companies build new office or commercial spaces, they have teams of lawyers and consultants who help them navigate the permitting process.

Small-business owners don’t have that same luxury, and city hall can often be a confusing place.

That’s where OpenCounter comes in. The tech company works with cities to make the permitting process easier and more tech friendly. They take the many rules and regulations a new business owner might need to understand and present them in an intuitive way through their online portal.

It’s an idea that more cities could use to help spur new business. In a conversation with CALinnovates Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan, OpenCounter co-founder Peter Koht pointed out that America is 49th in the world for ease of starting a businesses and 33rd for ease of construction permitting. These complications create real problems for new business owners.

“This is not a problem unique to California,” said Koht. “We need citizen-focused permitting.”

Koht and his co-founder, Joel Mahoney, approached the problem from a design point of view. The information that new businesses need is mostly already on a city’s website. OpenCounter uses algorithms and natural language to present that information in a way that more people can easily use.

Listen to the full interview below:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

Just Like Olivia Pope, But Without The White Dress And Affairs: Justin Knighten Helps Folks Maneuver Sacramento

The world of Sacramento is its own ecosystem. Beyond politicians and lobbyists, there are people like Justin Knighten, vice president at Lucas Public Affairs, who work with businesses and interest groups to navigate the sometimes tricky paths to influencing policy.

“Think of us as Olivia Pope [from Scandal] but without the white dress and affairs,” Knighten joked to CALInnovates Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan during a wide-ranging interview.

Businesses, especially tech companies, are getting more involved in policy in California, and they’re signaling to the next generation that this is just part of doing business — especially for tech companies that are looking to disrupt industries. Inevitably, those disruptors are going to want to be heard on policy decisions, and that’s where Knighten comes in.

He’s helping companies understand that their reputations, which play an important role in how they are welcomed in Sacramento, are not forged by accident. It’s an ongoing thing, and businesses have to be aware of who their audiences are and what they’re saying to them.

Government has to be aware of its audience as well, and as a millennial, Knighten would like to see government reaching out more to younger people and making itself more relevant to digital natives.

“As young people think about what they want their impact on the world to be, I’m a big advocate for going into government,” said Knighten. “It’s a great platform.”

Listen to the full interview here:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

A Step Ahead: Justin Knighten

Hey, everyone. Kish Rajan, chief evangelist at CALinnovates. Welcome to this edition of A Step Ahead, the CALinnovates podcast. This time we’re with Justin Knighten, who’s Vice President of Lucas Public Affairs which is one of the more successful and well established public affairs firms in Sacramento working on public policy in the state capitol.

You’ll hear Justin is a very thoughtful, insightful, young professional who understands politics, understands policy and business, where they intersect and how all that is changing, given how technology and innovation is fundamentally changing the way we all learn and communicate. For businesses out there that need to think about how to engage the new world of public policy, Justin has tremendous insights and I’ll hope you enjoy the chat that we have.

All right, Justin Knighten, Vice President at Lucas Public Affairs. Thanks for joining us.

Justin Knighten: Yeah, this is great, thanks for having me.

We appreciate you being here on A Step Ahead, the CALinnovates Podcast. This is great.

This is great. This is cool.

Cool. Well, you and I have known each other for a number of years and you are one of the key people at Lucas Public Affairs, one of the most well established and well respected public affairs firms in Sacramento. Tell us about that. Tell us about what does Lucas do?

What does Lucas do? We specialize in high-level reputation management, crisis communications and issues campaigns. What that means is we don’t really work with elected officials. We don’t really work on initiative campaigns like voter campaigns and we don’t do consumer PR, consumer outreach. We’re kind of in the space where it’s really politics meets policy meets business.

Interesting. Are you lobbyists? Do you lobby?

We do not lobby. We 100% do not lobby. We work with a lot of lobbyists. We help think through big picture strategy and game plans with lobbyists and other experts but we do not lobby.

Yeah, it’s interesting. You know, for most people who are not on the inside of how these things work at state capitols, whether it’s Sacramento or Washington DC, it’s hard to discern. But there really is an ecosystem of different types of businesses and disciplines. I suppose that ultimately adds up to how laws get made or don’t get made, but lobbying becomes this catch all term that is not accurate, right? What you all do is quite distinct from that.

We hear about lobbying all the time, right? We usually hear about lobbying in the worse case scenario, when a scandal breaks or something unethical happened, whether it’s in DC or here in California. So we hear about those things a lot more and when people think about the role of government, they think about policy makers and the press and then the third house, the lobbyists. We kind of get grouped up into that. Which is fine a layman’s terms but when it comes down to what you’re actually doing and what your function is in that space, there is a hard line. You know, we’re not picking up the phone, we’re not calling actual elected officials, we’re not meeting with them. We’re not having conversations with them. We’re helping to create the communication environments and the conversations around them.

Yeah, those narratives.

Absolutely.

Those conditions that ultimately create some of the parameters and shape how these outcomes can happen from a legislative or regulatory standpoint.

Absolutely. I kind of see it like we’re like Olivia Pope, right? But we’re in California and we don’t have white suits and we’re definitely not having any affairs with elected officials so we’re good.

But white suits aren’t a bad idea in Sacramento in the summertime.

I agree. It’s hot up there. I can attest to that.

But let’s talk about this because our audience, or a big part of our audience are businesses. Most businesses, at least this is my experience and I’d love to hear yours, this is all very mysterious, they know very little about the political process, it’s intimidating and it’s scary because they understand that at some level the government can have a lot of influence and impact over their business opportunities but they don’t exactly know how to shape it. Is that why, ultimately, businesses hire you all or what are they looking for when they hire you?

They’re not looking for us to help them sell something that’s going well. Usually it’s a problem or they have to fix something or there’s a huge challenge and they need help grappling with it. So we really come in and help build this partnership with them and really talk through…what is that thing you’re looking to achieve? What does that success look like for you? Whether it’s trying to do something to react to something that’s happening in the policy space that may have a negative impact on your company or operation or the issues that you care about. Or…

Playing defense.

Playing defense, exactly. Or you want to really mix things up and be a part of the conversation and help drive the agenda that is not only good for you and your company and your self interest, but you think will have bigger implications for the industries and the environments that you operate in because it’s something that’s new and that you think you could really add to that conversation.

Yeah, I want to talk about that. You know, my father worked at Levi-Strauss, that’s how I ended up in California.

That’s fantastic.

And they were a pioneering firm. This is 34 years ago when he first joined the firm and worked there for a long time. He used to use this phrase Corporate Social Responsibility that I ‘A,’ didn’t understand or ‘B,” it sounded kind of made up. But, actually, it turned out, with Levis, it was very sincere, it was very real. They had a recognition, perhaps being a San Francisco company where, as we’re sitting here in the heart of San Francisco having this discussion, it’s a very progressive place. It occurred to Levis at that time that to be a successful company in a community like this and then nationally, that genuine commitment to understanding what their social responsibility was was a big deal. Now it seems that that discipline and that approach by businesses has grown quite a bit.

I think that is definitely the ethos of San Francisco. You have a lot more companies that have more of an authentic ethos of their mission and their purpose and what they’re trying to achieve and I love when that jumps over into a Sacramento, kind of, policy space because that makes me really excited to be able to help someone or a company to do something that is that grand and big. I think that that mentality is definitely jumping to different parts of the state and different industries. I think that the companies and the groups that have been the most successful are those that don’t look at government and Sacramento as this really crazy space, let’s just get out of your way and lets you avoid it. We don’t need it. Let’s just deal with it when there’s a problem versus the companies who have really made it an integrated part of who they are and, you’re seeing that more and more, you know, with energy and healthcare and other industries that are really starting to bring this in.

Tack and, I think, innovation are doing it more than they ever have before and I love when I hear about new companies, startups, the heart of San Francisco where all the startups are really emerging, thinking about the government space and the policy implications and the legality of what they’re doing from the very beginning.

Yeah, I think it’s really interesting, you know, we certainly see our members at CALinnovates and we see it more broadly and you’re right, there’s both established industries: legacy, traditional businesses, and then, of course, there’s this new era of all kinds of new disruptive, whether they are disruptive or not, they’re just new innovative companies. But it seems that our experience, I’m wondering what your experience in Sacramento is, is that both of those types of companies are recognizing that constructive, positive engagement in the public policy realm, it’s important. It’s going to help them in the long run in their own self interests, quite candidly, to shape a reputation that helps them work towards more favorable policy outcomes but it also is a win win where not only are they advancing their self interests, but they’re promoting a broad interest. We sense a momentum. Are you seeing that type of momentum in Sacramento as well?

I am. Whether they’re finding there’s an issue or topic that directly impacts their business or again, with part of their ethos as a company like I mentioned before, whether it’s education or childcare issues or other things that directly impact their employees and the future of their companies, I am seeing that more and I think it’s very exciting. I wish it was happening far more. I still see some disconnect.

Yeah. It’s early.

It’s early. It’s early. I think when we see the big players in the tech space having established more of a credible reputation and more of a hand in the policy world, I think it’s telling the up and comers that this is important.

Yeah.

That we’re going to have to make this a priority down the road so why not start now? But let’s build something that maybe avoids a lot of the complications or issues down the road.

It’s a really fascinating thing. I feel the same way. Especially, you and I were talking a minute ago about the changing political dynamics and as we sit here recording this conversation, we’re only a week away from the national election, which we will talk…that’s a whole other podcast to talk about. We’ll have you part of a…

Post mortem.

Yeah. Hopefully not post mortem.

A celebration. Because hopefully it’s a celebration.

But looking at the political dynamic, this election, be it on a national level and we see it, certainly, in California, how these elections are happening, how the conversations are happening, how issues are being talked about or not being talked about, how sloganeering is or is not happening. It’s very different from a technology perspective today than it was, even five years ago, but certainly 10 or 15 years ago. The audiences and the general public and policy makers are engaging in very different ways, it seems to me and I’m curious to see your point of view on that.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially these last 10 months and looking at how communications and these narratives have really shifted, and this is something that isn’t going to stop now. It’s going to keep going, it’s going to keep evolving, it’s going to keep going and pushing the boundary. But if you look at it in the last eight years, it’s like two bookends, right? 2008, a revolutionary election that changed the game on so many fronts as it relates to the use of social media and tech and digital platforms to engage, not only younger audiences, all audiences.

Right?

Elections were won that way, obviously, looking at key battleground states. But from a communication standpoint, it was monumental. There is no one who will ever really debate that. It was significant. The bookend of this year is, maybe, how some of those platforms could go wrong or maybe some of the negative impacts of some of those things if they’re not managed correctly, right? Emails. You mentioned before, Twitter. Things that if they aren’t managed correctly or looked after or considered, could have negative implications for you.

Absolutely.

So I think if you’re looking at those as the two bookends, it’s like, wow, it was new, it was innovative, there were no rules. I think eight years later, there are some rules.

There’s no question. I want to continue this thread that we’re having about…it’s fascinating to me how there seems to be this intertwined situation where we’re talking about digital communications, what your digital reputation is in a political context as candidates. But it’s very much aligned with your corporate reputation or individual reputation inside of a corporate context. These things seem to be coming together where they’re influencing one another, both in the private sector and in the public sector or in the campaign world.

Yeah. You can no longer silo it. You talking as a leader of a company, the head of a campaign, you’re talking to all audiences at the same time. There’s no more divide, there’s no more lines. You can’t put yourself in a box. If you want Facebook live, if this is on Facebook live now and we push it out to the folks that are following us, whether it’s family members or people we went to school with or colleagues at work, they’re all seeing it. They’re all reaching it. So I think for CEOs or political leaders or other experts who are, maybe, jumping from an LA to a San Francisco into a policy space, they might have had amazing success with what they say in the corporate space, in the world of getting VC funding and all the other things they’re doing as the leader of their company, right? Building morale, building aspirational environments for their employees. Whatever it is that they’ve been doing to have success, they now have to figure out what is the connection and the thread to pull that in to parlay that in the policy space.

Those are all such great points. I mean, what you said is so vital and I want to drill into that for just a minute which is, your corporate reputation, what starts from your corporate leadership, your CEO or whoever your C levels are, all the way through your entire organization, and then what the brand and the reputation of your company is, it’s one thing and now there’s just multiple audiences that will experience your reputation and your brand and react to you based on that. So that’s policy makers, your own investors, your own customers, the communities that you serve, it’s all one thing. I think it’s a really big challenge for companies to iterate their approach to communications in a way that recognizes that new reality.

And we always say that reputation doesn’t happen overnight. Reputation isn’t by accident. Those are things that are built or you feel at the end of a particular period, right? Whether it’s someone who’s starting an initiative and sees it from beginning to end or is a good actor in the business space for many years or it’s an ongoing thing. It’s something that’s a living, breathing thing. Your reputation can take a hit instantly and it changes that narrative. The good news is that if your mindful of all those audiences and your approach and how you communicate to them and have that conversation, especially now, especially as so many of your customers and employees and citizens in the places where you work, politicos and others, can have a direct conversation with you. It’s increasingly more important to be mindful of.

I think you’re right and I think it’s only going to move more steadily and clearly in this direction. At CALinnovates we spend a lot of time…you’re a millennial and you’ve been a great contributor to our millennial conversation and bringing that perspective which we really appreciate. But when you look at the polling and you engage with millennials and you sense how millennials are deriving their own opinions, communicating with one another, establishing their own expectations, it certainly seems to me but you tell me, that the imperative to businesses for their success is only going to intensify over time about developing this reputation and communicating it in ways that can reach these millennial audiences, if the businesses want people to work there or to buy their products.

Absolutely and I think that is something that the government space is grappling with as well. How is government touching a younger audience? I would even say that’s not even the focus. It’s how are we touching all audiences in a different way, in a way that’s in line with where the world is today and to give the credit to the folks in Sacramento who are doing this work. It’s a big job, right? I think the beauty of being out in San Francisco or LA or other, bigger markets is that it is more flexible and fluid and cutting edge with market trends. That’s the expectation. A place like government where you have to consider all the audiences, you have to consider so many other stakeholders and what their needs are, I think sometimes those bigger sweeping changes might seem overwhelming but that’s not to say that they shouldn’t happen. But simply to say that there’s a lot of good work that is happening. How are people touching the things that we interact with with government all the time. Whether it’s the DMV or…

Your healthcare.

…being a juror. Healthcare. Things that we touch government on more regularly, how are we connecting with those things that makes sense from where we are on our phone, in a digital space? Something where we don’t necessarily have to go into a brick and mortar to make something happen. So there are those conversations happening. I, to be the hammer now, is to say that I think those things need to happen a little bit faster.

No doubt.

I think we have to be a little bit more comfortable in the discomfort to actually start to move in this direction because at the end of the day, what I see as the goal and the purpose is to make sure that we’re not losing the potential of this whole generation that will definitely breathe life into these systems moving forward.

There really is a legitimate worry, is there not, that an entire new generation, new era, whole generations will follow that just completely disconnect from government because they can’t get their brain around how to engage it, right? I mean, I, as a Gen X-er, we talk a lot about how we’re this bridge generation. I grew up before cell phones and now I’ve adapted my entire life to see that millennials are digital natives and so I can see the transition that’s been made. I also am someone who, having served in government, can see how old school it really is, from a technology and as you’re sort of describing it, consumer experience perspective that if we don’t break through this, how can you expect younger generations to engage it when they don’t even understand, at all, how it works or what its culture is.

Absolutely and its so funny that you mentioned your background and being connected to this. In junior high, I would leave my friends from the bus or whatever, and be, like, see you later, go into my house and instantly jump on, like AOL Instant Messenger and we would chat all night. So we never really lost contact. I didn’t really understand what that meant. So, yeah, to your point being a digital native, I think that is the world that we are in. We don’t see it as this separate, new emerging thing, it just is, right? It’s just what is. And I’ve always been a huge advocate of younger people, like myself and certainly others who are just leaving college or trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, even leaving high school, thinking about what is it that they want their impact in the world to be. Which is very much a millennial thing. I’ve always been an advocate of going into government and public service and the world of politics because I think it’s such an incredible platform to really have an impact on the issues and the topics that impact all of us.

Yeah.

And to your point, if we don’t have the systems and the processes in place to have a more digital focused component or even to know how we’re talking, how we’re engaging this new demographic, I do think that that potential will slip away. I do think there’s the potential for that. And look, it’s disheartening but it’s also an uplifting thing to think about because it presents a great opportunity.

Well there’s no doubt and there is, you can see change happening in that political leadership world of who can then create policy that can push to modernize government? We recently had Evan Low, assemblymember …

He’s fantastic.

A millennial, he’s 31 years old, he served in local government, now he’s in the assembly, chair of the Innovation and Technology c]Caucus. He spoke really eloquently about the criticality of modernizing government. We’ve also been really fortunate to have Lt. Governor Newsom who was a pioneer at City Hall in San Francisco and has talked a lot about modernization of government at the state level. So at least we see a new generation of leaders who perhaps, with more motivation and more support can work on the big job but the necessary job of the way government functions.

And I think, just those two leaders, I’m a huge fan of both of them. I think what they’ve done is incredible and I think their likely impact in the future is going to be a benefit to all of us and I love the fact that they are very much on this digital space and they are advocates for the opportunity that it presents. I think just that visibility and that narrative is incredibly helpful and goes a long way to reaching those younger audiences who are kind of figuring out, what does government and policy and politics mean for me?

Yeah.

For all of those who aren’t already, like the guys like us, the political, wonky nerds who love reading about polls and issues, right? It’s those that are passionate about what happens to their future and their community’s future, and they do care about the status of, you know, society, right? Californians, what happens? How do we bring them into the process?

I think it’s a big challenge and I think it’s a big opportunity in front of us for sure and then, maybe, just as we wind up, to bring this back around to business for a moment. As those policy makers, this new generation of policy makers are coming in, I said to you as we were walking over here from our last event, one of my favorite photographs, speaking of Evan Low that I saw this year is a picture of him, of Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez, who’s a young assemblymember from downtown LA and Lorena Gonzalez, a young assemblymember from San Diego on the Assembly floor, Evan taking a selfie and them all having a fun moment. That picture, I think, perfectly represents certainly the present but absolutely the future of the state government. To the extent that that’s true, businesses in California are going to have to understand how do they position themselves to be able to react to this new core group of folks that will be setting state policy for the foreseeable future.

I love that example and I think it’s very indicative of the future legislatures we’re going to start to have more of in Sacramento which is very exciting for people like me to help businesses, you need to hire me.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea. I’ll say it.

To really break it down to a very tangible example of how businesses, at least those who are savvy, are adapting into this new world. Politicians, political leaders care a lot about their constituents. What their constituents say, do and think, they care about a lot. Traditionally, a lot of really successful campaigns have deployed grassroots efforts where you get a lot of constituents to either write letters or make phone calls to their elected leader. Do these things that demonstrate visibility on whatever issue or topic or concern that they have. Always very effective, right? Volume matters in those types of approaches. In the digital space, we’re seeing this happen more on platforms like Twitter because they are on their phones, taking selfies on the floor of the assembly. They are on their phones scanning what’s happening on Twitter and Facebook while they’re voting on big issues and topics. They’re doing these things simultaneously.

It’s how they’re checking in with what popular opinion looks like because at the end of the day politicians want to be popular but they also want to be legitimately responsive to who they represent.

Totally. So in creating this communications campaign, to support whatever work or effort or challenge you have in Sacramento, a tangible example is how can you use Twitter as the new platform for grassroots campaign where instead of letters, instead of making phone calls, meeting the people where the are, how can you create infrastructures where they’re using Twitter or other things to communicate directly to their member and not only their member but their staff and other places where they can talk to those who they’ve elected into office. That has more immediate and consistent and direct impact. Not to say that the traditional format…

Will go away all together but …

And I’m and advocate for how can we create a campaign where we can bring both together, right? How can we use digital media and traditional media. How can we use these new platforms, and what we’ve known has always worked in communicating and driving a narrative. I think that’s where the power is.

I think you’re right. I think for both political campaigns and engagement for the average citizens to be involved and politicians, but also for businesses that are now charting a new course for their own success, for their own self interest but how can they reach beyond that and make a contribution, it’s a very dynamic time and understanding all of these new frontiers is a big deal. A good way to understand that is certainly to continue to talk to folks like you. So Justin Knighten, Vice President of Lucas Public Affairs, thanks a lot for joining us on A Step Ahead, we appreciate your time.

Thanks for having me. This is great.

You bet.

Graham Richard Is Bringing Business And Government Together To Encourage Clean Energy

There’s enormous potential in clean energy. Not only will it finally wean us off of harmful fossil fuels, but it will create an entire new industry with lots of new jobs.

But in order to make this vision of the future a reality, businesses and government need to work together. That’s where Graham Richard comes in.

The former mayor of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Richard is now chief executive of Advanced Energy Economy, a San Francisco-based advocacy firm that is working to bring about a “prosperous economy based on secure, clean, affordable energy.” Richard works with companies such as Apple and Facebook that want to purchase more clean energy. He also works with federal and local governments to put policies in place that encourage the growth of the clean-energy sector.

“I’m more optimistic today than I have ever been,” Richard told CALInnovates Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan during an interview for the podcast “A Step Ahead.” “Because of innovative forces, the job-generating and economic impacts are becoming more effectively understood.”

Richard understands that in order to bring about a truly robust renewable economy, we need more than clever entrepreneurs coming up with great ideas like Nest and Tesla. We need the government to make fundamental changes in the way utilities are built and regulated. Instead of siloed regulations that look at things like the energy grid and renewables as different beasts, we need system-wide regulation that can bring lots of different players to the same table.

“Innovation in environmental technology is creating a $200 billion market,” says Richard. “That could climb to a $1 trillion market by 2030 and create new jobs all across the country.” If everyone comes together to make it happen.

Listen to the full interview below:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

A Step Ahead: Graham Richard

Hi, everyone. Kish Rajan, Chief Evangelist at CALinnovates, and welcome you to this, the latest edition of A Step Ahead, the CALinnovates podcast. This time we’re joined by Graham Richard, who is the CEO of AEE, Advanced Energy Economy. They are a nonprofit that’s been around working with businesses across the energy landscape and the technology landscape, and as you’ll hear in our conversation, doing tremendous work all across the country helping to catalyze this new change towards advanced energy, and promoting all the economic possibilities associated with that.

He’s an interesting guy with a great background and a great story to tell about how much progress we’re making and how much more progress there is to make, so I hope you’ll enjoy the conversation I’ve had.

Graham Richard, thanks so much for joining us today. We appreciate it.

Graham Richard: Kish, great to be here.

It’s good to have you here on A Step Ahead, our new CALinnovates podcast, so thanks for being part of it. We’re here at your offices in San Francisco, at Advanced Energy Economy. For our listeners, just give us a quick orientation to tell us what AEE is all about.

We’re a relatively new business association with a national footprint, and we have a vision, Kish, of a prosperous world that runs on secure, clean, affordable energy. We now are active in 27 states, very active here in California, and we have over 100 national companies, wonderful companies, the names of which you know from your work.

Innovators like Apple, and Microsoft, and Intel, and Salesforce, and Facebook, and General Electric and Schneider Electric and Sun Power… a long list. Wind, solar, storage, systems integrators, and now, companies that want to buy advanced energy, they want to buy clean energy. And we’re helping face this wonderful new opportunity of creating jobs in the advanced energy, the clean energy sector, by encouraging policy that will make the growth of these new technologies become more present in our lives.

Right.

More real. And we think that that’s a prosperity agenda. So we’re a business association representing many of the companies that I’ve mentioned, and others, and every state is a different challenge, because every state has a different energy mix. My home state of Indiana, we were just talking about, right?

Yeah, I want to get into all of those issues that you’ve talked about. What you do, and policy, and I love what you said about this being a path to prosperity now going forward, I want to get into that. But very quickly, you’re from Fort Wayne, Indiana and now here you are in downtown San Francisco. How did that happen?

Well, it’s one of those wonderful opportunities. I had the chance to be an energy investor and serve as a state senator in Indiana, and Mayor of my city of Fort Wayne for eight years, and through mutual friends I was introduced to some funders and founders. Tom Steyer, Hemant Taneja, individuals that have a strong track record in investments and they were looking to support a business-based voice across the country and so, I’ve been on the board of an organization, The Clean Economy Network, which was merged into the Advanced Energy Economy and then I was selected to help build the organization. So, what we do is to make sure that the technologies and all the innovation around these wonderful new technologies is able to be embraced by policies that open up the market for these new technologies. And, as you know, energy is a highly regulated market-

Sure.

and its regulated state by state. So, we really have to work at the federal level, at the state level and the city level to open up the markets to encourage the adoption of technologies that even four or five years ago didn’t exist. Remember that company Nest? Who thought about having a thermostat that could ultimately do security, it could help you with… so, the technology has now created a demand for opening these markets.

There really is this tremendous confluence as we speak of amazing new technologies, inventions that creating brand new technologies that are taking place, but at the exact same time, there is clearly greater political awareness and demand for changing policies, to change behavior that would change the way that we create and consume energy for environmental preservation purposes and certainly here in California we’ve been very much at the forefront of that. You know, landmark pieces of legislation and other policies that it seems are quite at the forefront of driving a national and global movement in this regard.

And, is that policy that opened up the market years and years ago for clean wind, solar, and now batteries and storage and so, we want to see policies open these markets. The good news, Kish, is that this is now a very cost competitive opportunity. We were in Texas recently where we have our Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance and one of the largest industries in Texas includes DOW Chemical, which has a plant. And, DOW Chemical announced purchasing 200 mega watts of wind and they did that on the basis of the economics.

Apple, one of our member companies, buying over $820 million worth of clean solar power from solar here in California and its the 20 year economic value of that. That is the driver, not just the fact that it’s great for the environment. That’s important and we want that, we want to be able to deal with that but it’s also because it makes economic sense. That’s the innovation that’s happening in the market place.

That’s what .. and it seems to me that that’s so critical because that has been on the political side, and the arguments… one of the great criticisms has been and continues to be amongst some that these technologies—solar, wind, geothermal, go down the line—that they actually aren’t viable unto themselves, they aren’t economic and that engaging or purchasing those types of services or products really is a philanthropic exercise or it’s an exercise in at least public interest first and not purely business decisions. But, you’re saying that that’s…we’re seeing that change in the marketplace?

The innovation is coming in a number of ways. Improvement in overall systems cost in wind and solar is now making those, particularly the large scale, large city, a cost competitive purchase. So, you see a company like Warren Buffet’s MidAmerica’s power in Iowa throughout the upper Midwest, who are planning to have 100% clean energy by 2028. They just made the largest purchase of wind power in the history of the country and they’ve indicated that they’re going to keep their rates flat until about the end of 2020, 2027, 2028. So, this is cost effective and cost competitive.

In this last year, if you look at new installations in the electric power sector capacity, these innovations in clean energy, advanced energy have been so great that over 90% of all new installations have been what we would call advanced energy, clean energy. There’s another that’s happening. So, lets give some companies some roots here.

This is CALnnovates. You’ve got Sun Power, one of our very active members. You’ve got a company called STEM, which is a battery manufacturer, based here in California but then you have EnerNOC, which has a home base up in Boston. They’ve formed a partnership and what are they doing? The innovation is to take the software from EnerNOC, take the panels that are manufactured by Sun Power and put them into a system that is supported by storage to be able to deliver to a customer, perhaps a commercial or a industrial customer.

And, they say we would like to have more of our on site power, we would like to do more energy efficiency but we would like to have all of that integrated in a way that’s very different when you just used to have… envision in your mind a plug you plugged into a socket and the electricity will come to your device, but now all of a sudden you got to have more like the internet, a system that’s two way. So, it’s not just a plug in electrical socket with an extension cord. And, the innovation around the technology driven by the public policy to open those markets is creating a market that we estimate today to be a $200 billion market. We think that market can go to a trillion dollar market by 2030 and have job creation opportunity all across the country.

What are the keys to that you think, to continue to unlock that market? What’s it going to take to get to that next level of growth that you are suggesting?

Continued innovation by the great companies we are talking about. Continued innovation in public policy. We have to rethink how the electricity system is governed and operated and what is the business model for return on investment for electric utilities, so our association is involved in that across the country. I think continued innovation in finance and what I would call a systems way of regulating versus a silos way of regulating.

Tell me more about that.

For example, if you are an individual who buys a company and you have some use for natural gas, lets say you also use water, lets say you also use electricity. Right now, we’ve got systems and if you add to that broadband and the smart of the smart grid, the smart of the smart city, the smart of the smart transportation is wireless and fiber optic broadband. We need more of it just like we need more cloud computing, more storage capacity so it’s thinking how about you put all those pieces together.

This is a secret of the US economy. Obviously, it’s happening all over the world but one of the things we do well here is we figure out how to put pieces together. Just go back for a minute, I use this analogy a lot but I have a different frame line—recent studies and talk about when President Kennedy said we’re going to go to the moon –

Right.

and, people said we don’t even have the technology to do that. How are we going to do that? We don’t have… so, part of the solar industry got its start by talking about the solar cells on spacecraft.

Interesting.

It was the integration of all kinds of scientific advancement that drove ultimately a very successful outcome. Today, hey, we have private space companies. Tesla, Elon Musk-

Space X. Right.

and, Bezos has got his company. And again, what are they doing? They’re integrating systems including energy systems for the moon for Mars. So, what I think is exciting is we’re starting to see a change in public policy that encourages thinking about “wait a minute. Why are we regulating all of these technologies and services separately?” So, the California Public Utility Commission, Public Utility Commissions across the country are starting to say-

We’ve got to rethink this.

we got to rethink this. You might have a smart water system here in California and Texas and other places where there is droughts and water issues. We’re not going to get it from a silo-based solution.

Well, I think you’re right and it’s such a fascinating thing to think about from a policy standpoint because listening to you talk to how we sort of re-imagine and help inspire new systems that can get the next moon shot to sort of follow your analogy. We do have all these layers and legacy at the legislative level and at the CPUC level, the current construct and conditions that we use to regulate our utilities today, both energy power utilities but then also from telecommunications standpoint… I don’t want to lose that thought… that you are also suggesting that in order to achieve these big advancements in energy well, if we don’t have the underlying information, technology systems that can power these smarter approaches you’re describing, it won’t work. So, re-envisioning energy regulation, telecommunications regulation, and other things I’m hearing you say are indispensable to getting to this economic potential you’ve described.

And transportation opportunities. I was just meeting with a group of chief sustainability officers from hospitals. And, hospitals are big consumers of energy but they’ve been focusing on, and I think this is fantastic, energy efficiency. Now some of the hospitals are saying, “Well, wait a minute, I’ve got all these–my customers, my patients, my consumers, trying to get to the hospital and we’re trying to provide services at home and we’re trying…and in addition to that, we’re having constituencies who are saying we want cleaner air, we don’t want that old diesel stand-by generator there, we want a new micro grid, we want a new energy storage devices, we want systems that will integrate that.

So, the demand side of that is creating a lot of the innovations. We convened a group of-

Doesn’t it always, right?

we convened a group of our major companies that were all saying we’ve made a pledge to add 100% clean energy by a certain time in the future and many of these are companies that own data centers. Well, it’s predicted that at the current growth of the cloud, you could have 1,000% growth of cloud computing in the next 10 years. That could go from 2% or 3% of the consumption of electric power to who knows what that number would be and if that’s clean energy or if it’s fueled by traditional energy, particularly heavy fossil fuel energy, there’s a different dimension to that and the innovation that comes around combining new solutions.

Let me give you an example… I’m going to go a little different direction. We have a lot of people that feel that innovations happening in cities, and a lot is happening in cities, and it’s very important but we see technologies move to other locations around the world and in this country. So, one of our member companies, I love telling this story, they said in a small town that might have a rural electric cooperative providing electricity, maybe it has a telecommunication provider that is cable TV and they haven’t gone fully to broadband, they’re beginning to see that you can piece together technologies.

So, in the case of one of our members, Jewel Energy, in northern Minnesota with another member company, General Electric, they’ve designed a system that they’re bringing up in the next 60 days and it’s a small system that is wind, solar, and battery storage and they put that battery storage, and I love this as a Mayor, together with the critical resiliency assets. So, they put it in the police station, the fire station, the hospital. They put it at the 911 center. They put it at places where it really matters that when the power is out, particularly if it’s in the middle of Minnesota winter, you got-

Backup.

resilience. It’s a problem. And, the pricing on this appears to be at 4.4 cents a kilo watt hour and because of the way they are designing this system, it’s going to be firm, dispatchable, 100% clean power. Now, it is the innovation of each individual piece of that low cost wind, low cost solar, lower storage but it’s putting it together as a package.

Well, it’s a really great story and has great resonance I would think with policy makers. Understanding that instance you’re providing is a tremendous value to the community that you serve because as you said, you’re creating resilience around those critical operations and assets. That sort of leads me to the question, a bigger question I was going to ask which is, you and I had both served in government and we have great respect for the role and the importance of government and the communities that they represent and protect and serve. It seems to me, at least this is my thought, and I just want your reaction, your experience, that when you think about the way we are regulating the energy utilities, the way that we regulate telecommunications and other critical systems is with a concern about everyday folks that if we don’t continue… the feeling to me seems that if we don’t continue to keep things the way they are that we somehow we will be abandoning our responsibility to protecting those folks… that we’ve created what we believe are these protections around them to this point.

I feel like there is a real reluctance on the part of regulators to let go of the old constructs for fear that they will be exposing vulnerable populations. A legitimate concern but I’m wondering: ‘A,’ if you sort of agree that that’s part of the driving force of where we are at the regulatory level and if so, what do we do to break through that and change that mindset?

Well, there is a power of an incumbent regulatory structure and economic order, and whenever changes come through innovation we have to deal with it so our belief is that we aren’t having enough of what I would call critical conversations among and between folks who don’t get a chance to talk to each other in a safe trusting environment. That doesn’t mean you don’t disagree but you least have a conversation.

So, our organization works heard to bring together people as we’ve done in now 10 different states, in California, New York and Michigan, Pennsylvania, and we bring together, in this particular case, the PUC regulators, members of our advanced energy network, executives from our companies, and then, say, regulated gas utility, electric utility, water utility, and we have a conversation. And, we say what is the need that you see each of the different parties having? And, of course, public utility commissioners and sometimes regulators that are advocates come to that table and express their view. So, out of that you then, we call convene, connect, collaborate for an action that will open up the market but also make sure that those who need some opportunity for transition get it.

Right. I’m curious what we see with the leaders that we’re talking to is new generations, new attitudes, new information is creating, it seems, a new era of legislators or mayors that not only understand these issues but are prepared and enthusiastic about getting in front to try to usher in this new kind of change.

And, part of this, as we say, this exchange of ideas and understanding, is so many folks aren’t as familiar with the public utility regulatory process but just think there are about 198 people that are elected, less than 200 people, some elected, most appointed-

Right.

who have authority over about a 100 billion dollars a year of investment in the electric power sector. So, how does a person maybe recently appointed by a governor and not have the depth of knowledge of all these technology innovations, how are you going to look at regulatory change if you don’t understand the technology that you’re having influence over? So, we work to bring together small groups of public utility commissioners by region and innovative technology companies to say this is a challenge, here is a potential solution so one of those areas is the use of micro grids, the use of on site power generation, the use of innovative software to help people whether it’s a hospital, whether it’s a school, whether it’s a factory, college, university, whatever…to be able to understand how their energy management, their energy savings, how that can integrate with all the other things in that environment that you’re working in. Transportation, for example.

Those PUC commissioners have signed up for some pretty important jobs but it’s a big deal. No doubt. Your personal energy seems to be as high as I’ve seen it in the last several years. As we wrap up here, I would love just sort of get your sense of the time you’ve been here and what you see in to the future. How do you feel about the progress that’s being made in ushering in this new era of advanced energy and how do you feel about where we’re headed?

I was in a conversation with the chief sustainability officer who works for the Cleveland Clinic, a very well known, innovative, Midwestern clinic and we were both commenting that we are most optimistic today as it relates to the future of advanced energy and clean energy then we ever have been because the innovation forces in finance and policy, in technology and now at a national and state level, around the job generating and the economics, that’s becoming more effectively understood, Kish. And so, as we seek first to understand and learn then the innovation is easier.

I will give you a specific anecdote. I was attending a conference that we hosted with CEOs of major electric utilities on the East Coast in October of 2013 and I brought up the question. I said, “What if, as an electric utility, by 2020 you could have a significant part of your revenue, certainly by 2030, that would come from electrification of transportation?” And, this executive turned to me, we were at a break time in the meeting, and he said, “We aren’t even looking at that. That’s not a strategy we’re even interested in because the regulators will never allow us to do that.” That same executive in a conversation said, “We’re investigating today, so that was 3 years ago, we’re investigating putting in charging stations, working with our regulatory authorities, talking with the automobile manufacturers, and I’m not just talking Tesla, I’m talking a whole wide range.

Sure.

So, it’s that kind of shift. Why did the shift happen? Because the technology and innovation and number of vehicles and consumer demand. So, he’s seeing healthcare institutions, or colleges and universities, that want an EV and they want a place to charge it and they’re calling the electric company and they’re saying… and then there are fleet buyers so the mayor of Indianapolis, Indiana, who I’m working with. Greg Ballard, established the first all electric ride sharing vehicle system. So, like you’d have a bike share you can now put a card and you can get a electric vehicle that you just drive around town and drop it off on another location-

Right.

100% electric vehicle. And he’s put in place, in his 8 years as mayor, the purchasing of an entire EV fleet for the city.

Wow.

So, what I’m seeing is a combination of demand, policy, cost curves coming down and integration of systems that allow all those things to happen.

That’s really fascinating.

That’s why I’m very optimistic. I believe we’re going to solve all these challenges because the combination of innovation in all these dimensions will produce solutions.

Well, the convergence is clearly happening. We’re at the cusp of a really exciting time and clearly Advanced Energy Economy is making a very significant contribution to helping, to working each of those areas that you just described but also that confluence of those factors that will make a big difference. We appreciate your leadership. Graham Richard, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy and thanks a lot for your time. It was great to have you here.

Thank you, Kish.

The 3 Words Shaking The Tech Sector: President Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency was a political earthquake that leaves the structural integrity of Silicon Valley’s economy in question.

“It’s the dawn of America that I think everyone is trying to put their finger on,” CALinnovates Executive Director Mike Montgomery told Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan on a special post-election episode of their podcast, “A Step Ahead.”

Right now, it’s hard to say what a Trump presidency portends for innovation, technology and public policy. Whereas Clinton had a detailed section in her policy platform dedicated to technology and innovation policy, Trump’s campaign hasn’t offered such guidance.

One thing we have some insight into, however, is Trump’s stance on immigration, which Montgomery says could have grave implications for talent acquisition, entrepreneurism and economic growth in California. For example, the H-1B visa program brings in a large portion of the talented coders who keep Silicon Valley humming. If he restricts skilled visas to make jobs available to Americans, that could hinder growth at high-tech companies. And the lack of a robust talent pipeline, already a concern for the tech sector, could become even more dire if the state’s top universities no longer matriculate STEM students from foreign countries.

If the new administration doesn’t show a commitment to creating conditions that appeal to businesses here in the U.S., might we see a tech drain out of the U.S.? “I certainly hope not,” says Rajan. “But I think it’s something that we have to think about.”

Listen to the full interview below:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

A Step Ahead: The Night After the Election

Hey everyone Kish Rajan, Chief Evangelist at CALinnovates. This time, joined by our fearless leader, Executive Director of CALinnovates, Mike Montgomery. We welcome you to this special edition of A Step Ahead, the CALinnovates podcast. It’s special because we are recording this the day after Election Day 2016 and wow.

Hey Mike, how are you doing?

Mike Montgomery: All right Kish, how are you?

Good. I’m up here in San Francisco and you’re down in world headquarters in southern California. How about that election?

You know, I don’t think it’s what many people expected. I think it’s taken a lot of people by surprise. It’s really interesting that I talked to a lot of adults, a lot of grown ups today and so many people seem like they are having trouble stringing sentences together and thoughts together. They’ve really been kind of taken by surprise…

No doubt.

and are not quite sure what this means, what the implications are. We have a very unique perspective because we’re in California, which may be very helpful and maybe also shows why so many people didn’t expect this result.

Well, there’s no doubt. I mean, let’s be clear. This thing is a political earthquake, right? I mean, no one…well, I shouldn’t say no one, but very few people in the popular media, pundits, academics, all the standard experts, very few people were willing to come out and predict that this would happen. Now that it has happened, it’s a massive shock, it seems to me, to the United States political landscape and certainly as it relates to the issues that CALinnovates focuses on.

Yeah, I think it’s the dawn of a new era that everyone is trying to put their finger on.

Yeah, it’s the dawn of dawn, right?

Dawn of dawn.

What I think what we wanted to do here, was there’s going to be a lot more to talk about, and we’re looking forward to it, a lot more of A Step Ahead, many more episodes where we’ll talk about these issues in more depth. But I think here, we wanted to just kind of have some immediate reaction as best as we can to discern what this portends for innovation and technology and public policy issues that we concentrate on here. So. let’s just kind of talk about that for a minute.

You tell me, but I think the first thing that comes to my mind is, frankly, the lack of certainty about where this new Trump administration is going to go on innovation and technology issues. At least with the Clinton campaign and her policy platform, she had a detailed section in her policy platform that talked specifically about innovation and technology policy and the types of things that she would do in a Clinton administration. We don’t have any such guidance from the Trump campaign. Do we?

No, we’ve got a fairly blank slate. The Trump ticket talked about cyber. We’ve got a pretty decent understanding, we think, of where President Elect Trump stands on immigration, but the rest of the overall tech agenda is TBD.

No kidding. So, let’s talk about what we kind of do know, right? So, take immigration for a minute. I mean, given his incredibly strident approach to immigration during the campaign, if he even begins to implement that type of approach or philosophy, what does that mean for the innovation community?

One of the things that Hilary Clinton was very clear about, like you said, was her stance on tech issues. I think comprehensive immigration reform was an issue that Silicon Valley, in particular, really cared about. Trump kept saying that the United States got drug dealers and the criminals and the murderers, but there is a great value to, at the very least, the H-1B visa program that helps bring a lot of people who write code and do the high tech work that’s so valuable for a number of these different companies from startups all the way to the big boys. Is that in danger, I mean, for the future of entrepreneurialism in America? What does that mean to the talent base that comes into the United States to help build these companies? There’s probably a direct correlation to the future of education in America, but we can’t fill that gap in a matter of a few years.

I mean, this is the thing, right? It’s been a vexing challenge for technology companies already about a lack of a robust work force pipeline, either domestically created through the type of education programs that you’re talking about or through the utilization of the immigration rules, specifically H-1B. Now, we just don’t know if or how either of those will be priorities for the Trump administration, let alone whether we know that he would be supportive of the types of actions that will help deal with that pipeline issue, right?

Right. You know Kish, one question for you is during your time running business economic development for the state of California, you got to witness first hand why companies stayed in California and decided to leave to go to Texas or they’ve left the country or whatever. We want to do everything that we can to keep those companies headquartered in California. If they’re not in California, we want to keep them in the U.S., but we have foreign founders coming over. They hit Sand Hill Road, they raised their money, they maybe go to 500 startups or whatever. We don’t want them to found a company and go leave, right? We want them to stay.

Yeah, you’re totally right. I have to tell you that when…what we would deal with in California was trying to be competitive relative to our other states in the union and present that we had favorable conditions for those companies to come here or to be formed here and to grow here. Talent acquisition and retention, human capital was one of the great advantages that California had and it continues to be one of the reasons why California remains the epicenter of innovation and technology nationally and one of the global epicenters. It’s funny that you bring it up because I thought about that this morning and thought, “Not only were we trying to retain that business in California, and we faced real competitive threats, I’m worried about now, just trying to retain that in the United States.”

One question I’m going to add is, if we don’t show, if the new administration does not show a commitment to creating the types of conditions that businesses want to invest in here in the United State, might we start to see a tech drain out of the U.S. to other places that appear more favorable? I certainly hope not, but I think it’s something that we have to think about.

Yeah, absolutely. So, that’s on the table. One other thing that’s very obvious, of course, is that President Trump will be able to make some very important appointments in Washington to run different agencies and commissions. We spend a lot of time at CALinnovates, of course, on the FCC and the FTC. So, those agencies play major roles in the tech industry and they’ll have new leaders sometime after the first of the year. So, that’s something we’re going to have to follow and we’re going to have to pay close attention to and try to figure out what those policies may look like with the new chairmen, what it means to rules that have been put into place but weren’t enshrined in law by congress. So, it’s going to be an interesting next few months as we start to understand what this all means.

Well I think the last issue for now, and I think we’re going to…over time, we’re going to want to unpack all of this as the days, and weeks, and months unfold and continue to talk about it. But I think the last thing on my mind, are the political implications and that is to say, Trump has been elected President, I think, on a populist movement, it’s fair to say. I guess the question is politically speaking, how is the Silicon Valley…I’m using that as a metaphor, how is the innovation and tech community going to fair, politically, given this prevailing wave that has brought Donald Trump to the presidency?

Well, I think Silicon Valley has a little bit of a problem on its hands. Other than Peter Thiel, Silicon Valley at large was with Hilary Clinton.

Right. I remember that letter that was signed by…sorry, how many tech people signed…

By everyone.

That letter? 100 or 150 tech leaders? Yeah.

Yeah, by everyone. Those issues won’t go unnoticed, at least in the stories that have been running today in terms of the Trump transition team. For the people that they’re considering right off the bat, there was a full scrubbing of what people had written on social media. Certain people would bounce from the list for consideration for important jobs because they may have said something critical. If any industry thinks they’re going to get off scot free if they weren’t with Trump, then they probably have something else coming to them, which means it’s going to take a new approach, right? There’s got to be a new approach. There’s got to be a new way of thinking about this relationship or moving forward and perhaps messaging as well.

Well, I’m with you. Well look, there’s so much more to talk about and I think so much more to dive into. I think the political challenge that you’ve raised is a big one. I think there’s another dimension here that we’ll talk about more, which is the opposite side of the equation, places like California, that will, I think, have a very strong counter reaction, or reaction I guess, to prove that it can grow an economy and force technology and innovation companies to deal with the challenges of broader opportunity and prosperity. There could be a lot more heavy hand of government in the way of regulation and other ways they’ll want to compel that type of behavior. So, that’s going to be another reaction to this election that I think we’re going to have to watch, as well.

Boy, there’s going to be a lot going here. But look CALinnovates, we’re going to be involved, right? I think this is going to be a continuation of the work that we’ve been doing and thinking about. What is the right agenda and the right way to communicate to policy makers in D.C. and California and beyond about how innovation and technology can be a constructive force here and not something to be battled against?

That’s right. Whether you’re happy about the results of the presidential or you’ve been reduced to tears, there’s got to be a way that we move forward. We’re going to be there every step of the way. We’re going to try to continue chopping this up. We’re going to come to some interesting conclusions and pass forward. I hope that everyone listening will be with us every step of the way because it’s going to take a great effort to help the tech industry forward on its new advocacy path.

Well, it’s going to be an interesting path indeed. We’ll look forward to more discussions. So for you, Mike Montgomery our Executive Director, this is Kish Rajan Chief Evangelist of CALinnovates. Thanks so much for listening to this edition of A Step Ahead.

Kyra Worthy Is Helping The City Of Richmond Help Itself

As the executive director at For Richmond, Kyra Worthy is a tireless advocate for the people of Richmond, a working-class community located north of Berkeley and just across the San Francisco Bay from tony Mill Valley.

Worthy’s job is to help the people of Richmond live up to their full potential through better education and better jobs. She helps students and parents navigate the tricky waters of education beyond high school by working with historically black colleges to send promising students to college summer programs and then to four-year programs. She makes sure that when companies promise jobs for the community, they deliver, and that residents are prepared to fill those jobs.

For Richmond helps lots of people, but Worthy says there is still more work to be done.

“To have this negative cloud over the city as if folks aren’t ready [to work] is really doing an injustice for folks who just sort of skip over Richmond,” says Worthy. “People try to make the answers for the community instead of engaging the community.” She’s working to turn that around.

Listen to “A Step Ahead”‘s full interview with Worthy below:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

A Step Ahead: Kyra Worthy

Hi everyone and welcome to this edition of The CALinnovates Podcast, this is Kish Rajan, Chief Evangelist at CALinnovates, and this time we’ve got…we’ve had a wonderful conversation with Kyra Worthy who’s the Executive Director of a community-based non-profit called For Richmond here in the East Bay in Richmond, California. At CALinnovates, as you know, we’re talking all the time about the fundamentals of the innovation and technology-based economy, and what are some of the gaps, what are some of the barriers to everyday people being able to participate in that economy.

Kyra does amazing work in a community that really exemplifies the kind of community that is in transition, but needs a lot of support and help to be able to participate. She’s got a really fascinating personal story and as you’ll hear, she’s doing remarkable work here in her part of the world, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Kyra Worthy, executive director of For Richmond, thanks for being with us.

Kyra Worthy: No problem.

It’s nice to be here in your beautiful offices in beautiful downtown Richmond.

Well thank you for coming!

It’s good to be here. So tell us about For Richmond. What do you all do?

We are here, the easiest way to say what For Richmond does for our community in Richmond is that we supplement services and support to the residents to be a bridge to community and to get them where they need to be to be socio-economically connected, to also build a bridge that could be self-sufficient, and that they can have the same opportunities as any other resident in the community and their neighbors.

So let’s break that down a little bit and we’ll talk about some of the specific programs that you’re doing, how you’re doing what you just said. But I want to talk about you though, for a minute, too. Where did you…how did you end up here? Are you from here?

Nope, I’m from San Jose.

Okay, so not too far.

Nope, not too far.

How did you end up at For Richmond?

After leaving the city and county of San Francisco at the mayor’s office, I started working at the school district here in Richmond. I worked in the Community Engagement Office at which time our current board member of the school district, Madeline Kronenberg, was one of the first influential folks to create For Richmond, and she plucked me from my job at the school district and I took on the job here at For Richmond.

What were you doing…what did community engagement in the school district…what did that mean?

So, I was in charge of half the schools in the school district, so I supervised about 15-16 schools and I engaged parents of color within their students’ academic success and also creating a line of community services and getting them help in that regard.

Like what?

It could be employment, helping students’ success whether it was the right school they needed to be enrolled at, I also helped a lot of Spanish-speaking parents with getting their students out of…to get them classified into being proficient in English, to be able so that then when they get into high school, they’ll be able to take their A-G credits and graduate on time as opposed to being in English learning classes, which kept them sort-of behind the rest of their peers.

How big of a problem was that?

It’s a very big problem in Richmond.

I live in Walnut Creek, so you have to help educate folks like me that…I guess because I’m extremely fortunate, I don’t even…I haven’t had these types of experiences. You have to help me understand how many students are we talking about in the district…I don’t need the exact statistics but I’m just curious as to the landscape that existed and exists inside of the West County School District in terms of some of these fundamental barriers you’re talking about.

It’s 60% English learners in the…

60. Six zero.

Uh-huh. Six zero. In the school district. It’s a very big problem. A lot of parents don’t know what it means, they think that their kids are in classes just to help them with English, but it’s also…they’re not able to take, at the same time, the regular classes that they need to be on track to graduate. There’s a way to opt-out, there’s a way to test out, it’s called FEP and educating the parents on requesting that test so that their children can be just as successful as their neighbor.

Because otherwise what you’re saying is just trying to deal with the fundamental language barriers was preventing…just tackling that problem was fundamentally preventing these kids from participating…all the other A-G requirements that are necessary to get them out of high school and to whatever the next level might be for them?

Yes, and what would usually happen would be around after Christmas break, when the kids return, after the grading period, students would then be called to the office and we’d let them know there are different alternatives for getting across the stage, whether it’s just going to be their GED or to just get homeschooled because graduating a normal graduation with the cap and gown like you and I had wasn’t an option for them because they didn’t have all their credits.

Yeah.

So then that would cause a dropout.

Yeah. And so, I’m curious…how long were you there? How long were you at the school district?

2 1/2 years.

So long enough. How many of those kids, in your mind, again, I don’t need exact statistics, but just in your experience, how many of them were graduating and then going on in a post-secondary way into something that was on a career pathway?

About 10%.

10%.

Mm-hmm.

And what are the other 90% doing?

Come to For Richmond now looking for work.

No kidding.

Yes.

So let’s talk about that. So I guess that’s why…that is clearly part of how you got here.

Mm-hmm.

It’s great that there was a leader in the school district that identified the good work that you were doing but I know there were others that saw that you could draw on your background to help really kind of build this program.

Mm-hmm .

It was still in its early stages when you got here.

Oh, it was very, very…there were no blinds, there was no furniture in here. It was like a little vacant storefront.

The artwork in here is beautiful, by the way. Where’d it come from?

It came from NIAD.

What’s that?

It’s a facility to help adults with disabilities and they create art. All of these photos are done by African-American artists at their facility.

Wow.

I made the request.

It’s beautiful, that’s really great. How do people find that, by the way. That would be interesting to know, if they could find that…

It’s right here off of Nevin in Richmond.

In Richmond?

Mm-hmm

How do you spell NIAD?

N-I-A-D.

Okay, cool. Very cool. What did you think you were getting hired to do here?

Well at first I got hired just to be the educational convener, just supporting and pushing different support services into the schools, which I really enjoyed. About a year and a half later, I was asked to be the interim ED and I did that for about six months, and then I interviewed to get the job and I was gratefully…I gratefully accepted and I’ve been here ever since.

And in those interviews you obviously must have brought to them a vision of what you thought For Richmond could and should be, I assume. What was that?

One of the main things is being honest and being understanding of the community. Recognizing that we all come from different spectrums. I come all the way from San Jose, you know. It’s night and day between San Jose and Richmond. And also just being trustworthy with the community, letting them know you know everything is not perfect but you can do your best to try to help them get to where they need to be. And it took a lot of trust. I came to Richmond with a lot of trust and so people were happy to see that I was still around. And centrally located on McDonald, one of the busiest streets in Richmond. I love my job, there’s never the same day, ever. I’ve never had the same day twice.

So tell us about, then, you’ve said it in your introduction but let’s dive into it a little bit of more…the actual programs. What are some of the key programs or activities that you perform here? People come and engage at For Richmond, what are you helping them with?

I think that the main programs that people really reach out to us for is our barrier-removal program and our educational services because we help kids get off to college. Primarily we work with all the historically black colleges, HBCUs, around the world, but it’s also an opportunity for the undocumented population in Richmond to get involved in a post-secondary education as well because a lot of schools outside of California aren’t concerned about your status. And I’m able to help them get to a zero balance with full scholarships, and that’s for all students that put that package together. We send the kids away in groups, we don’t send just one. They’re either going in twos or fours, boys they all go with one group. That’s fine. We want them to have a sense of community when they go. One of the other special caveats is that I don’t send kids far away from my personal family so that there’s places the kids can go to still have that sense of family.

Hmm. You have that much family at all these different schools around the world?

Yes, my mother has 19 brothers and sisters.

Say what?

You know, yeah. There’s many cousins after that.

Wow.

Many extended family.

I guess so.

So there’s always someone not so far away.

Wow.

And when talking with the parents, I do give them the choices of those schools of where they’re going to be near somebody.

That’s really interesting.

Mm-hmm.

So the kids go in a group, a small group or what have you…

Mm-hmm.

…they go and visit one of these historically black colleges…

Mm-hmm.

…how long do they go for and what do they do when they’re there?

During the summer programs, a program can last anywhere from 3-8 weeks. So the Howard University program, that lasts eight weeks, so that’s more of a medical-focused biology program for folks that are interested in medicine. So of course that program is going to be a little bit longer. So they take college courses, they take an English, a science, and a math. They get all their assessments done. And they return. So usually I send kids their junior year and their senior year. Their senior year, they’re going to be going to the summer program to where they’re going to be attending school in the fall. So we already know after your 11th grade year where you’re going to be going to school.

Wow.

So we sort of get all that stuff knocked out.

That’s really great. How interesting. And then the cost of all that, that’s underwritten by For Richmond and other donations?

Yes.

Because that sounds like…

Mm-hmm. And the school itself.

And the school itself.

Because we keep sending them students.

Okay. That’s fantastic. So that’s great, so a big part of your job then is not only identifying these kids and getting them engaged in a program and preparing them, but I guess also managing all those engagements with all those colleges at the same time?

Yeah. And we manage their courses.

Wow.

We choose their classes.

Wow. That’s really, really great.

Mm-hmm.

How many kids have gone through this program since you’ve…

Oh.

…instituted it.

Over 300.

Wow! That’s really fantastic. And you’re capturing their stories.

Yes.

All those things.

Everything. Capturing the suspensions, academic probations, we capture it all.

I could imagine. The first thing you said was barrier removal, too.

Mm-hmm.

Which I think is different than education…

Yes.

…so tell me about what that means.

So it’s a job barrier removal program, and how I came to this program was, when I first started with For Richmond, it was around the time where Chevron was preparing for their modernization project, trying to get the city council’s approval. It came out when they said they were going to have about 2500-2600 jobs for the community. And for someone who applies for jobs and there are certain things you’ve got to meet, you’ve got to be qualified for those positions.

Sure.

Right? And in a community like Richmond, there’s a lot of different barriers. There’s drug addiction, there are those who’ve never had employment before, experience is low, they don’t know how to obtain or sustain employment, and I asked, what things are in place to assist people with obtaining their positions? They said, “We never really thought about that.”

Hmmm.

And I was very concerned because if you’re soliciting to the community, saying that these jobs are for you in the community, who is preparing them and how are you getting them prepared? So that’s something I started working on with the community. So I worked with all the trades doing small, open-houses where questions and answers can go back and forth for folks to get a deeper understanding about what it meant to be in a trade. What it took to get into the trade. What tests had to be taken? I was also able to convince the trade to let them take the test here at For Richmond. So we did the tutoring and prepping and the testing right at For Richmond. So it was a comfortable place, they were used to coming here, they didn’t have to go away to Concord or Martinez or anywhere far. And they worked with the instructor who’s from Richmond to help them get through those steps.

And so to date I’ve placed over 1,000 at the refinery for work. To actually bring truth to what was being advertised to them. Last week I sent 80 laborers out there and just today I sent another 40. There’s folks in Richmond that do want to work. I’ve had people tell me that no one in Richmond wants to work, no one in Richmond wants to go to school, they’re just here, they don’t want to do nothing, and I take a lot of offense when people are describing the community because they’re using words like “they.”

Yeah.

Community has names, you can say the community.

Sure.

You don’t have to represent it. A lot of the community looks like me, so I take personal offense myself. I have a brother with many barriers. I know how hard of a track it is for even someone that’s my own sibling to make it to where my sister and I have been able to make it.

I hear you. You’re talking about, we’re here in Richmond, CA. The Chevron-Richmond refinery, a major industrial facility, has been in this community for 100 years I suppose.

Mm-hmm.

It’s been a significant employer, and you’re talking about just trying to go through a process of capturing local workers, youth or people of all ages, really.

Mm-hmm.

People that just need jobs and are willing to work, but just trying to create that connection and get their skills, training, get their confidence, get them proficient to be able to pursue local jobs right here in the community and that’s a process unto itself. Where I’m going with this is that…I’m trying to imagine but what I want to ask is what’s that like then, to try to get people prepared for jobs that aren’t even right here locally?

How I’ve explained to the community, a job is a job.

Yeah.

You just, you take it if you meet the qualifications. So it took a lot of one-on-ones and trust to say, okay, For Richmond and the staff that work at 3109 McDonald are really here to help us. All of us live in Richmond. I’m the only non-Richmond native on staff. And all of my staff are under 30. So these are folks they’ve known and grown up with that are trying to help.

Wait a minute, you’re saying there’s millennials that are trying to do things that are constructive?

That’s right. Only at For Richmond!

I don’t know about only, but at least those are good examples, right?

Yes. And so one of the bigger things of that, Richmond has a local-hire ordinance. A lot of people weren’t following it. So when I brought it to people’s attention, I said, “You have to be able to fill this gap and not use the excuse as of, people aren’t ready.”

Yeah. I hear you. The intensity and the real authenticity of what you’re doing locally seems like it’s critically important just to make things happen right here in the community. At CALinnovates, when we talked about this before we sat down, we’re thinking about the global innovation and technology economy all the time and how things are changing so dramatically.

Mm-hmm.

It makes me anxious, it makes me worried about the fact that that economy seems to be moving at breakneck speed in a certain global direction and what does that mean to people that live in communities like this one? What is your feeling about perhaps this disconnect or this widening gap that may be between where the economy’s really going and where people really live in towns like this?

I think it is very much a disconnect, and opportunities are being missed by not engaging communities like Richmond. It’s rich in a lot of different ways. I think that folks need to be given an opportunity and shared information to see where they fall, just like you do in any other community. Right? You’re not going to engage everybody, but you will engage some. To have this negative little cloud over the city as if folks aren’t prepared and ready, is really doing an injustice for folks in office who just skip over Richmond. I think that, and I always tell people this, one day Richmond, the residents of Richmond, are going to be so upset it’s going to be a little revolt. “Stop skipping over us, don’t build over us, don’t include us, don’t ask us…” People try to make the answers for the community instead of engaging the community.

It is an interesting thing, where as we are having this conversation we’re about three weeks away from the presidential campaign and it seems like it’s something that that campaign is exposing nationally. You have a lot people that are supporting both candidates for different reasons, I suppose, but you have a lot of people out there that clearly are expressing their frustration, their fears, the fact that they feel like their community is being skipped over as well. You’re having your own experience but it definitely seems like this is a challenge that’s very widespread, and it’s not just here, is it?

No. It’s not just here. It’s predominately in cities where opportunity is not being given to them.

Yeah.

Folks sort of feel like, “I’m not just missing the boat, the boat is not even coming near me.” I’m like waving at the boat, I’ve got to swim to the boat.” I think it’s an unfortunate feeling for a city like Richmond which is such a working class community.

Right.

I think that going to college is great. I went to plenty of college, but I don’t think that college is for everybody, and I think that until people get used to saying that, it will continue to be this way.

And even if it isn’t, our view of a four-year university…we have, clearly, in our lifetime…and I think people for really good reasons…because people that are our parents’ age, that was a critically important thing, to give people of color, people of all stripes, opportunities to go to college, because that had been shut out for people…

Mm-hmm.

…in previous generations, so folks worked really hard to create and set an expectation that that four-year degree is something that is attainable and something that we should all strive for. But it is interesting how it feels like that is coming back around and if we’re too narrowly focused on what that means, we maybe leaving people out all together.

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Yeah.

Definitely. I think like the community in Richmond, there’s a lot of different age groups here, right? There’s generations and generations of families. I always tell young people, “Go back and speak to your elders about what it was like growing up.” My mother, my grandfather was a slave, my mother was not given the opportunity to go to school until she was in 9th grade. So the woman who she worked for, the white woman who she worked for, educated her after she got done doing her work when her kids came home from school. My father, he grew up in the East Coast, came from much more, was given an opportunity to go to Bronx Science and NYU, had a different sort of experience as a young person, but as a kid hearing both of these stories all the time, it really helped me understand what I wanted to do for my own life. Right? Because I was able to see that you can make it with not being afforded much, my grandfather had 19 kids to take care of, and my dad just had himself and a set of twins and they were all very, very successful.

But to hear those types of experiences about how they grew up and what school meant to either of them was very important. And to actually meet the woman that my mother did work for and her explaining to me why she felt my mother needed to learn was also…I never would think anybody would ever take the time to explain to her child why that was.

Clearly it takes people that are committed and people that are thinking about their own experiences but wanting to share what they have and make a positive impact in the communities that they serve. I think that will always matter. As we sort of wind up our conversation, I’m wondering also about technology.

Mm-hmm.

I’m wondering at the Chevron-Richmond refinery that we’ve been talking about, a tremendous amount of technology, engineering is basically the foundation of what a company like that is. Given your experience at For Richmond and in schools in the West County District before, how do you feel about how we’re preparing youngsters in terms of equipping them to participate in what clearly is a much-more technology-driven economy moving forward?

They’re not coming out prepared.

Yeah.

Even some of the entry-level admin positions at the refinery need to have a technology knowledge. They have to have it. And right now going in, there’s a lot of on the job training that folks have to do with the companies because, number one, they’re committed to who I send to them being local residents, but also, they recognize that there is that gap. So I don’t know to get that done or bridge that gap, but technology is very important. As much emphasis and time young people, or we all, take just answering emails or sending a text, there needs to more on the technical side of creating spreadsheets, understanding the formulas, knowing which programs are used to do what, and it is very important because from there automatically you want to learn more.

Yeah.

But once you get folks interested in learning those things, those components of what it’s going to take to get for them to get their job to the next level, it will be beneficial for everybody, not only the employer.

Do you see technology becoming a bigger part of what you do here at For Richmond?

It is, because before I…I do all the pre-screening for the employers. Me personally. So depending on the job, I need you to show me what you know how to do. So I’ll say, “okay, log on the computer, do this, make this spreadsheet, I need to see a payroll something,” and sometimes people will just look at me. So I say, “okay, we need to get those skills.” Because when you get there, these are construction people…I’ve placed people at veterinary hospitals, answering phones someplace, just being able to take a message. I think people take all these little things that we do in our day-to-day life for granted.

And you see some of these youngsters that are working for you here now, are they pushing you? Not that you’re much older than them, but are you…

I am.

…I know if I was working here, I know they probably would be pushing me. But is that part of the culture or part of the experience?

Yes. I have to ask them … Everyone knows I don’t like social media, you can’t find me anywhere until I came to For Richmond and had to write all these things, but I ask them, “What do you guys do? What does this mean?” And that’s what we try to implement. Because I tried to get on a Facebook page one time and I erased everything and they were like, “You can’t touch it anymore.” And I was like, “That’s fine.” Because it was all gone. I didn’t know what happened.

Last question, which is what are you most proud of in, now, the couple of years that you’ve been here? The vision that you started with and the things that you’ve been able to accomplish, what stands out to you?

I think from receiving our money from Chevron and the community seeing us as an independent entity. And not a façade or some fake face or, I’m not their puppet or anything like that. I really take pride in that. I always tell people my name is not Chevron, my name is Kyra. And I have a mind of my own. That’s just how it is.

What about in terms of a student that you’ve reached or a story that you can think of of someone that, just through the course of their interaction with you, that stands out to somebody … A life that you’ve been able to impact.

Oh, this last student I just took was Latayna. That was the hardest rock ever to move. Ever.

Tell us about it.

I think that when you’re going to a school where all you hear is your teachers saying negative things about your community all the time…she was very aggressive, fighting…she’s a very good fighter.

It was just really hard…I personally took her to school. I personally dropped her off and told her, “Okay, this is it. No one’s here to bail you out. You are far away in a whole other state where it’s either you make it or break it. I bought you a one-way ticket. So here’s all your stuff.” We helped her with her room and that was it. I seen her a couple of weeks ago, she just finished her midterms and she got all As.

Wow.

This is a girl that sort of turned it around her 11th grade year and just blew it out of the water. I don’t know what she was doing back in 10th grade. But 11th grade she really turned it around, and that was a good thing. So I’m happy for her.

That’s really great. Well listen, Kyra Worthy, you are clearly that example of what I was talking about a minute ago, where it’s going to take in communities like this one, and there’s so many of them, industrial communities, urban communities where the economy in many ways had moved away from folks, and there’s still real challenges, and the only way that we’re going to bridge those gaps is some combination of authentic community engagement, a recognition of the past…

Mm-hmm.

…but looking to the future. It’s clear that you’re the kind of person that’s making that happen here.

Oh, thanks.

You were telling me a story, I’d love if you’d repeat it on air here, that you took a field trip to Google recently, is that right?

Yes, we took a field trip…

What was that about?

…we took the Richmond Steelers, the whole team about 100 cheer and football…

Okay.

…kids. They’re all from the south side of Richmond, and we took them to see something else other than what’s been going on in their community as of late. And so we took them on a field trip to Google and to Stanford. We had lunch and toured the kids around. One of the things that the kids were so shocked to see was that there were actually a group of African-American employees there.

And they said, “Kyra, black people work here, too!” And I said, “Black people are everywhere! Stop saying that out loud!” It’s just to get the kids out more, and their parents too, to see that young people that are, or their older siblings are, aunts and uncles ages are working in places like Google that you see everyday. I was very grateful that they were able to take them around, they explained their jobs and talked about where they came from and how they got there, but it is indicative to be able to show kids in communities like ours who aren’t really exposed to as much that we have been afforded to, that it is possible. Just being on it everyday and also encouraging their parents and encouraging the kids because at times when you’re going through hard times or when you feel that you are less than, it is very important to have that light at the end of the tunnel. Working with folks to ensure that they know that there is hope and that they, too, can do it is really important here.

No kidding. We’re really glad that you joined us. Thanks for being part of our program. We appreciate it.

No problem.

UFCW’s Jim Araby On Why Business And Labor Need To Talk More

The future of work looks nothing like the past. Technology is changing every industry and few people see that more closely than Jim Araby, the executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Western State Council.

The members of his union work on farms and in factories and grocery stores. But instead of buying into the established narrative that business is all about the bottom line and unions are all about protecting the workers no matter the economic realities, Araby believes both sides need to transcend this binary division and work together.

“If we can break through and have a real discussion about what the future of work looks like in California you’d have a lot of people on all sides of the issue say, ‘Yeah, let’s come together,’” said Araby during a talk with CALinnovates Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan.

Araby is helping to shape this conversation. He recently helped push through AB1066 which will provide overtime to farm workers. While some in business may grumble at these kind of pay hikes, Araby points out that California has always had the most progressive labor laws in the country and the state was still responsible for 34% of all new jobs in the last jobs report.

That’s because despite what we sometimes read, these issues aren’t black and white. Araby spoke to Rajan about examining those grey areas and how government, unions and business leaders, need to come together to solve the problems that affect them all around housing, the environment and job growth.

 

A Step Ahead: Jim Araby

Hi everyone. This is Kish Rajan chief evangelist at CALinnovates, and along with our executive director, Mike Montgomery, we welcome you to the new CALinnovates podcast, where we’ll be sitting down with elected officials and policy advocates and other thought leaders to discuss issues of critical innovation, technology and public policy matters that face California and the country. We’ll be talking to guests of all kinds and we’ll be broadcasting this regularly, and we hope that you’ll join us for this important series of discussions about the future of our state and our country.

This time we’re joined by Jim Araby. He’s executive director of the UFCW Western States Council, and as you’ll hear, we had a really great conversation about innovation and technology and the role of labor in helping to usher in a new era that can expand the economy, be consistent with labor’s values, but recognize how do we do all this amidst really difficult change? Jim’s a real leader in this thinking, and I hope you’ll enjoy the conversation we had about this.

Hey, Jim Araby. You’re executive director of the UFCW Western States Council, am I saying that right?

Jim Araby: That’s correct.

Cool. Cool. Tell us what that means. What’s your job, and tell us about UFCW for our listeners who maybe aren’t familiar.

Sure. Well that means I am, it’s a big fancy title that basically means just two things. I am responsible to co-ordinate the work of the United Food and Commercial Workers politics and legislation, primarily here in California. We’re a 160,000 member union, just here in California, all across the state. Most of our members are in, you know, you’re familiar with, grocery store workers, but we also represent workers in retail drugstores, both CVS and Rite Aid.

We have over 2,500 members that work in agriculture, primarily down in Salinas Valley, picking lettuce. Some nurseries down in Oxnard, and then, our other big sector that we represent is food processing. So, Foster Farms Chicken, those are all UFCW members, as well as Hormel Beef Packing here in California, and then, we have affiliates both in Nevada and Arizona. And our union is very similar in demographic. So, that’s pretty much it.

So, these are folks that are working in retail stores, food related retail stores, and then as you mentioned, actually involved in helping to, not produce, but at least process the type of food that we find in those retail stores or restaurants or other places.

Absolutely, yeah. These workers, just to give you a little sense of our demographics too, 38% of our members in California are under 30 years old. A lot of immigrant workers, and first generation American’s work in a lot of the industries we are, and on average, they make anywhere between $25,0000 and $35,000 a year. So, you know, these are the working people of California, and also Arizona and Nevada.

And hard working people.

Hard working people.

So, the jobs you’re describing to me don’t sound particularly leisurely.

Absolutely not. And you know, I’d say the last thing is relative to this discussion that we’re going to have, you know, they’re in the sectors of the economy that are growing.

Yeah.

And so, you know, that puts us sort of in the middle of key critical discussions when it comes to the economy and other things that are happening.

Absolutely, let’s get into that, and as you mentioned, one of your key responsibilities is around politics and legislation. There’s a lot going on in that regard. Looking at the legislative session that just ended as we are recording this conversation, AB 1066 I think was the number. It was drafted by Assemblymember Gonzales and related to overtime for farm workers as I recall. Tell us exactly what that bill did and I trust for you all, you see that as a success, and tell us why?

Absolutely. So, you know, when the National Labor Relations Act was passed and signed way back in 1938 I believe by FDR, there were certain levels of workers in the private sector that were excluded. You know, farm workers being one of them, and historically, here in California a lot of people know about the United Farm Workers and Caesar Chavez, and the struggle of those workers that started back right after the exclusion of the NLRA, but really heated up in the 60’s and 70’s with some great victories here in California.

California’s the only state in the country that actually has a board that is designated to regulate agricultural labor in the whole entire country, because they’re excluded out of the NLRA, states have the right to regulate the work of these workers. So, California’s the only place in the country that actually has the agricultural relations board that gives a certain level of rights to farm workers. But, as a part of the deal in 1939 when this exclusion happened, because it was a way for FDR to get southern Dixiecrats to vote for the National Labor Relations Act. And so, agriculture was very powerful, especially in the South, and these workers were excluded. It was also because a lot of the workers that worked in these fields in the 30’s and 40’s were black, and a lot of the people from the South didn’t believe that black folks had the right to anything. Right? I mean, we all know about the civil rights struggle and everything else that went on for decades after that. And so, this was another part. So, we believe it was very racist, as well as a political decision in the 30’s,

And come full circle in 2016 here in California, we have, through the work and leadership of both assemblymember Gonzales, but also, assembly speaker Anthony Rendon, and pro-tem Kevin DeLeon and then ultimately the governor, who has his own history with this issue, was able to sign a bill, which we believe to be very historic. Essentially, all it does is when farm workers work, after eight hours, they get the same rights as every other worker in California, and they get paid overtime. Millions of people already enjoy that, agricultural workers were excluded. They’re no longer going to be excluded.

Wow, that’s remarkable. And certainly, you look at the agricultural sector, I mean, we could do a whole hour long conversation, or longer about the history of ‘Ag’ in California, both economically, politically, and socially, it’s been a tremendous thing, but certainly, when you look at the size and scale of the agriculture sector in California, it’s massive. I mean, we continue to be one of the world’s, if not the world’s largest producing state of agriculture, I believe.

Absolutely. With a little caveat. I mean, California’s economy’s a two trillion dollar economy. The agricultural sector is 50 billion of that. Actually, the grocery industry’s bigger than the agricultural industry in California.

Interesting.

The grocery industry’s a hundred billion dollar business, the agricultural industry’s 54 billion. Still significant, right? And has an historic relationship with California, who we see ourselves as, but at the same time it is a small piece of California’s two trillion dollar economy. An important piece, but a small piece.

Yeah, interesting. And so, some will say though, I mean, obviously, no bill of any consequence in the state is passed without debate, and you know, many in the business community, I’m putting that in quotes, right? There is no monolithic business community, but many folks, when they look at California as a place that’s competitive, nationally and globally, and looking at the cost of labor, and looking at the rules associated with labor, raise some concerns right? They raise concerns that the types of rules that we have in the aggregate in this state, whether it’s about wages, hours, rules around meals and breaks and things like that are out of step. Are so far beyond what they see in other places that it creates a competitive challenge for California that can result in jobs leaving the state for places that those costs, or those rules are not as stringent. Do you agree with those characterizations, or how do you respond to people that make those criticisms in California?

There’s emotion then there’s facts. And the facts don’t merit that out. I mean California’s economy just this last month, produced…35% of all new jobs produced in the last reporting period were produced in California. Despite the fact we have paid sick days and higher minimum wage, and now farm worker overtime, and all these workman’s comp regulations. I would make the argument actually that it creates a more dynamic economy. I mean, California truly has one of the most dynamic economies out of any of the 50 states. And mind you, we have a tendency to boom and bust. You know, we have very big booms and we have very deep busts.

But I think under the leadership of Governor Brown, I think he’s been very smart about what laws to sign and not, but he also knows, California has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, if not the highest. I just end with you know, it’s funny when Governor Brown… I was at the signing ceremony of the paid sick day bill a couple years ago when Governor Brown started talking to the media, that was really interesting because you know, we’re very lucky to have someone like Governor Brown, who’s served in two different eras of government. And he said, you know, when he was governor back in 1976, the same arguments were used by the chamber that are used today. That’s 40 years later and California’s economy is multitudes the size it was in the 1970’s, and you know, we have a very robust economy, so, I just say the facts don’t prove that out. For every one business that leaves California, ten start, right? You know, we were a place of innovation creativity, and I think we got to apply some of that to some of these other things.

Well, I definitely want to turn to that in a minute, but maybe just to drill into this for one other question. And that is that there also is this notion that someone said to me that a practical concern about overtime payment in this segment, is that it could just flat out encourage employers to cut their hours. Right? To sort of divide the hours, spread them amongst workers so that they’re trying to avoid that type of cost, and that ultimately could, as it’s being argued, be harmful to those individual workers because they’ll find their hours being cut for fear of triggering that overtime cost. How would you respond to that kind of suggestion?

I would say if everything was equal, sure, but everything isn’t equal. You have workers that are much better… I mean, you know, farm work is a skilled work, right? I mean, when you have people that are going to pick lettuce, there’s a way to cut the lettuce and wrap it and move it, and the people that are more efficient are going to get more hours. It doesn’t matter if you have overtime rules or not, right? You know, people that can go out and pick the berries… I mean, there are people that are much more efficient at that. Are you going to tell me as a business owner, you’re going to cut your most efficient workers and bring someone on that doesn’t just because you don’t want to pay them a couple more bucks in overtime? I would say that’s a bad business decision on your part.

Yeah.

Right.

Yeah. Got it. Well, you mentioned that innovation and technology, and I’d love to sort of turn in this direction and think about, you’re talking about farm workers and picking crops… I mean, again, God bless these folks that are just doing incredibly difficult work, to be sure. But in this era of increased innovation software technology, mechanization of all kinds of things, I sort of wonder about the future of traditional industries like agriculture and think about, in 10 years, or in 20 years, or certainly 50 years, are those jobs going to even exist anymore, or are we going to be able to find ways to create machines that can do the kind of work that we’re talking about and these folks that are doing it today?

Sure, I mean, you know, I will say a lot of my brothers and sisters in the labor movement sometimes can be Luddites when it comes to technology and technological innovation. I think that’s changing. I think we cannot fight the pace of technological innovation. I actually think in some ways, it could be good. In a lot of ways it’s good. It makes our lives easier, it makes our lives more convenient, right? You know, ten years ago, out here, to catch a cab here where we are in Concord, California it’d be pretty hard. All you’ve got to do now is you go to an app and you can get Uber or Flywheel, or whomever come and get you right? So, I would say that is an efficiency that is a good thing. The question becomes, what does it mean in the greater scheme of things, as technological innovation creates efficiencies, what do we do about the other side of that question, which comes to displacement. Right? Because you still need people to be able to work in order to have our economy thrive.

That’s part of the challenge we’ve had in this economy, right? Is that we are a consumer driven economy, right, where you need more people to have access to… It’s not the millionaires and billionaires that drive our economy, as much as it is the people that make our members. 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 thousand dollars a year. They’re spending all that money, right? They’re the ones that are generating the economic activity. They’re not sitting on massive amounts of money. They actually have to spend the money they make. So, I think, because of that, we have to figure out… I think there’s a responsibility for those that believe in a functioning democratic society to figure out how do we collectively adjust to some of these technological innovations so that we don’t have millions of workers displaced looking for work.

And do you think organized labor in general is feeling that way? Is searching for those answers as well about acknowledging…and by the way, I realize that organized labor is not a monolithic thing either, so, forgive the generalization, but, are there folks there that are realizing, look, what we’re experiencing is a fundamental shift in the economy, away from the industrial into this information technology, knowledge-based world and are folks sort of leaning into that problem and trying to figure out how we help usher in a new era that’s …or…you know, because the frame is that labor somehow is fighting that, or resisting that transition, and I think that it seems too often that the battle lines in places like Sacramento get drawn in that way, and so I would… forgive the length of the question, but I guess I would just love sort of your reaction to, do you agree that that’s sort of what’s characterizing the politics in Sacramento, and how do you assess sort of the state of your colleagues in labor as it relates to where we’re going with the economy?

Yeah. I mean, I think it comes down to two things. One, it comes down to trust. Right? I mean, I think there’s a fundamental… If we could actually break through, and actually have a real discussion about what the future of work looks like here in California, you’d have a lot of people on all the sides of the issue saying, “Yeah, let’s come together.” I mean, I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve been in with business leaders and investors and others who are like, “I wish I could talk to you or someone like you so we could sit down and solve these problems.” And my answer to that is that there are. I’m not the only guy out there right? There are a multitude of people out there. The problem is, is that we’re not talking to one another, right?

I think the other issue is, we cannot just be a bottom line driven economy, right? Where, I feel like we’re in our two ends, where you have the one side going, this is all about the bottom line, right? The investor class. I need… my responsibility’s to my shareholders. And then the unions say, my responsibility’s to my members. Well, those aren’t wrong, right? And that’s all true. But the question becomes, how do the shareholders and the members have different interests? We don’t. So, the question becomes, how do we make sure these are shared interests and values? I’m not going to say… it’d be naïve of me to say that everyone’s going to be on that page, but we have to seek out the people that want to get on that same page. I think there’s a real opportunity, especially with the way that technology is impacting our society, where I think labor, government, and these technological companies have a shared interest in figuring out how innovation creates space to think about how we organize society in a very different way.

Yeah. Well, it just seems that that’s just such a key, because I do think that… and it’s probably a superficial analysis, but I just worry about where do the jobs of the future come from? Right? It just seems like innovation at its nature is about producing more with less, right? By using greater efficiencies and creating orders of magnitude of more productivity with fewer inputs, right? It seems like that’s what innovation’s designed to do, and I agree with you that it seems that that is about sort of trying to re-shape a new economy where there’s new functions inside of that economy that emerge that are the…that’s the fodder for new jobs, but, I just sort of wonder, how are we going to get there? How are we going to bring those folks together to explore what an expansive innovation economy can actually look like?

Well, one, I think it takes leadership. It takes real leadership to have these difficult discussions on both sides and people that are respected from both ends right? I mean, I think I’ve been in discussions with some folks in the tech sector, where I can sit down with them, and they thought I was on one thing and I said actually this is where we want to be, and there was a tone deafness on that side. Right? You know, I mean if you look at what happens, and I think here in the Bay area, it’s sort of elevated because this is one of the places in which these innovations are happening right? And then the experiment is used in our cities. And like whether it’s Airbnb, or Uber, or, whatever, right? There’s a tremendous amount of pressure that people feel on the other side right? Where they feel like, I’m getting my job taken off, I’m getting displaced, or my rents are going high.

There’s’ a combination of factors happening, and I think humans operate in a very binary world, and politically, binary is like, that’s how you get things done. Like you create a binary problem. But the reality is, this is not a binary problem. Right? This is a very complex problem. And I think those that really want to solve these problems need to come together, put our binary aside and say, how do we get, how do we create a more equitable and sustainable world. Right?

Yeah. It seems that then the venues where those conversations can happen need to be identified and need to be supported, right? I mean, we have to respect our friends in the legislature, and the governors, I mean these are people that have to exert leadership, but it’s also very difficult, I think, if that’s the only place where these things are being thrashed about, right? It seems that the presence of non-profit organizations and other venues, academic and otherwise, it seems that that’s what we really need in order to try to further the kind of dialogue that you’re suggesting.

Absolutely, and you know look, I mean, it’s not like it hasn’t happened before. I mean, even think about some things that are happening here. I think, you know, there’s issues, but there’s a labor, management partnership with Kaiser. Right? Kaiser has this very unique relationship, sometimes strained, but it has a really unique relationship with most of its unions, right? You have AT&T. Right? AT&T and CWA right, you know they have… you know, I mean again, these are very broad brushstrokes, but it can happen. Right? I think you sort of have to…I mean grocery chains right? And we’ve had a…you know, there’s been contentions, but we’ve had good relationships with some of our major employers over a long term time, with instances of elevated conflict, which is part of the deal, right? I mean, because there are ultimately, we share a lot in common, but there are also very different ends that we have to achieve. But, I do think that we have to create that dialogue. I think there are issues around housing, issues around job training, issues around the environment that unify us, right? Like if we don’t have housing in which people can afford to live, then you’re not going to have the workers that you need in order to get the job done.

No kidding. It’s a crisis in California.

I mean like environment, right? Environment can be like, you know…what was it yesterday in San Francisco? 90 degrees? You know it’s like, and what does that mean in terms of…

I was in LA and it was raining, so, there you go.

Right. You know, so I just think there’s the big, big picture issues that, we’ve got to have a discussion about. And I also think the other place is job training and re-training. I think that’s a real place in which labor and business and tech and all can come together and say, “How do we solve some of these issues?”

Yeah. You and I were both invited and part of the California Work Force Association meeting not long ago, where you have just incredibly well meaning and hard working folks that are trying to figure out how to develop and execute workforce development strategies. And you can tell that it’s a real struggle. In the sense that we’re just in such a period of rapid and profound change, that to try to re-orient those legacy types of programs and approaches to meet these new challenges, it’s not easy is it? It’s very difficult.

But, you know, you think about it, the other big challenge is demographic.

Yeah, right.

You have at the same time massive amounts of technological innovation going on, you know, from ten years ago to today, right? The things that we could do even on our phones from ten years ago, have dramatically changed the way we live, work and communicate. And at the same time you have an aging population. Right? You have a population that… I forget what the numbers are, but, how many people every day are retiring?

Oh, sure.

Right? And what strain does that put? On some of these other things that were from the twentieth century industrial economy, right? And then you have at the same time on the other end, massive amounts of millennials every day graduating high-school and college and, you know, so you have this…

And they see the world completely differently.

Absolutely.

You know, one of the venues that you talked about, or that you alluded to, that you and I are connected to is the New Leaders Council, right? A great organization, setting up chapters in all 50 states and both cultivating that new generation of leadership amongst this millennial generation that clearly thinks differently, digital natives, believe in disruption, see the world through a completely different set of eyes than you and I do, and certainly people that are older than us. But New Leaders Council is a place where we have come together. It’s where we met, right? And it’s a place where we’re having these discussions and to their credit…one of the things that’s coming up, again, as we’re recording this, we’re just a few days away from the first Presidential debate, amidst this rather wild and tumultuous presidential campaign. But the goal of the event, and we’re glad that you’re going to be one of our contributors is, to try to bring that millennial voice, which isn’t just a generational voice, but it’s trying to talk about…you bring these issues of the change that you and I are discussing here briefly, into that conversation. I’m wondering your view as we sort of wrap up here of the presidential race and the extent to which you think it’s addressing these topics that you and I’ve been talking about?

I think the presidential race is actually making these topics even more relevant, it’s not addressing it. It’s become a traditional presidential campaign, where you have people going into their corners, but, it’s in some sense traditional, but in another sense, it’s not traditional. You have one candidate who, you know, in Donald Trump, who the other day for instance, lied about a lie about a lie. He basically said Obama was born in America, but Hillary Clinton’s the one who started the rumor.

Right.

Right? And it’s like, you know.

And then he solved it.

Right. To me that’s just insanity. And on the other end, you have Hillary Clinton who can’t get out from like, talking about her emails. And it just seems like every day. So, and that’s the media narrative, but then every day, you have people dealing with these issues about like, you know what we just spent the last ten minutes talking about, right, with, afraid about job security, retirement, health care, housing, environment, like these things aren’t being discussed in large media narratives. Instead, we’re talking about building walls and emails. It just doesn’t…

Well, it is this incredible, I don’t know if it’s an irony, or how we want to put it, but, technology seems to have shortened our attention span, or at least the willingness of the mass media to dive into these deeper issues that you and I’ve just spent a few minutes trying to dig into, and there’s a lot more to go, but you’re right, it seems that the presidential campaign itself has been pulled into this very rapid fire, very binary and limited type of discussion, which is unfortunate, given how serious the issues are.

Oh, absolutely. I think it’s up to all of us to…that’s going to happen and it’s really up to those that actually are concerned about the society we live in to participate in that and make the right decision on that, but really come together and say how do we solve these problems despite what’s being talked about, right? because ultimately, that’s what’s going to make the change right? The change is going to come from the top. They’re going to give direction, but they’re really going to be about the innovators, the business leaders, the labor leaders, community leaders going we need to come together and solve this problem. And I actually think California has led on this issue. We are in the midst of solving, or trying to tackle big issues that the rest of the country isn’t. And our economy’s growing, and we’re doing well.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, if we did that here from California. Well, listen, you talked about the fact that the only way we’ll get through this is to have quality leadership, I think, from all the different sectors and it’s clear that labor will always be at the table, and will be a major contributor to where we go. And so, the leadership of labor and folks like you helping to drive that conversation from that sector is critically important, so, Jim Araby, thanks a lot for spending time with us, and thanks a lot for your leadership on these key issues. We appreciate it.

Absolutely, any time. Thanks a lot.

Evan Low Looks At Government Through A Millennial Lens

At 33, Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) is one of the youngest members of the California legislature. A Silicon Valley native, Low sees things slightly differently from his fellow legislators in Sacramento. He views the world as one that is rapidly changing thanks to technology and as a place where government is struggling to keep up.

Before some of his co-workers even knew what Uber was, Low was pushing to get the government to work with the disruptive company instead of fighting back against it. Low sees the possibilities and promise of innovation but he acknowledges there is a tension between how fast technology is moving and how slowly government tends to move.

“We are a capitalist society, we want competition to thrive,” says Low. “But how do we put in place a regulatory framework to make that work?”

These are the kinds of questions Low struggles with in his effort to give back to his community through political service. In a wide-ranging conversation, Low talked with us about the sharing economy, getting more young people involved in politics and whether the state’s balloting system (there are 17 state-wide initiatives up for vote this year) has overwhelmed voters.

Listen to our full interview below:

Like what you hear? Subscribe to A Step Ahead on iTunes.

A Step Ahead: Evan Low

Hi everyone. This is Kish Rajan, Chief Evangelist at CALinnovates, and along with our Executive Director Mike Montgomery, we welcome you to the new CALinnovates podcast where we’ll be sitting down with elected officials, policy advocates, and other thought leaders to discuss issues of critical innovation, technology, and public policy matters that face California and the country. We’ll be talking to guests of all kinds, and we’ll be broadcasting this regularly and we hope that you’ll join us for this important series of discussions about the future of our state and our country.

This time we’re talking with assembly member Evan Low. Evan is the chair of the California innovation and technology caucus in the legislature. He represents the Silicon Valley, and as you’ll hear he’s got a great personal story and a really great appreciation for issues of innovation and technology, the advancement of the economy, and the important balance we have to strike between business and public interest issues. He’s a thoughtful and wonderful guy, and I hope you’ll enjoy the chat that we had.

Assemblymember Evan Low. Hey, thanks a lot for being with us on the CALinnovates podcast, A Step Ahead, that’s our title.

Evan Low: Very good to be here, of course.

Yeah, well we appreciate it. So listen, you’ve had a wonderful career for someone young of age but you’ve achieved a lot in public service. You were a council member and a mayor in your hometown and now in the assembly. What drew you to public service?

Well you know growing up and being born and raised in Silicon Valley it’s important that I had sense of giving back. And my father who’s an eye doctor said, “You should become a doctor too,” but I said, “I think I’m going to choose a different path.” But he said, “Well as long as you give back in some form or fashion, that’s what’s important.” And so I did that as much as possible. Just growing up, I was very active in volunteering with him. He was president of his Lion’s Club, he was president of the Chamber of Commerce in the city of Campbell. And so naturally I met family, friends, and politicians, community leaders alike. So it was a lot of fun. It was just something innate in nature.

You know it’s interesting, I had a similar background, right? My father came from India, I don’t know, was your father from the United States?

Sure, yep.

Oh, okay.

Fourth generation.

Oh that’s great. My father came here from India. My mother is an American, and so a similar thing. Grew up in the East Bay and just kind of organically being part of the community and understanding how important community institutions and how important people are to keep those communities strong. For some of us, it just became embedded in the way that we think.

Oh sure, absolutely. To continue on that type of tradition is important. We would have fundraisers at our homes. I’d say to myself, “Who are all these strangers? Why do we have to dress up and talk to these strangers. They are in our house.” Fast forward to where we are today, I’m quite aware of the purpose of the events.

What did you like about serving at the local level?

All politics is local, I’m sure that you can appreciate that too given your service on the Walnut Creek City Council. That you are able to make a difference in a very localized way. That you saw neighbors in your grocery store and at the farmer’s markets and you are able to make some significant change. Whereas in a larger setting like the state legislature, it’s very broad. California is very large, not only in geography but in population and interests. That becomes, then, in and of itself.

There is no doubt, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit. But staying at the local level for just a minute, you also were…Well a couple things. The first is you are right, all politics is local, but the decisions that you make, they are so tangible. They are so bread and butter. I trust that you derive some sense of satisfaction from being able to solve problems and being able to point to those solutions, they are so readily apparent when you are at the local level.

That’s right. My city of Campbell, there were five counsel members. We all lived relatively close to each other, but we could count to a magic number. Having a conversation with individuals to make sure that we have three out of five of individuals who supported an initiative or project was important. That’s how you got things done. There is a deep passion, and it’s very community oriented.

Yeah. You also, of course Campbell is there in the peninsula, right in the heart of the Silicon Valley. For our lifetime it’s been on this incredible trajectory in terms of the economy overall and of course the innovation and technology economy. What was that like to grow up there? What were your impressions? Were you aware that you were in this epicenter of the global technology economy where you were growing up?

Sure. These were all household names. Tandem was a name back then where many family friends worked in, and now it’s very different to what you see here today. Apple had a different connotation than it does today. You see these types of advancements which are very exciting. Growing up I just thought we were on our own little island in Santa Clara County in the state of California.

Whereas now when you travel the world, folks know about Cupertino, Campbell, Silicon Valley area, San Jose areas. It is sort of a unique experience to be able to come from a location which was home, and a small town feel, whereas now it’s on the global map. What does that mean in terms of the talent, in terms of the challenges that also exist there?

I definitely want to get into that, but I gather that’s a good transition to your work at the state. What made you want to go to Sacramento?

Well I just wanted to become a teacher. I was studying political science at San Jose State, went to De Anza College in San Jose State, so public education all the way through. Just wanted to teach, but it was the last senior project that I had at San Jose state, which was to analyze the city counsel race in the city of Campbell. As you can appreciate, we sort of looked at how many votes did the winner need to win an election. Who are the key stakeholders? From which community groups do they need support from? What did the newspaper say? Who were the contributors and supports?

Doing analysis there sort of gave me an insight in saying, “Okay, I would like to participate in this process.” Particularly looking at the demographics of the city of Campbell. There was not this type of young representation. The system of governance and politics typically does not support younger people participating in the process, due to a number of factors. Which include that it certainly isn’t full time pay. The networks are so important to be able to participate.

Young people, millennials today, are struggling, even with full time work, sometimes two jobs. They are struggling to make ends meet. Many of these occupations, particularly in elected office, require you to either be independently wealthy or retired.

So a question, it’s a big challenge, isn’t it? You and I were talking before, just before we went on air here, about trying to encourage people to participate as we must, because we want to have a diversity of folks. Different perspectives, ages, genders, walks of life, careers, and inputs. You need that, because you want the government to be representative of the communities that they serve. But it is as a practical matter, it’s very difficult to get young people to be able to have the time and the resources to participate. That’s not always good for government if you don’t have that kind of diversity.

That’s right. In fact when you take a look at the voter turnout, and you look at the voter turnout percentage between ages 18 to 35, it’s significantly lower than that of those who are 60 and up, for a number of different reasons. Younger people, millennials, are struggling to just make ends meet as I mentioned earlier. But also, they don’t feel as invested in the process. How do we ensure that there is a sense of ownership, a sense of duty, a sense of civic duty?

I’ve often times talked about the challenge. You look at some best practices in other countries. Here in the United States and in California, when you turn 18, you are considered a productive member of society. Which is to say that you are free to do whatever you want. Where as in other countries, when you turn 18, individuals are often times enlisted in mandatory service of two years. Whether it be in the army or supporting their country and/or communities. I think it’s important that we continue to have this conversation about sense of duty to each other. When we become 18 years of age, we should talk about how we are interconnected. Particularly in this globalized world, we are more connected than we are different. How do we ensure that we are doing our part to help the society and continue to be part of the community.

I think it’s a great point. At CALinnovates, we’ve been talking to millennials a lot. We’ve been talking to them directly, we’ve been doing surveys, we’ve been trying to have our organization be a vehicle or a platform where millennials can express themselves and talk about politics and talk about issues. Because as we’ve seen as we are recording this, we are just a couple of weeks away from the national election.

It seems that one of the themes from our point of view, inaccurately but nevertheless, the narrative that seems to be settling in nationally is that millennials are disinterested, they are aloof, they think they are too good for the political process. We certainly have found that to be quite the opposite. I’m wondering, in your travels and your experiences, what you are seeing out there?

Sure, as a millennial.

Your peers I should say, that’s right.

I talk to other individuals about this process. But there is a number of different factors, I don’t think there is a silver bullet to this issue. Which is to say that on this November ballot, there are 17 statewide measures in addition to the local measures. If you are here as we are, recording here in San Francisco, there are a number of local measures. Imagine on top of those things the candidates. It’s no wonder that there becomes analysis paralysis and voter fatigue in terms of democracy.

At one point we talk about the importance of grassroots democracy. At what point does democracy become too much? Do we really want the general individual and the voter to go through all these different issues? Or, do we want to empower our elected representatives to make these decisions for us in terms of the trustee notion. Of delegate versus trustee, and empowering individuals in this democracy.

Well that’s a huge issue, it’s been a huge issue in California for some time. We’ve been a trailblazing state in terms of direct democracy. Hiram Johnson, right, going back 100 years ago and the initiative process. Which has a lot of virtues to be able to go directly to the people and give them a voice and authority to make decisions in self governance. But, and now as a legislature, you understand how much we’ve encumbered you all as our elected leaders in Sacramento, through the myriad initiatives, amendments to our state constitution that we’ve made over the years.

I am curious now that you are in the state legislature, what is your view of that, and how far we’ve gone in direct democracy? Which again, it’s a good notion, but what does it really mean in terms of the ability to govern the state in an effective way?

Sure. I think we are continually adapting to try to find a “perfect” sense of democracy in its true form. I think we continue to evolve and adapt. Certainly I think when we think about direct democracy in California, the initiative process, we want to allow average citizens to come together and coalesce around an issue, and that everyone should be able to put something on the ballot in a state like California with over 40 million people. But the reality, in terms of practicality and practice, is one needs to raise significant funds to be able to put something on the ballot, to collect enough signatures.

There are specific special interests who have bypassed the legislature, and are helping to do our jobs. It’s not helpful to see this bypass the legislature in this realm. Let me tell you, I sort of try to figure out, how do I get to the average person and get a sense of what is really going? What do the average Californians think? I don’t need to go that much further than going to a coffee shop, or going to the barber shop where I get my haircut. As I’m sitting and I’m getting my haircut, the hairstylists and different individuals are talking about elections. One person pulls out their ballot, and one person says, “Well I know that you are in the legislature. Why aren’t you doing your job? Why are there 17 measures? I’m so confused. No means yes, yes means no. You are wasting all these trees in my mailbox.”

Yeah, my voter pamphlet is 200 pages long.

They say, “Well this is ridiculous. The average person is not going to be able to come up to understand what this all is. Can you just tell me, what is your position on all these propositions?” I will be very straightforward with them as well too. I don’t even know which proposition numbers are in accordance to what the issue is. I’ll have to look at it and read it, and once I know, and take a look at it, then I’ll have a breadth of understanding. But it would be disingenuous for anybody.

I consider myself someone who is up to knowledge on some of these issues …

You are above average in terms of your connection to these…

Well at least understanding some of these issues.

I understand.

But to say, 17, statewide measures, and to really have a deep dive into these issues, it’s very complex. So yes, direct democracy is important, but in practicality and in practice, how is it really being used?

Well I agree, and you are right. I feel the same way. I feel like in our system of elected representatives, elected leaders, that’s what the citizens want. They want to elect good people like you, and then they want to hold you accountable for whether you are doing a good job or not. If you are not, then they vote you out. But in the meantime, they want you to make decisions, not farm out all the decisions to them. They are saying, “What did we elect you for if I’ve got to make all these choices?”

Exactly, that’s right, and if that was the case, why even have the legislature? Because you could just put everything on the ballot and have everyone decide. But these are very complicated issues. I oftentimes even give a story of when I went to a classroom. I oftentimes go to teach about civics and talk to different classrooms.

I ask a class of individuals, “Show me by raise of hands, how many of you like vanilla ice cream?” Half of the class raises there hands, then I say, “How many like chocolate.” Half of the class raises there hands. I say, “Okay, this is a clear illustration that you have two different competing sides with generally the same amount of individuals on different sides, how do you come to an agreement? Imagine a much more complicated, complex issue, and coming together in a democratic way, how does that occur?”

The swirl of course.

Well then other people say, “What about strawberry?” I say, “Well that wasn’t a choice, and to your point … ” What choices are available and which is not available?

Well listen, talking about getting people engaged, when we’ve talked to millennials, and now that you are in the legislature and you’ve been there for a bit and you’ve established yourself as a leader in a couple of ways, one of the things that we see is that the language of government, the tools of government, the culture of government, in many ways is so outdated and it feels very antiquated. There is a real cultural disconnect between what we see in government and what younger folks, digital natives, people that don’t know anything different than using mobile phones and other types of innovative tools as part of their everyday life. There is a really significant gap there.

One of the things that you have spearheaded in the legislature is a new caucus of your members, the innovation and technology caucus. Let’s talk about sort of broadly what you want to accomplish, and how that maybe could be a mechanism whereby we get younger people to recognize where government is going because it’s becoming more modern.

Sure. Well let’s make this clear recognition that Silicon Valley is not an island on itself, and we need to make sure that California maintains it’s economic competitiveness in terms of innovation, and then the United States can continue to be a leader in this realm too. But this is a globalized world, and we do not have a monopoly on the truth. We continue to compete in many different ways. How do we recognize that we want to create an environment where we have competition flourish, and provide an environment where innovation thrives?

Often times we see the recognition of government in terms of the regulatory environment, we look at the protections for the consumer protection side of things. Looking for the public safety and the public interest. At the same time, how do we foster that type of innovation? By default though, innovation is disruptive in this way, and so government tends to be slower by default. Therein lies the natural clash. Therein lies the natural conflict. Which is to say that the innovation where the consumer and the technology has gone, has left the regulatory environment.

How do we ensure that we have subject matter experts within the role of government to identify ways that we can have the framework of the regulatory environment while also protecting the public interests? That is a very difficult challenge at hand, because I’ll tell you, as I introduce a bill related to the transportation network companies and the shared economy, I was lobbying a senator urging their support. I was explaining the bill, the senator stopped me and said, “I’m sorry, what is Uber?” They did not know what the application was.

I had to pause and say, “Okay, well in 2015, we may still have to explain some of these things to.” We have additional conversations that are required on many of these different areas. How do we engage in this thoughtful conversation where government is seen as a partner, rather than an adversary on the tech community, on the defense, and not working in partnership?

Yeah, well I think it’s critically important. Of course that’s the name of the game for us here at CALinnovates is to try and help be an organization that can be a bridge between these innovations. You’re right, three years ago, I didn’t know what Uber was either, or four years ago. These things are happening incredibly quickly, and the spread of ride share as one example, but there is countless examples of brand new technologies, brand new innovations, that have incredibly rapid adoption.

Government, to your point, by design, is not intended to move, it shouldn’t move that fast. There are fundamental things that government has to do. We have to look out for public safety, for consumer protections, for just doing right by the communities that government serves in all kinds of ways. There is a real tension there. But to your point, trying to find mechanisms or venues where those gaps can get bridged really is the name of the game, isn’t it?

That’s right, and so when you have job displacements or different challenges that exist, the innovation economy can often times fill that void. Having engaged in conversations also with other stakeholders, let’s be very real. We are a capitalist society. We want competition to thrive. When different innovations come to market, often times there will be different stakeholders fighting over the share and where the consumer is. In terms of the regulatory environment, how do we make sure that we can provide the framework where there is ample competition that exists, but then also protects the consumer?

A perfect example of this is with, for example, the shared economy, or whether you say the drone industry. The drone industry innovates so quickly, but then we don’t have the regulations in place that regulates commercial versus personal use. To how many feet away from a residential area, to which price point does a drone need to be registered so in case there is an accident, that we can trace back that drone in case there is a problem with this too? The innovators, the founders, don’t necessarily think in terms of the regulatory environment, because they’ve often times said, “We are so busy focused, looking for our next round of funding, marketing, sales, engineering, we don’t really have time to focus on the regulatory environment.”

The challenge that exists then is that they innovate so quickly that they will eventually come up against government in terms of the regulatory environment, because the innovation does not fit in a nice little box. The industry then finds itself on the defense, rather than, “Hey, let’s partner in this.”

Well we see that every day too. We see that with our members, and we talk to businesses all the time about, “Listen, if you are going to do something that’s disruptive… ” To them, their eyes get big because they see it as a big business opportunity. It may well be, and that’s very exciting, and we want to see those positive opportunities unfold, for businesses to grow. Growing this economy is critically important, but we do advise them, “Look, you are going to have to understand, if you are disrupting things, there is very likely to be at some point a regulatory response.” And hoping that you can avoid that all together. It’s not practical in the long run.

I think again, it works both ways. It’s not only up to government to find ways to be more responsive, but certainly around here we preach to businesses that you are going to have to find ways to constructively engage in the communities where you are operating and understand that government does have a role that matters.

That’s absolutely right. The other aspect to it is, for example in the area of automated driverless vehicles …

Yeah, no kidding.

What happens if you, let’s say a few years ago, if you were in this space? Who do you have a conversation with at the DMV? Because I will tell you, when many of the different companies approach the DMV, which is a state agency, the DMV does not have the authority to have a conversation in this way, to have the framework, because it’s not in statute. So unless it’s the legislature or the governor giving direction, it should not be the bureaucracy or the state agency that helps to push in this way. Which is why it’s important for the industry to be involved and engaged in our democracy.

So that the representatives, the governor and the elected side, can say, “Okay, we believe that this is important for the vision and the future of California. And, oh by the way, other states have said, here is the red carpet. We will not only role out the red carpet and have the framework for automated driverless vehicles, we will also provide you with tax incentives as well.'” Let’s be real that we must also do the important job amongst ourselves within state government to provide the framework to allow this type of atmosphere to occur, and be proactive rather than reactive.

Well you are bringing up a great point and we’ve just got a few more minutes. I want to turn to what you are sort of touching on, which is California, we are a great place where these technologies and companies are invented, but there is a real question about the extent to which those economic benefits and opportunities are being presented broadly to our people. When I worked in the governor’s office, I talked very openly about this sort of bifurcation of the California economy.

That is to say that those who are participating in the technology economy by and large are doing pretty well. Those who aren’t connected to the technology economy too often are in periods of real struggle. California as you know is in this really amazing place where we’ve just become, I think again, the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world, but we are also leading the nation in real poverty. It’s an extraordinary challenge at the state level to think about how do we create broader opportunities and prosperity that’s consistent with the technology capacity that we have. It’s an enormous challenge.

Right, absolutely. Again, how to be proactive in allowing for the framework and environment for us to continue to support these different areas too. I will tell you, I’ve had conversations with a number of executives who have headquarters in other places outside of our state. They say that California is a very expensive place to do business. High in taxes. But let’s be very clear, California is open for business.

There is a reason why we have more venture capital than any other region in the United States, in Silicon Valley, which is in the state of California. How do we continue to foster this environment? That requires then that we have the adequate skill sets for these companies for the future in the long term. Are we pumping into the pipeline educated Californians who have the skill sets for the workforce for the future that matches up with what we see in the digital space, in the shared economy, in manufacturing technologies and all these different areas?

Is that something that you guys are going to take up as part of the innovation and technology caucus? Talking about workforce development, skill set development, preparedness for participation in the economy?

Absolutely. One of the things that we see in terms of the statistics, it takes longer to graduate within our institutions of higher education. Recognizing that piece, how do we ensure that we are adequately funded? But not only that, making sure that they are adequately equipped for the subject matter, expertise that is required for the workforce in California in the short term and the long term.

Well that’s certainly a great endeavor. We’ve got to find new pathways for prosperity for people, because I don’t think at the end of the day there is any stopping this technology economy, so we have to help figure out ways to help folks participate. Another thing that you were very active in in the last session, I think along these lines was legislation you were advancing to try to help promote the modernization of telecommunications networks in the state. Which really is the backbone of the innovation economy. Tell us about that, what you were trying to accomplish, and maybe what yet is to come in that area.

Well imagine over the past decade, or even five years the insatiable appetite for the consumer to use their mobile devices for streaming, for videos and what not too. The infrastructure does not adequately support that. What we want to do is provide the framework, the areas of opportunity for the digital economy. Ensuring that we have that type of infrastructure in place. The bill that you referred to as a utility modernization bill, which would allow many of our companies to invest to where their consumer is, to making sure that we have that type of technology that exists.

I’m fortunate in Silicon Valley where many cities who have fiber, have gigapower and our able to look at the framework for that as well. But we want to make sure that we have that, not only in Silicon Valley but in other places in the Central Valley and in places throughout the state of California where individuals can have the opportunity that exists for tapping into that type of technology.

There is just no question, this notion of a new digital divide. We talk about a digital divide 2.0 that’s happened. While there is lots more accessibility to broadband than there was 10, 20, or 30 years ago, and we’ve made progress, but again, the rapid pace of change is so dramatic that your point is so spot on. We have to be vigilant, ever vigilant, in ensuring that all of our Californians have access to the latest and greatest networking, because that’s really their connection to the modern economy.

That’s right, and again, when you look at best practices in other countries, and in some other areas, their governments have invested in this area. We need to partner with individuals like yourself and CALinnovates to ensure that we have public private partnerships all the way through, that we are holding each other accountable, and have high expectations for each other.

It’s indispensable, right? You think about the biggest public systems that we have, whether it’s water, whether it’s energy, whether it’s transportation, healthcare, on down the line. All of these things are fundamentally being renewed as we speak, and being disrupted and we’re seeing great new technologies, but if we don’t have the infrastructure to support and sustain those transitions, and reach all of our people, that would be a terrific shame, wouldn’t it?

That’s right, definitely.

Let me close by asking you, kind of where we started, I mean you as someone who for whatever reason, it was born into you or you had this realization, that serving mattered. It mattered in your local community, and then because of obviously your ability and your hunger to do more you went from the local level up to Sacramento, and who knows where you’ll be in 10 or 20 years, we’ll be following. But talk about why it’s important to serve, and why it’s important to get other people, what examples you are seeing of others who are sort of gravitating to this notion of service, and why that’s so important to you.

Oh sure. Well you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to turn on the TV or radio or watch your newsfeed about what’s going on in the political narrative. If we deeply care about the future for ourselves, that we are interconnected, it’s important that we are engaged and involved in some fashion. Not everybody needs to run for office, but in some way, how do you continue to be engaged in your community? By fostering conversation, and being part and invested in some way. That’s what is so important for us to be able to do and I just hope to be one part of that.

Yeah, you clearly are. And we are seeing you inspiring others, we are seeing people in technology companies, people that are connected to those things, they are bringing that subject matter expertise. They are engaging which is encouraging to see.

Absolutely, I am so fortunate to see that a lot of our tech executives in Silicon Valley and throughout the state of California are engaging, saying, “We have a wider responsibility, to just simply our profits, but that we have a community responsibility, and that we must be engaged in social change.” They have a responsibility not only for the public interest, but for public education because we care about the workforce and the development for our future longevity, but we must be engaged.

Well assemblymember Evan Low, you are clearly an inspiration I think to your colleagues and to people in business and other walks of life that understand that we have to be involved, that we have to engage. Thanks a lot for your leadership and for inspiring others to follow suit. We appreciate it, and thanks for joining us on our program.

Thanks for having me.

Thanks a lot, great to see you.

Much appreciated.

Thank you.

Page 2 of 3123