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Making Valley grow topic of economic summit

January 26, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Smart growth techniques, quality of life and integrated economic growth were just three of the topics discussed at an Imperial County Overall Economic Development Commission conference Thursday in El Centro.

The discussion on smart growth techniques was given by Rick Van Schoik, a conservation biologist with the San Diego-based Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy.

Van Schoik defined smart growth as "regional infill development at a higher density." That is, development should be done within existing city areas and not in outlying areas because it is more costly to extend infrastructure to the fringes. When cities sprawl it leads to increased traffic, worse air quality and a loss of rural character, he said.

Unlike other counties, Van Schoik said Imperial County has much in the way of resources and he urged the Imperial Irrigation District to develop solar, geothermal and biomass resources to produce more electricity and sell it.

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"I'm not suggesting that you burn anything here," he said.

Van Schoik said smart growth includes the setting aside of large areas of land including the natural resources on those lands. When such areas are set aside — an action that leaves the environment intact — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows incidental takings, meaning the accidental killing of an endangered species, he said.

Buffer areas between the set-aside lands and urban areas with the buffers could be used as recreational areas. Development could follow corridors between cities.

To implement smart growth, Van Schoik said some communities use an evaluation system for each proposed development project. Numeric scores are given for location, integrated uses, transportation, the environment and the quality of urban design, among other criteria. Among the potential incentives for projects with high scores are tax breaks, waived fees and subsidies.

Van Schoik also spoke about regional planning. He said one way to improve a local economy is to figure out what can be done to add value to locally produced goods.

Welcoming comments were given by County Executive Officer Ann Capela, who said when interviewed for the CEO position by the county Board of Supervisors she was told that her No. 1 goal would be economic development.

Capela said the area should take advantage of manufacturing content requirements under the North American Free Trade Agreement to help boost the local economy. Under the requirement, products sold in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and manufactured in these countries, must have an increasing percentage of their content produced in the three countries.

She said Imperial County should run like a well-oiled machine.

"All we have to do is roll up our sleeves and get started," she said.

Capela said conditions needed for economic development include water and power infrastructure; improved transportation, including airports and rail corridors; improved communications, including high-speed fiber optics and public protection; the ability to train the local labor force; improved quality of life, including good medical care, schools, parks and recreation, sports, music, theaters, restaurants, personal services and green spaces; and geographical information systems.

Other presentations included regional economic development in the Imperial Valley and strategic visioning, by Kimberly Collins, executive director of the San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus California Center for Border and Regional Economic Studies; and providing business with a trained workforce by Ken Hollis, executive director of the Valley of Imperial Development Alliance and Rick Johnson, training supervisor with the Imperial Irrigation District.

Welcoming remarks also were given by Sam Couchman, chairman of the OEDC and director of the Imperial County Office of Employment Training.

The conference was sponsored by the Imperial County Overall Economic Development Commission, SDSU-IV campus and its California Center for Border and Regional Economic Studies, the Imperial County Office of Employment Training, the Imperial Valley Regional Occupation Program, the Job Creation Investment Fund, the Valley of Imperial Development Alliance and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It was held at Brunner's Restaurant in El Centro.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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