Our Opinion: Poor stats, bright prospect?

January 30, 2002

For years the story has remained pretty much the same. Imperial County is the poorest county in the state — at least according to 1998 data, the most current statistical information available. We have the highest percentage of people in the state below the poverty level and the state's lowest median income.

We've heard similar numbers many times and just as many times we have heard the reasons behind the poor state of our county: a lack of education among the workforce; seasonal jobs related to agriculture; low-paying jobs in general.

Those are some of the reasons cited when officials are questioned about why the story doesn't change.

The real question — the one to which there may not be a good answer — is what can be done to change the conditions that plague the county?

There should be answers. We have abundant water, low-cost energy, a ready and willing workforce and available land.


So what is the problem? Have our government officials not done enough to promote the Valley? They talk of the importance of marketing the Valley as one to attract industry and they talk of the need to diversify the economy, but their results are spotty. Their words are strong, but we need to see results. Economic development group after economic development group and elected board after elected board has made promises to Imperial County, and not much has occurred.

Finally we are seeing some action. The opening of the beef-processing plant in Brawley is one sign of solid economic development efforts. The pursuit of a huge cargo airport is another. Plans to add sugar cane as a crop in the Valley and a related ethanol plant are still another sign of the pursuit of progress.

There are other projects that seem to be going nowhere, as things have been known to do here. For example, we have not heard much lately about the Gateway of the Americas project, which was supposed to create thousands of jobs and is bogged down in in-fighting, lawsuits and minutia. That project needs some stronger leadership if it is going to really come to fruition. In many places in Imperial County, though, we have bureaucrats and politicians where we need leaders.

Imperial County may continue to be the poorest county in the state for years to come. Big change does not come quickly. Officials need to stay focused on economic development and remain united to market the Imperial Valley as one entity.

If they can do that, our children and our grandchildren will inherit a different, stronger Imperial Valley where young people don't have to look outside the area to find good jobs and the kind of life they desire.

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