California has had a rough year.
A $19 billion budget deficit resulted in significant cuts to state services. Unemployment remains at 11.9% and California has the third highest foreclosure rate in the nation.
Is it time to write-off California as an overly liberal social experiment destined to fail in the 21st century?
Not for a minute. The very things that have made California the world's eighth largest economy -- a world-class higher education system, an entrepreneurial spirit and a vibrant immigrant population -- provide a strong foundation that will keep California on top for decades.
California has led the way in aerospace, entertainment and biotechnology. Its agricultural sector is the largest in the country, and the technology boom of the last forty years has made Silicon Valley the envy of the world. Within thirty miles of my office are the headquarters of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, Cisco, Tesla Motors, Hewlett Packard, Intel, Genentech, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Oracle.
Why will California continue to lead?
As our country looks for ways to create jobs and gain energy independence, California is ground zero for the industries poised for growth over the next ten years. The clean technology companies of the future are being founded here, from solar panel manufacturers to electric car companies and the creators of next generation biofuels.
California has a unique economic environment with a culture of entrepreneurship and a state government that is committed to supporting new industries like clean technology and stem cell research. The Million Solar Roofs initiative and Proposition 71, which provided a $3 billion investment in stem cell research, are just two examples of California's continued commitment to lead.
California is also home to some of the finest research universities in the world. U.S. News and World Report ranks three California schools among the top thirty in the world (Stanford University, UC Berkeley and CalTech). UC faculty members have won twenty-two Nobel prizes in the last fourteen years, and Stanford currently has sixteen Nobel laureates on faculty.
The research being conducted at our universities will lead to breakthrough technologies that can be taken to market by entrepreneurial faculty and students. But, it is not just the elite universities that are preparing students for the future.
California is also home to the largest higher educational system in the country. The California Community Colleges include 110 campuses and over 2.6 million students. This enables us to provide opportunities for millions of kids with -- and without -- high school degrees, and adults going to back to school, to build careers in the new economy.
California's higher education system and culture that encourages entrepreneurship and risk-taking continue to attract the brightest thinkers from across the globe.
While some people claim that California is home to too many immigrants, it is these very immigrants who have been the key to much of our economic growth. They come to California with dreams of creating opportunity for themselves and their families. By definition they are people not content with the status quo and are willing to take a big risk to make a better life.
Immigrants are also drawn to California because of our culture of openness and diversity. They know that California accepts people and ideas from every corner of the world and provides them with an opportunity to excel. These immigrants will continue to make California the global leader in entertainment, high tech and innovation. So while some delight in making fun of California's diversity and culture -- it is precisely these values that will draw the next generation of visionary entrepreneurs to our state.
Like much of the country, California has been knocked down over the last year, and there are some who are eager to count it out. Yet, California has long attracted builders, entrepreneurs and those who dared to dream big -- and we're going to do it again.
Steve Westly is the former State Controller of California and is currently Managing Partner of The Westly Group, a clean technology venture capital firm.