A handful of news reports over this past week got me thinking about the fate of the Golden State, and specifically whether California, once the jewel of the country in terms of innovation, education and infrastructure, could be great again.
No matter which side of the political fence you sit, everyone can agree California is in a budgetary quagmire. Tax hikes are merely bandages and not panaceas for the economic liabilities the state faces, with no genuine solution in sight.
So it didn’t surprise me that yet another survey came out last week dubiously labeling California the worst run state in the country. It’s actually the second year in a row that the market analysis and commentary outfit, 24/7 Wall St, tagged the Golden State as the worst run.
The analysis firm reached its conclusions based on a review of data on financial health, standard of living and government services. The survey pointed to California suffering the lowest credit rating in the country, the second highest foreclosure rate and the third highest unemployment rate. The state has also earned the third-worst business tax climate ranking.
Meanwhile, 24/7 Wall St. named North Dakota the best run state, followed by Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah and Iowa. North Dakota holds a special place in our hearts because it’s my mother’s home state, but it’s honestly not high on our annual list of places to visit — and our family still lives there.
From a native Californian’s esteemed perspective, North Dakota is a baking hot or freezing cold patch of prairie with nothing remotely exciting going on. The same could be said for the other four top run states on the list (with the exception of being drawn to visit the national parks in Wyoming and Utah).
While some point to California’s economic situation improving as we head into 2013 — evidenced by, for example, the unemployment rate improving to 10.1 percent in October from 11.5 percent in October 2011 — others claim the improvement is bouncing off the bottom instead of sustainable growth. Additionally, 80 percent of Californians continue to believe the state is heading in the wrong direction, according to recent poll by the University of Southern California.
Still, despite all the gloom, another news report last week strangely sparked some hope for California in me, and it resulted from an unusual source. It is likely just wishful thinking, but the news of the retirement of Huell Howser, the host of the pro-California PBS shows, reminded me, if only for a few minutes, that California is still nothing short of a spectacular place — a place worthy of the charming programs that Howser and team produced.
Now California is not going to fix its budget issues with only tourism dollars. And we can’t all drive a tour bus or be a travel agent for a living. Europe has proven that doesn’t drive an economy, as there are only so many tour guides, buses, castles and parks to go around.
Nonetheless, I suspect there aren’t that many Huell Howsers lining up to produce shows about destinations in Nebraska or Iowa. I’m not knocking those states, I’m just hoping we can collectively agree on and successfully leverage enough of the positives that remain in California to help the state back on track. If we can do that, California could again be “amazing,” as Mr. Howser always says.
Dan Francisco is an El Dorado Hills-based public relations consultant to the high-tech industry.