Modesto Councilmember Chris Ricci and his family have lived in Modesto for more than 20 years. Prior to joining the council, Chris’ event promotion firm produced hundreds of local events including acts like Maroon 5, Snoop Dogg and Rob Zombie. His company’s events such as X Fest attracted thousands of attendees. Chris currently oversees digital marketing strategy for a political advisory firm based in Washington, D.C. Chris cares deeply for the Central Valley and is a strong advocate for bringing higher-paying jobs to the region.
Lan: Chris, we appreciate you taking time to share your vision for the region’s economic growth and ongoing efforts to bring higher-wage jobs to the Central Valley. What do you see as the drivers for Modesto’s economy going forward, and how can we ensure that opportunities and prosperity is shared by as many residents as possible?
Ricci: We need to build on the economic strengths that we already have. That means leveraging tech innovations in the sectors that we have solid footholds in. We’re going to get a view of where we should be aiming when the Community Foundation and the new Community Development Corporation (CDC) get their visions completed in the next year or so.
We also must improve our overall quality of life in our city. We’re no longer just going to be competing with where a company wants to locate, but also where workers want to live—many of whom will have the power to live and work wherever they want. That means we must have more diversity in leisure activities, more places to socialize, work, eat and play. We need to make Modesto more livable.
We need people to choose Modesto as their place because you don’t always need to have an office in Modesto anymore to work in Modesto. As a digital marketing strategist, I have been working remotely in Modesto out of Washington, D.C. for two years. I live in Modesto because I choose to. It is my city because my friends are here, because I love the schools. We know that innovative companies expand to cities where there is a concentration of highly sought after skilled workers. In addition to improving our amenities, expanding Modesto’s tech and agtech ecosystems will make the region more compelling for digital nomads and tech workers, who will in turn attract higher-paying employers. Understanding what the future of work looks like and ensuring that we have enough skilled workers for a wide range of high-wage employers will be key to our economic prosperity.
Finally, we need to ensure that all of our residents from various economic backgrounds have abundant opportunities to acquire in-demand tech skills through local low-barrier educational programs.
Lan: Technology-based jobs offer extremely high salaries. Estimates are that 1,000 new tech jobs would expand our local economy by $21 billion over 30 years. Many Bay Area tech companies are already expanding beyond that region. How can we attract more of these innovative employers to the Modesto/Stockton area?
Ricci: Technology companies are expanding to regions where skilled workers are plentiful. Training initiatives expanding the workforce that innovative companies need are delivering the best results I’ve seen thus far. In Modesto, we need to expand programs like Bay Valley Tech that have a proven track record of not only training workers for the economy of the future, but actually delivering the holy grail—tech companies bringing offices to Modesto.
Lan: Growing the local tech workforce would benefit the region’s companies and make the Central Valley a more attractive investment destination for Bay Area employers. Non-tech companies in agriculture, logistics, manufacturing and healthcare are all rapidly adopting new technologies and contributing to the nation’s tech worker shortage, creating a huge opportunity for Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. What role do you think local government and the private sector can play in facilitating growth of technology skills training?
Ricci: Local government needs to be a catalyst. Government (ideally the county, city, school districts, colleges, etc.) needs to huddle up and try to pool resources to push tech education to the front of the line. These high-paying jobs often don’t require a college degree and while they do require a great deal of skill, they are accessible to people from differing economic backgrounds. When we have an abundant skilled labor pool, private sector companies based in Modesto, or ones moving here, will have a much easier time addressing their chronic tech workforce shortages.
The private sector should work hand-in-hand like they do already with groups, like Opportunity Stanislaus, where they clearly communicate their employee needs so we can ensure our students have the necessary corresponding skills.
Lan: The Central Valley region continues to struggle with low four-year college degree attainment. What opportunities do you see for non-college track students to participate in the growing tech economy?
Ricci: Many software coding jobs no longer require a four-year degree. They are accessible to most students with a high school diploma, and there is a growing demand that will only increase as we continue to the next chapter of technological innovation that is bringing advances like self-driving cars and trucks, additional ag automation and advances in healthcare—even within the next five or ten years.
Lan: Convincing skilled workers to relocate to Modesto will also facilitate tech employers expanding to the Central Valley. Why do you think technology and digital workers should consider moving to our region?
Ricci: Modesto is in many ways a blank slate with some really solid foundations. We’ve got reasonably priced real estate, an aggressively developing downtown core with strong diversity in restaurants and entertainment, good school choices, great proximity to outdoor activities/the Bay Area, and all within a couple of hours of half a dozen international airports. Plus, Modesto is a fast-growing tech hub with more than 1,000 local digital and tech professionals, high school coding programs, Women Techmakers, the Agtech Summit, a startup co-working space and more tech companies moving here every year.
Lan: What gives you the most optimism about the future of our amazing Central Valley?
Ricci: We’re a tightly knit community with absolutely amazing people and we have always had the ability to evolve quickly. Modesto is on the edge of dramatic shifts both in terms of population growth and demographic change. If we can catch this wave, we’ll definitely claim a brighter future.