MBEP 7th Annual

State of the Region

The Monterey Bay Economic Partnership’s annual State of the Region brings together community, business, and civic leaders for cross-sector conversations to make good things happen, and this year’s event, which took place Friday, Oct. 29, delved into some complex issues: Systemic Racial Bias in our Education System, Increasing Degree Attainment, Life With Variants, Housing Legislation, the Regions Rise Together Salinas Investment Plans, and much more.

The policy discussions, regional data analysis, the introduction of best practices, and bold ideas that take the stage at MBEP’s annual State of the Region, rest on one deeply impactful, underlying point: They stem from MBEP’s mission to improve the quality of life in the region, in a way that impacts the people who call it home.

Kanyon Coyotewoman Sayers-Roods of the Costanoan Ohlone-Mutsun and Chumash Tribes set the tone for the event, with a tribal blessing and land acknowledgment that celebrated the region’s indigenous protocols and tribal history.


Honoring the past helps shape the future, she said, and one step toward being good “ancestors in training” is by acknowledging indigenous protocol, honoring truth, history, and the ancestral stewards of the Monterey Bay region.

MBEP President & CEO Kate Roberts shared insights into MBEP’s accomplishments this year, taking a moment to remember those lost during the pandemic. See her welcome address.

“I think it’s important to ground the work we do and the conversations we have today in the reality of what our residents have dealt with this past year, and continue to deal with on a daily basis,” said Roberts. “Many of us here today have what I call the privilege of mobility, to be able to move jobs, move homes, change careers or even retire. But many of our neighbors are not so fortunate: They struggle every month to make ends meet, go to bed hungry, and have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”

Those struggles — and the work to create a more inclusive and vibrant economy for all — make the work MBEP does, day in and day out, more important than ever. Read on for some key highlights from MBEP’s 7th Annual State of the Region.


Building the Future of Mobility

JoeBen Bevirt

Founder and CEO, Joby Aviation


The benefits of rail and auto transportation have increased human capacity, says JoeBen Bevirt, Founder and CEO, Joby Aviation, but the challenges of modern ground transportation — congested cities, carbon emissions, costly infrastructure, and the cumulative human toll of long hours spent commuting — have reached a breaking point.

Solving those challenges has been the driving force behind Joby Aviation’s flying taxi, which is expected to receive FAA approval next year and could launch for commercial passenger service in 2024.

Delivering the keynote address at MBEP’s 7th annual State of the Region, Bevirt described electrical air transportation as the “pivotal unlock.” Driving his company’s bold vision are three pillars: Safe, quiet, and sustainable.

With six propellers for unprecedented redundancy, Joby Aviation’s all-electric flying taxi is quieter than a typical car engine upon takeoff, and when in flight, it is only slightly louder than the rustle of leaves. Five-seater all-electric vehicles eliminate the issue of carbon emissions created by traditional combustion engines while allowing cities to transform parking lots into green spaces and parks.

Once the stuff of sci-fi dreams, flying taxis are on the very brink of becoming reality, and Joby Aviation is driving the change. The Monterey Bay region, where Joby Aviation is based, is already taking steps to create the kind of workforce that such transformative change entails.

JoeBen Bevirt Bio

JoeBen Bevirt, Founder & CEO, Joby Aviation

JoeBen Bevirt is the founder and CEO of Joby Aviation a mobility company that is building a fully electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) passenger aircraft optimized to deliver an air taxi service. The Company is certifying a 5 seat aircraft nearly twice as fast and yet 100 times quieter than a helicopter.


Life with Variants

Susan Carpenter

Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at UC Santa Cruz
Dr. Carpenter is a trained immunologist whose research focuses on how people can protect themselves against infection from bacteria and viruses. She covered the science behind the Covid-19 variants, the technologies utilized to track them, and how we deal with them as we continue to open up society.
Susan Carpenter Bio

Susan Carpenter, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at UC Santa Cruz

Susan Carpenter is an Associate Professor of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of California in Santa Cruz. She is an immunologist who studies novel genes involved in controlling inflammation. For more information on the Carpenter lab please visit their website.

Increasing Degree Attainment

Leanne Davis

Associate Director of Research and Policy, Institute for Higher Education Policy

Kate Mahar

Dean of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives at Shasta College
Director of SCAILE/Lumina Talent Hub


Degrees When Due (DWD) is a completion and equity initiative to help states and colleges increase degree attainment among the “some college, no degree” population. Last October, MBEP facilitated the implementation of DWD in our region. To date, participating institutions have identified over 15,000 students that left prior to being awarded a degree. We heard an exciting update on the collective work and outcomes happening in our region at this critical juncture.
Leanne Davis Bio

Leanne Davis, Associate Director of Research and Policy, Institute for Higher Education Policy

Leanne Davis is the Associate Director of Research and Policy at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP). In this role, she handles projects and research focused on postsecondary degree completion, including leading IHEP’s Degrees When Due initiative. Before joining IHEP, Leanne spent nearly one decade as an independent college counselor, helping student-athletes and their families navigate the college recruiting and admissions process. Leanne has worked in management and fundraising positions for non-profit organizations across the U.S. Leanne served as a Naval Aviator and was a CH-46 helicopter pilot.

Kate Mahar Bio

Kate Mahar, Dean of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives at Shasta College and Director of SCAILE/Lumina Talent Hub

Kate is Dean of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives at Shasta College and is also the Executive Director of SCAILE (Shasta College Attainment and Innovation Lab for Equity). SCAILE has evolved from the work of North State Together, the Lumina Talent Hub, and the Innovation Awards at Shasta College. Its goal is to create a place where policy, practice, inquiry, and applied research come together to foster educational attainment and innovation and reduce equity gaps; with a spotlight on the changing dynamics of rural communities.

Regions Rise Together Salinas Investment Plans

Dr. Carissa Purnell

Director of the Alisal Family Resource Centers Network

Regions Rising Together Salinas is an inclusive economic development initiative that seeks to achieve inclusivity and prosperity for ALL residents in the Salinas Valley, by synchronizing and leveraging existing efforts, empowering communities through the co-creation of investment plans, and demonstrating that we are investment ready and investment-worthy. Dr. Purnell gave an overview of the nearly two-year effort that culminated in the final investment blueprint, and a peek into new legislation that will be a funding source for this work going forward.

Dr. Carissa Purnell Bio

Dr. Carissa Purnell, Director of the Alisal Family Resource Centers Network

Dr. Carissa Purnell, Director of the Alisal Family Resource Centers Network, was named State Senate 12th District Woman of the Year by State Senator Anna Caballero. The award was presented in a virtual ceremony on March 15, 2021.

Dr. Purnell has been at the helm of the Family Resource Centers since 2015. Under her leadership, a team of 25 staff members provides support to thousands of families in the Alisal, historically one of the most neglected areas in Salinas and Monterey County. Like most operations during the pandemic, the Center’s staff continued meeting community needs online. 

Under her leadership, the Family Resource Centers have increased the services provided to Alisal families. In addition to ESL programs and Plaza Comunitaria, the center provides parenting courses and online parent groups; information and referral services; referrals to financial assistance; wrap-around services such as home visits, coordinating delivery of desks and chairs to students; and delivering meals to thousands of families. For a complete list of services, click here

Housing Legislation – What’s Next?

Robert Rivas

30th District Assemblymember, California

Assemblymember Robert Rivas reported on the initial findings from the State Assembly Housing Working Group Tour across California in early October which included a visit to the Salinas Valley and Big Sur. The tour and related strategy sessions are expected to be the basis for the State’s Housing Package for 2022 aimed at increasing housing production.

Robert Rivas Bio

Robert Rivas, 30th District Assemblymember

Assemblymember Robert Rivas has represented California’s 30th Assembly District since 2018. While still in his first term, in the Fall of 2020, he was appointed as Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee and elected as Vice-Chair of the influential Latino Legislative Caucus. A lifelong resident of the district, Rivas served two terms on the San Benito County Board of Supervisors prior to becoming an Assemblymember.

Systemic Racial Bias in Our Education System

Michael Applegate

Data and Research Partnership Manager at the Bright Futures Education Partnership for Monterey County
How might measuring systemic inequities support more equitable opportunities for children and youth of color in our community? Bright Futures, a cradle-to-career partnership of more than twenty local organizations, has identified startling data to help measure and coalesce community efforts around goals to reduce systemic racial inequities in education. This important research is gaining nationwide attention showcasing why it’s critical to quantify systemic inequities in order to effect systems change.
Michael Applegate Bio

Michael Applegate, Data and Research Partnership Manager at the Bright Futures Education Partnership for Monterey County

Michael Applegate currently serves as the Data and Research Partnership Manager at the Bright Futures Education Partnership for Monterey County where he has worked for more than five years. He leads innovative work researching and measuring local systemic inequities as well as the Partnership’s Racial and Ethnic Equity Task Force, working with several community leaders to deepen and strengthen Bright Futures’ work on racial and ethnic equity. In addition to local work, in partnership with StriveTogether, a national organization leading change work in education, he recently supported the development of a guide on measuring systemic inequities and also co-facilitates a learning group across several states to support cradle-to-career partnerships in community engagement and quantifying and addressing systemic inequities.

Could Folding Houses Save Us?

Galiano Tiramini

Founder, Boxabl

A factory-built, folding house might just revolutionize the way homes are built. While its flagship product is small — a 375-square-foot accessory dwelling unit that can be delivered to your backyard and unfolded in about an hour — Boxabl has big plans.

Like, really big: The company just launched production in its 170,000-square-foot factory in North Las Vegas last month and is already preparing for exponential growth, with plans to add a second, 4 million-square-foot factory and two more production sites before franchising its building construction technology worldwide.

Speaking at MBEP’s 7th Annual State of the Region on Friday, company CEO Paulo Tiramini described Boxabl’s building construction technology as “post-industrial,” shifting housing construction away from the imprecision of on-site building into modern-age, precision-factory production that delivers a concrete and steel structure that resists pests, fire, mold, and water. “We’re looking to bring to customers and homeowners what they expect from everything else in their life in a post-industrial world,” says Tiramini. “When you order a shirt or a pair of eyeglasses, or anything in your life, you expect to get it within a few days, you expect it to be high-quality, perfect, and you expect to be able to return it. But not with building construction. We’re going to change all that, and we have the technology and the staff to do that.”

Galiano Tiramini Bio

Galiano Tiramini, Founder, Boxabl

Galiano Tiramani is the founder of Boxabl. Boxabl is a construction technology startup that seeks to revolutionize the way houses are built by using its patented shipping and factory production technology.


State and Federal Stimulus: Where is All the Money Going?

John Laird

California State Senator

Jimmy Panetta


In a Fireside Chat titled “State and Federal Stimulus: Where is All the Money Going?,” Congressman Jimmy Panetta and California State Sen. John Laird spoke with MBEP President and CEO Kate Roberts about how those state and federal investments are benefitting the region.

Speaking from his Washington, D.C. office, U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta gave an update on ongoing Congressional negotiations over a $1.75 trillion social infrastructure bill. Details of that Build Back Better Agenda center on human infrastructure, said Panetta, including investments in universal pre-kindergarten, accessibility to childcare, increased funding for ag research and funding for 1 million affordable housing units.

A second, $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which already has bipartisan support, focuses on more traditional infrastructure investments such as roads, water, and bridges, as well as broadband, water infrastructure, grid reliability, and climate change mitigation.

“I’m confident that it’s going to pass. I know better than to say when, but I do believe it’s going to be soon,” said Panetta, calling the moment “an inflection point for who we are as a nation.”

John Laird Bio

John Laird, California State Senator

John Laird was elected to the State Senate on November 3, 2020, carrying all four counties in the district with a combined margin of over 145,000 votes, and was sworn in to represent Senate District 17 on December 7, 2020. In the State Senate, Laird chairs and serves on a broad array of committees: Chair, Senate Budget Subcommittee #1 (Education), Vice-Chair, Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Member, Appropriations Committee, Member, Budget & Fiscal Review Committee, Member, Joint Legislative Committee on Budget, Member, Judiciary Committee, Member, Labor, Public Employment & Retirement, Member, Natural Resources & Water Committee, Member, Rules Committee, Member, Joint Legislative Committee on Rules.

Jimmy Panetta Bio

Jimmy Panetta, Congressman

Congressman Jimmy Panetta is dedicated to public service and proudly serves California’s 20th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.  His district includes Monterey and San Benito Counties, and parts of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties.  First elected 2016, he is serving his second term in Congress.  He currently serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means, the House Committee on Agriculture, and the House Committee on Armed Services.  He also serves as an Assistant Whip in the 117th Congress.

Having grown up on the central coast of California, Congressman Panetta understands the importance of giving back to the community and country that gave him and his family so much.   He was instilled with a sense of public service and its importance to our democracy and has made sure that his work is reflective of the values of the people who entrusted him to be their voice in our nation’s capital.

During his time in Congress, he has fought for immigration reform, the continued protection of our pristine coastline and environment, affordable and accessible health care, to ensure that our agriculture industry and its farmers and farmworkers are taken care of, to reduce gun violence, for our military installations which are an integral part in our community and our country’s national security, and for our veterans to receive the benefits that they were promised and deserve.  Through policy implementation in Congress and service to constituents, he remains committed to being that bridge for the people of the Central Coast to the federal government and its resources.

Prior to being sworn in Congress, Congressman Panetta served his community as a deputy district attorney for Monterey County, which includes the city of Salinas.  In this role, he prosecuted violent gang members to pursue justice for victims, protect families and make communities safer.

In 2007, Congressman Panetta volunteered for active duty and was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  He worked with Special Forces units and as a result of his meritorious service in a combat zone, Congressman Panetta was awarded the Bronze Star.  Upon returning home, he served as a board member of the Veterans Transition Center where he focused on ending veterans’ homelessness and improving resources for his fellow veterans and their families.  He was also instrumental in the opening of Monterey County’s first Veterans Treatment Court to ensure veterans receive the services they earned.  Moreover, he worked with local leaders and veterans to establish the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery on the former Fort Ord. He was honored to be named a Monterey County Veteran of the Year in 2015.

Growing up in Monterey County, Congressman Panetta attended Monterey Peninsula College and the local public schools.  He graduated from the University of California at Davis with an undergraduate degree in International Relations and earned his law degree from Santa Clara University.  His wife, Carrie McIntyre Panetta, is a Superior Court judge in Monterey County, and they have two daughters, Siri and Gia.


Childcare is Everyone’s Business

Access to quality, affordable childcare isn’t just an issue for parents: It impacts the ability of employers to hire and retain good workers. Those realities aren’t new, but the extreme pressures of the pandemic added to an already stressed system have made them painfully apparent.

The U.S. government invests an average of $500 annually per child toward early childhood care compared to $14,436 annually for other wealthy nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation andDevelopment, placing it at the bottom of the list for childcare investment among nations, said Sonja Koehler, director, of the Bright Beginnings early childhood development initiative. In Monterey County, childcare salaries average $14 per hour, with annual childcare costs averaging $10,000 per child, but just 10,000 childcare spaces and 1,600 licensed childcare workers for the more than 90,000 kids who need childcare, says Koehler. It’s a market failure and the pandemic has made an untenable situation even worse.

From the simple steps businesses can take to create more family-friendly workplaces to systemic changes underway across the region, our panel discussion, “Childcare is Everyone’s Business,” took a deep dive into a complex issue that deeply impacts the economy, with a look at some of the work going on behind the scenes to address the lack of childcare infrastructure in the region.

“Childcare really is a business issue,” says Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Paul Farmer, who moderated the discussion, “and whether you have children or not, it affects you.”

Read additional coverage in the Monterey County Herald.


Paul Farmer, CEO

Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce
Paul Farmer Bio

Paul Farmer, CEO Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce

Paul Farmer has been the CEO of the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce since 2012.

Fluent in three languages and conversant in three more, Paul Farmer has traveled extensively and enjoys leading international vacation trips on behalf of the Chamber. Paul has worked in high-tech in Silicon Valley and has founded a couple of local small businesses. He is an energetic volunteer, active Rotarian, and graduate of several leadership programs. 

In 2019, Paul was one of only 7 people nationwide to earn the “Certified Chamber Executive” credential from the national Chamber Association. He has led the Salinas Valley Chamber to be recognized with national awards for programs, two out of the last three years.

Andy Stone, Director

Santa Cruz County Workforce Development Board
Andy Stone Bio

Andy Stone, Santa Cruz County Workforce Development Board Director

Andy Stone has been Santa Cruz County’s Workforce Development Board Director since 2015.  He has over 14 years of experience designing comprehensive workforce solutions, helping workers develop in-demand skills, and providing businesses with a skilled workforce.

Sonja Koehler, Director

Bright Beginnings Early Childhood Development Initiative
Sonja Koehler Bio

Sonja Koehler, Director, Bright Beginnings Early Childhood Development Initiative

Since 2020, Sonja Koehler directs the multi-sector Monterey County Bright Beginnings Early Childhood Development Initiative. She brings 25+ years of international experience in facilitating community-driven systems change. Since 2006, she has based her consulting business out of Monterey County. Prior, she worked in Chicago in public relations for public policy, urban planning, and economic development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Master of Public Administration in Global and Local Development.

Francine Rodd, ExecutiveDirector

First 5 Monterey County
Francine Rodd Bio

Francine Rodd, Executive Director for First 5 Monterey County

Francine Rodd has been the Executive Director for First 5 Monterey County (F5MC) since January 2004. Prior to returning to the Monterey Peninsula, where she grew up, she worked in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean (including 5 years in Haiti as the Peace Corps Country Director). Bringing home the experience of co-creating solutions with those most impacted by systems failures, she has advocated for innovative short-term and long-term changes in child care and early childhood development policies, practices and resource flows. She serves in leadership positions at the state level for the First 5 Association and on several local boards including, the Child Care Planning Council, the Monterey County Children’s Council, and the Community Foundation for Monterey County.


In Memorial, MBEP Pays Tribute to Affordable Housing Champion and MBEP Boardmember

Alfred Diaz-Infante, Renames Annual Community Impact Award in his Honor

Dedicated community leader and affordable housing champion Alfred Diaz-Infante, who recently died in a tragic car accident, spent two decades as president and chief executive officer of nonprofit housing developer CHISPA but most of his life working to make the world a better place, lifting up the people around him and his community. Even before joining MBEP’s board of directors, he was an integral part of MBEP’s housing initiative.

“Making the world a better place, one action at a time, was what truly mattered to Alfred,” said MBEP President and CEO Kater Roberts. “We are so saddened by his loss but remain inspired by the huge legacy he left and that we can help carry forward.”

To honor his legacy and preserve his memory, the MBEP board has renamed its annual community impact award in his honor.

MBEP Presents Newly Renamed Impact Award to Second Harvest Food Bank’s Willy Elliot-McCrea

MBEP’s Community Impact Award, now known as the Alfred Diaz-Infante Community Impact Award, is presented annually at MBEP’s State of the Region to recognize an individual or organization that demonstrates significant community impact and leadership that inspires others.

This year’s recipient. announced Friday by CSUMB President and MBEP Board Chair Eduardo Ochoa, is Second Harvest Food Bank Executive Director/CEO Willy Elliot-McCrea. Over a 40-year career, his leadership has helped feed the community and his leadership pandemic response doubled food distribution.

Carrie Birkhofer, Bay Federal Credit Union CEO and MBEP board member described Elliot-McCrea as a community hero for his leadership that has enabled the food bank to continually meet critical needs during recession, fire, and the pandemic.


Honoring Community and Cultural Traditions

Paying tribute to cultural traditions, community, and ancestors in the region, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History shared a moving video during MBEP’s Annual State of the Region, in celebration of Dia de Los Muertos.