In the 2002 movie Signs starring Mel Gibson, a 500-foot crop circle is found on a Pennsylvania farm, testing the faith of a local family as it tries to find out the truth behind the strange event.  So many signs and strange events occur throughout the storyline that it is clear nothing happens by chance and everything has a reason.

We have signs in Orange County pointing to our own “strange” event:  economic recovery.  With a 7.8% unemployment rate—one of the lowest in the nation and down from 11% just a few years ago—a slight increase in job creation and growth, and an increase in population diversity, little signs are beginning to point that Orange County may be on the right path, albeit still a long journey ahead.

Orange County’s key economic engines in construction and financial services were hardest hit in the past few years of the Great Recession.  But now, good news presents itself as a few development projects start to make their way through processes in Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Irvine, Fullerton, and Anaheim, to name a few.

One big sign of recovery came to fruition this week when an extraordinary partnership between business and government resulted in a groundbreaking of the Great Park Neighborhoods, adjacent to the Orange County Great Park in Irvine.  300 representatives from business, government, labor, foundations, schools, investment funds, and community activists gathered last Tuesday with landowner Emile Haddad, CEO of FivePoint Communities, to celebrate the county’s newest master planned community.  With the promise of 16,000 jobs, $150 million in new infrastructure investment, homes, schools, business parks, and 23 miles of new trails, the County’s economic engine will be fueled once again.  And the public sector benefits with an expanded tax base as a result. Model homes are expected to open in 2013.

All good signs.

In addition, similar public-private and cooperative agreements helped the Great Park itself expedite its own initial phase of development.  In six years—during the worst of this recession—a significant Park footprint has attracted more than 600,000 visitors.

Nothing happened by chance.  It took the dedication of men and women of good will to make this groundbreaking a reality:  Mayor Sukhee Kang, the city council and city staff, an extraordinary city review process, engagement by the Great Park Foundation and Board, a stellar Irvine Unified School District, business support from the Irvine Chamber of Commerce, FivePoint Communities partners and investors, and countless community members dedicated themselves to preserving the City’s award-winning master plan while accommodating the innovation of a new master-planned development. It wasn’t easy. But as Emile Haddad said, “Policymakers found the right balance between being regulators and public partners.” That made all the difference.

Everything has a reason.  These good signs are the reason Orange County is a leader in the state and nation in recovery, innovation, public-private partnerships, and doing things just a little differently.

Posted on February 6, 2012

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