“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” So began the classic Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Tale of Two Cities.” In our story, we’re talking about a city that’s not really a city, the San Fernando Valley, a formidable economic region that is a city in every way except its governance. The Valley is doing great, and yet has major issues to tackle.

Some years ago, people in the Valley wanted to formally become an independent city. Many asked, why? The question then and now relates to vision, need, struggle, opportunities and accomplishments. The answer is simple. This region is equivalent to a major standalone city, and needs to have its own cohesive plan and governance rather than vying for scarce resources, support and representation.

In the absence of a local, elected government, civic organizations in the Valley have stepped up to fill the gaps. Many of these groups have existed a long time and have specific purposes. Over the years, they have had an extraordinary impact on the Valley, its economy and quality of life, affecting growth, transportation, education and more. However, for the most part they operate in the shadows, lacking recognition in the community they serve. This is a problem because if people don’t know these organizations and what they can do, then people don’t know where to turn for help. Businesses don’t know about these resources, and so don’t contribute to, or take advantage of, them. On top of that, organizations are only as strong as the individuals who put time, talent and treasure into making them work.

To be sustainable, these organizations need more people to become civically involved. The fresh faces of a new generation of entrepreneurs and leaders are out there, and their participation is sorely needed. Together, we can guide the exceptional Valley organizations and resources available to create the greatest benefit for our community.

To function most effectively, these civic groups need to be connected and coordinated, tied in to a collective vision. This is where The Valley Economic Alliance fits, as a true alliance, engaging and uniting leaders in this Valley for this Valley. The Alliance has its own role, facilitating economic development in the Valley, on a large and small scale, through a variety of means. To this end, the Alliance is in the final stages of completing its strategic planning process, with the next meeting to be held later this week, on May 17.

As an alliance, numerous Valley stakeholders have contributed during this planning process, including individuals, businesses and organizations, as well as civic and strategic partners like Valley Industry and Commerce Association, Valley Economic Development Center, the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley, the Small Manufacturers Institute and the American Institute of Architects – San Fernando Valley Chapter, among others. Each organization has its own “lane.” VICA, supported by its President Stuart Waldman, advocates for the Valley and its businesses with public officials at all levels of government. Directed by President Alex Guerrero, VEDC provides financing and workshops for small businesses. The UCC, managed by Executive Director Marian Jocz, is a coalition of chambers – a business networking organization for Valley chambers, businesses and government. The Valley Economic Alliance, operated by President Kenn Phillips, fosters economic development, is a champion at business assistance, and builds consensus solutions to public issues.

So far, the Valley Economic Alliance has held multiple strategic planning sessions, conducted research into our challenges and priorities, and completed a framework for a new strategic plan to guide our organization. During this planning process, the Valley and its needs have taken center stage.

Many people don’t realize that the San Fernando Valley has a population of nearly two million people in a geographical region that encompasses the cities of Burbank, Calabasas, Glendale, Hidden Hills, San Fernando and the northern portion of Los Angeles. As a separate city the Valley would be the fifth largest city in America by population – larger than Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego and Dallas.

Diversity is the San Fernando Valley’s hallmark, in demographics and economy. The people of the Valley come from all over the world. The Valley economy is currently strong, and diverse in terms of industries, including health care, entertainment, finance, information/technology, manufacturing, construction, retail, trade, professional/business services, education, and leisure/hospitality. However, like other major metropolitan cities, tremendous wealth, gut-wrenching poverty, and every financial condition in between exists here. One of the most troubling economic issues in the Valley today is a shrinking middle class, despite our otherwise healthy economy, as noted in the recent and comprehensive Valley Economic Forecast by California Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting. This, along with a lack of affordable housing, is a major threat to, and constraint on, economic growth and opportunity in the Valley.

As the Valley Economic Alliance engages and unites Valley stakeholders to create a plan and raise standards of living and economic vitality in our region, we need the vision and commitment of new leaders willing to join us and invest in giving back to the community.

Randy Witt is the chairman of The Valley Economic Alliance, and he owns a video production company in the San Fernando Valley.