Bob Iger, Tim Cook, Former Governors Among California Gov. Gavin Newsom's Economic Recovery Council

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From left: Bob Iger, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California Gov. Gavin Newsom

Business, social and health care leaders are members of the newly announced panel tasked with guiding the world's fifth-largest economy through a reopening.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has created an economic recovery council of 80 leaders from various sectors across the state to help shape recovery efforts from the current crisis that has ravaged the world’s fifth-largest economy and pushed it into "a pandemic-induced recession."

Newsom on Friday announced the volunteer, non-partisan council at his press briefing in Sacramento, during which he named some of its members, representing the “best and brightest minds we could source,” including all four living former California governors, business leaders, social justice warriors, tribal leaders, health care professionals and small business owners. The former governors include Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson, with Walt Disney executive chairman Bob Iger, Apple CEO Tim Cook, former federal reserve chair Janet Yellen and PolicyLink’s Angela Blackwell among the professionals involved.

Newsom’s chief of staff Ann O’Leary will serve as co-chair alongside former presidential candidate and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer, the latter of whom was on hand to offer remarks about why he joined the effort and who read the group’s mission statement, saying it is to “develop a strategy to help California recover as fast and as safely as possible from the COVID-19 recession.” Steyer added that the board-based effort, featuring leaders from both the public and private sector, will give particular focus to those hardest hit by the pandemic, including lower-wage workers and those in underserved communities.

“Health and safety remain the most important points here and we will make sure they remain that way. We will also be true to the deepest California values of diversity, inclusion and innovation,” he said. “We will try to come up with a recovery plan that is worthy of California’s past and pushes us to a better future and remedies some of the injustices that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed in our society.”

Newsom said he’s “asked and tasked” those participating to work through each and every sector of the economy with a focus on “tangible, actionable items for short- and long-term recovery.” The governor also provided data points about the recession, saying that California now has an unemployment rate of 5.3 percent, a historic figure that doesn’t account for as an additional 3.1 million residents that have filed for unemployment benefits as of March 12. Prior to that, Newsom said the state was enjoying its 119th month of consecutive job growth and a low unemployment rate of 3.9 percent. “These are sober and challenging times. We believe very confidently these are not permanent moments,” he said. “We have great confidence in our capacity in a California way, not just to survive working our way through this pandemic, but to thrive through the next two to three years.”

News of the council was delivered just ahead of the governor’s update on the coronavirus health briefing as he said California recorded its deadliest day yet during the pandemic with an additional 95 deaths, with total fatalities inching closer to 1,000. To date, there have been 495 lives lost in Los Angeles County alone. Statewide, there are 27,528 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 with 3,180 individuals currently being treated in hospitals, 1,174 in ICU.

The spread of the novel coronavirus led to swift closures across the U.S., with California among the first to announce the widespread shuttering of non-essential businesses as Newsom ordered strict Safer-at-Home guidelines. The closures have decimated the economy as leaders and public health officials prioritized saving lives. 

“We are not out of the woods yet. The worst mistake we can make yet is to pull back right before we’re at a point where we can start toggling back and beginning the thoughtful phase of reopening California,” Newsom said.

The press briefing, plagued by audio issues that came as participants including Blackwell called in using Zoom, featured Iger in his home office as he discussed the particular challenges his studio has faced amid the pandemic. He cited Disney's diverse portfolio of theme parks, lost box-office revenue due to shuttered movie theaters and the closure of sporting and live events, impacting Disney-owned ESPN. “We are one of our state’s largest employers,” he said. “And we now at The Walt Disney Company, our two priorities are getting our people back to work and offering our guests and customers great experiences … but we also know that we need to be really smart about how we reopen so that everyone can feel safe, both employees and customers.”