Editorial: Next Economy leaders should focus on action, not get distracted by talk of new group

Published: Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013 - 8:42 am

The business-driven Next Economy effort will have tough sledding as it is to hit the targets announced Tuesday – to add 35,000 jobs and $5.3 billion beyond expected growth to the Sacramento region's economy over the next five years.

That task will be even more difficult if its leaders are distracted by a debate, instigated by the Sacramento Metro Chamber, over whether a single new group should spearhead economic development for the entire region.

One of Next Economy's biggest strengths is that it's not top-down. Rather, it has brought together more than 250 public and private groups and agencies from across six counties who have already collaborated for 18 months.

Going forward, they will use a common economic development "playbook" while bringing their own expertise and connections. As they turn from planning to action, Next Economy needs to become more inclusive and diverse, not less.

This region badly needs Next Economy to help broaden the jobs base and to speed up a lasting recovery. If it reaches its goals, at the end of five years the regional economy would have grown by a little more than 5 percent from $97 billion a year now. It would have put a sizable chunk of the region's unemployed – 113,200 people in December – back to work.

The effort hinges on boosting six business clusters identified as the most promising paths to "supercharge" the region's prosperity: advanced manufacturing; agriculture and food; clean energy and technology; education and knowledge creation; information and communications technology; and life sciences and health services.

But the region faces stiff competition from many other regions across the country, not to mention around the world, for the same jobs and companies.

To meet that challenge efficiently, Metro Chamber leaders say the region requires a single organization that would propel Next Economy for the next five years but also would coordinate other business development and live on beyond Next Economy. This new entity could consolidate the key groups that have led the initiative so far: the chamber, the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance, the Sacramento Area Commerce & Trade Organization and Valley Vision.

Yet, there is already an oversight committee, which includes leaders of all those partners, to track how well Next Economy is doing and keep it on course. All the overlap is a recipe for confusion, if not conflict.

Roger Niello, the Metro Chamber's president and CEO, dismisses such concerns and says that the negotiations won't hamstring Next Economy. "It's only a distraction if we let it be a distraction," he told The Bee's editorial board.

Still, the timing is all wrong.

While groups are trying to execute the Next Economy blueprint (there are 292 specific actions), it doesn't make sense to spend precious energy on talks about governance with no timetable for completion and no clear conclusion. Several members of the other groups have expressed reservations about the proposal.

(Full disclosure: Bee publisher Cheryl Dell, who sits on the editorial board, is also on the boards of SACTO and Valley Vision.)

The right choice is to put these discussions aside and focus on making Next Economy a success. The stakes are too high for this region to let anything get in the way of that.

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