SureWest Communications / SureWest Communications

Steve Oldham, 55, was named president and CEO of SureWest Communications on December 16, 2005.

CEO group plans Sacramento economic development push

Published: Tuesday, Jun. 24, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2014 - 8:04 am

A group of Sacramento business executives has raised $1.5 million to start a new economic development organization, with a mission that appears to resemble the efforts of a group that’s been promoting the region for nearly 40 years.

The fledgling Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council seeks to recruit new companies to the area and retain companies that already do business in the region, said Steve Oldham, the former SureWest Communications Inc. executive who is the group’s interim executive director.

The region already has a group dedicated to that purpose, the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization. Oldham said he believes the newly formed organization can have a larger effect because it will have the direct involvement of area CEOs, who can sell the region to outsiders. The group’s organizers include Rob Lynch of VSP, Dave Lucchetti of Pacific Coast Building Products and Pat Fry of Sutter Health, he said.

“I don’t see this as a swipe at SACTO at all,” Oldham said, adding that the new group isn’t “trying to take credit or accolades.”

Barbara Hayes, president and chief executive of SACTO, said she doesn’t feel threatened by the formation of the Area Economic Council and welcomed the active participation of area CEOs in the business-recruitment effort.

“That’s a game-changer,” Hayes said. “We think that’s a tremendous asset for the region.” She said she has spoken with Oldham and told him “we want to help in any way we can.”

While several groups in Sacramento work on recruitment and other issues related to the economy and business climate, SACTO describes itself as the region’s “leading facilitator of economic development.” About a year ago it considered joining forces with the Sacramento Metro Chamber, but ultimately decided that its economic development mission was best kept separate from the Chamber’s public policy function.

Former Chamber Chairman John Frisch said SACTO’s decision to stay separate gave impetus to the CEOs, who were already exploring the idea of creating the Area Economic Council. Frisch, a commercial real estate executive, said he believes the new organization can be “an improvement over the status quo.”

Oldham, who ran SureWest before it was sold to Illinois’ Consolidated Communications, said Sacramento’s business groups tend to get bogged down with fundraising. The Area Economic Council is seeking multi-year financial commitments so it can focus the vast majority of its energy on recruitment and retention of companies.

His group “can move this region forward much faster than it has been,” Oldham said. “We think we can significantly enhance what’s been going on.” The group has secured 15 commitments of $100,000 apiece, some for as many as five years, and wants to pull together an annual budget of $3 million to $5 million. The money has been pledged by corporations and educational groups, he said.

Founded in 1975, SACTO operates on a $2 million annual budget, including about $300,000 from area governments. Hayes said she’s proud of SACTO’s track record.

“Some of the largest corporations in the region and some of the smallest are here” because of her organization, she said.

Just in the past year or so, SACTO helped a pair of Japanese food processors bring facilities to West Sacramento. It also helped Sacramento’s RagingWire Data Centers “with some issues that they had” relating to a recently announced expansion in Natomas, Hayes said.

Oldham said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is “very much a moral supporter” and has attended a couple of planning meetings. But Oldham said, “It’s our project; it’s not government’s project.”

Still, Frisch said the mayor’s support has been influential. Johnson introduced the CEOs to a similar organization in Phoenix. Johnson has extensive business ties in Phoenix, a legacy of his days playing in the NBA.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

Read more articles by Dale Kasler

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