Bill Mueller

Viewpoints: Heavy lifting yet to do to rebuild Sacramento region’s economy

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2014 - 12:00 am

Take yourself back four years. The Sacramento region was reeling from a jobless rate of 12.7 percent. We had one of the highest home foreclosure rates in the nation. Government was shedding jobs. Businesses were failing. More than 140,000 previously employed people in our metro area were out of work for months on end.

There was lots of talk but no action. So Valley Vision took a stand. Our chairman at the time, James Beckwith, the CEO of Five Star Bank, worked with me to bring together business leaders and CEOs of the region’s biggest economic development organizations to appeal for joint action aimed at accelerating job creation and new investment.

The problem was bigger than any one organization acting alone. We knew that we couldn’t wait for someone to ride in on a white horse to save the day. We decided to take matters into our own hands. The leaders at that table made a choice: It was time for some modern-day barn-raising.

Valley Vision’s role in Next Economy is confusing for people. Some believe our nonprofit to be an economic development organization. We are not. But as a regional leadership organization committed to economic, social and environmental prosperity, we knew we had the capacity to help organize a joint regional response, support the initiative with top-notch staff work, see that good data were developed to drive smart decision-making, and make sure that stakeholders from the business, labor, government, education and community sectors were invited to the table, with ample opportunities to contribute.

After many months of research, analysis and 70-plus meetings, our partners produced a thoughtful action plan, organized under five goals and a bold vision centered on innovation, investment and better global connectivity. Importantly, the Next Economy partners wanted to adopt concrete economic strategies that would widen and deepen our economic base so we would be more resilient in weathering economic boom-and-bust cycles. We capitalized on our competitive advantages – producing food, 21st century health care, information technology and more – using a business cluster-based strategy. The plan has been applauded by economic development professionals for its breadth, inclusiveness and focus on accountability.

The Valley Vision team worked up to the ragged edge of our mission as a convener, researcher and initiative creator to help deliver a job-growth strategy that our region’s economic development organizations, public and private, could get behind and enact. It was an audacious undertaking. In the past three years, we have committed nearly $200,000 of our own, in addition to raising nearly 90 percent of all the investment capital in the initiative from regional partners such as the Morgan Family Foundation.

The list of Next Economy results grows longer by the day. If you’re curious, the one-year performance report can be found at

Still, Next Economy is only as good as the promises made by leaders of these organizations and agencies to carry it out, day in and day out. Resources are still very tight for some organizations, limiting its impact.

This month marks a new phase of Next Economy where execution is paramount. Valley Vision’s role is downshifting as the different economic development organizations take on greater responsibility. At this transition point, we at Valley Vision can say that we have done everything we could to make our current system of economic development in the capital region become more focused, efficient and impactful to benefit everyone.

Recently, CEOs from some of the region’s biggest businesses united to go one step further, creating the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council to help recruit new companies and retain existing employers. At Valley Vision, we say more power to you and ask how we can help.

Bill Mueller is chief executive of Valley Vision, a nonprofit leadership group for the Sacramento region.

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