As the crew building the new Sacramento Kings arena downtown worked in the background, the region inaugurated a new era of economic development Wednesday, welcoming an aggressive transplant from Phoenix who vowed to shake up the business community’s status quo.
Barry Broome made his official debut as chief executive of the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, a new organization founded by a group of CEOs concerned that that region wasn’t aggressive enough about recruiting businesses to the area. Speaking to business leaders and elected officials from a platform overlooking the Downtown Plaza arena construction site, a symbol of the central city’s revival, Broome stressed the need to move Sacramento beyond its traditional role as a government town.
“Status quo is the equivalent of failure now,” Broome said.
The cheers for Broome and the new organization were led by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who had encouraged area CEOs to form their new group and introduced Broome to the founders. Johnson recalled that downtown Phoenix was a wasteland during his NBA playing days in the 1990s but was transformed into a bustling district by the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the organization led by Broome for the past decade.
“This is a convergence of the strength and the best that we have in Sacramento,” the mayor said.
Broome vowed to focus on industrial sectors that have the most potential to produce jobs and play to the region’s homegrown talents and sensibilities.
Broome reiterated his belief, first articulated in a speech last month at California State University, Sacramento, that Sacramento could become a leader in the business of food policy and water technology.
“We can build a brand around that,” he said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. “Where’s our brand? We do not have a brand as a community.”
Broome said communities such as Sacramento have to resist the temptation to put too much effort into recruiting industries that have relatively limited potential or might not be a good fit. He said practically every state has made a push for biotech companies, for instance, but biotech is only flourishing in a handful of communities.
Water and agriculture, by contrast, are naturals for the Sacramento area, he said. UC Davis is already considering building a food-policy institute in Sacramento, possibly at the downtown railyard.
The Greater Sacramento group replaces SACTO, the 40-year-old Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization, which accepted a merger with the new organization after Johnson and some of the region’s leading CEOs made it clear they felt the area needed stronger economic development efforts.
Rob Lynch, president of Rancho Cordova’s VSP Global and one of the founders of Greater Sacramento, said the new organization’s chief asset will be the direct participation of CEOs in the recruitment of businesses. “That was something that was missing here in Sacramento,” Lynch said.
Lynch said he believes the successful effort to keep the Kings from leaving for Seattle under previous ownership in 2013 helped give the business community a more aggressive mindset, setting the stage for the formation of Greater Sacramento. “Retaining the Kings kind of pivoted things,” Lynch said. “I think it was the spark.”
Lynch has been named chairman of the group. The vice chairman is Pat Talamantes, president of The Bee’s parent The McClatchy Co. A total of 18 companies and institutions have each pledged $100,000 a year to fund the new organization, and Lynch said more pledges are coming.
Broome, who worked in economic development in Rust Belt cities like Toledo, Ohio, and Kalamazoo, Mich., before heading to Phoenix, doesn’t lack for confidence. “I’ve outperformed in every market I’ve ever been in,” he said in the interview. “I never walk in with the expectations of being anything other than wildly successful.”
In Sacramento, Broome said he wants to put UC Davis and Sacramento State to greater use when it comes to economic development. Community leaders have said for years that UC Davis in particular could do a better job of converting its laboratory know-how into new businesses for Sacramento, and Chancellor Linda Katehi has made business development a priority.
“How do you make UC Davis more useful, more commercially dynamic?” Broome said.
Broome said he believes he will be able to galvanize the Sacramento community, despite its reputation for being somewhat conservative.
“It’s not about getting the community to be something that it’s not,” he said. “It’s about getting the community to be something that it is, at a much higher level.”