Business & Real Estate

Economic development leader says Sacramento could be food center

New Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council CEO Barry Broome speaks at the annual Sac State economic forecast on Jan. 21, 2015 in Sacramento, California.
New Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council CEO Barry Broome speaks at the annual Sac State economic forecast on Jan. 21, 2015 in Sacramento, California.

Sacramento’s new economic development standard bearer said Wednesday the region could make strides as a hub for agriculture and water technology, carving out an identity for itself apart from other communities.

Barry Broome, the first chief executive of the fledgling Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, said the region’s economy has stabilized and improved since the depths of the recession but is starved for investment and needs an infusion of dynamic new businesses.

One area with potential is farming and water, which play to the region’s natural strengths, he said. The region could go “from farm-to-fork to feeding the world,” making itself a global hub for agricultural issues.

“The potential of ag and water is something we’re going to need to explore,” he said at California State University, Sacramento, where he gave the keynote address at the unveiling of the university’s annual economic forecast.

It was Broome’s first major speech to a Sacramento group since his appointment was announced a month ago.

“It’s really important for us to have stretch goals,” Broome told a crowd of several hundred at Sacramento State. “How do we grow an economy that’s exceptional?”

He said Sacramento should position itself as California’s “fourth region” with an identity separate from Los Angeles, San Diego and the Bay Area. The ag-and-water sector dovetails with UC Davis’ plans to build a global research and policy institute devoted to food issues, he added.

Broome came to Sacramento from Phoenix, where he was credited with recruiting 260 companies during a decadelong tenure as head of that region’s economic development organization. He said he decided to come to Sacramento in part because he wanted the challenge of starting an organization from scratch and recruiting companies to a state whose business climate has a reputation for high costs.

“It’s about drawing on your strengths … and chipping away and mitigating your weaknesses,” Broome said. He said Sacramento shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge its shortcomings when it tries to recruit new companies.

Broome comes to a community in the midst of an “incomplete recovery,” said Sanjay Varshney, a Sacramento State finance professor and co-author of the university’s economic forecast.

“It depends on how you see it,” Varshney said in an interview. “Glass half full, glass half empty. We’ve come a long way since the crash.”

Unfortunately, he said, too much of the job growth has been at the low end of the wage scale.

“We’d like to see the economy diversify beyond government and the service sector,” Varshney said.

The forecast, produced in partnership with the CFA Society of Sacramento, predicts continued economic growth in 2015. But the region isn’t expected to complete the recovery – that is, recapture all of the thousands of jobs lost during the recession – until 2016.

Broome’s speech to the hundreds of business leaders assembled at Sacramento State’s University Union was a homecoming of sorts. He consulted several times with the founders of the new Greater Sacramento group during its formative stages last year, and met with dozens of area CEOs to share information on the logistics of forming a new economic development organization.

The Greater Sacramento group, founded by CEOs, replaces SACTO, the 40-year-old Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization. The two organizations are merging, and the Greater Sacramento group is taking over SACTO’s headquarters space on Capitol Mall.

The founding CEOs have pledged $1.8 million a year so far, with a goal of at least $3.5 million. Broome operated on a $4.7 million budget in Phoenix.

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

Related stories from Sacramento Bee