It’s always been easy to diagnose why Sacramento had a weak economy. The state capital was too dependent on government jobs and real estate sales. The region had no discernible identity except a negative one held by too many people in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
You know what they say: Sacramento is too hot. It’s stodgy and old. There’s nothing to do here.
Local economic “experts” have been bemoaning these ills for years. But when they were asked to produce tangible cures, the answer was often silence, or that the politics of competing regional interests would always subvert economic progress.
Enter Barry Broome, who came to Sacramento to be the answer.
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When you meet the man trying to remake Sacramento’s economic ecosystem, he’ll tell you that neither he nor his mission are political. “We’re not taking a position on raising the minimum wage,” said Broome, 54, of the polarizing issue that will soon be before the Sacramento City Council. “We’re trying to do a lot better for people than $15 an hour.”
If you haven’t heard of Broome, or don’t know why he left a thriving career in Phoenix for Sacramento, you really should.
Broome arrived in February to lead a new public-private partnership called the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council. That’s hardly a sexy name. But the forces that brought Broome to Sacramento, coupled with his personal story and track record as rainmaker for cities, set his story apart, as does his look. His coiffed hair, open shirt and direct demeanor signal a stylistic shift from the homegrown wonks and bureaucrats who had previously sold Sacramento ineffectively.
So let’s cut to the chase, as Broome always does in an Ohio accent formed while overcoming much tougher obstacles than the ones facing Sacramento.
Broome was brought here to change the economic image of Sacramento by the biggest CEOs in the region – a group flexing their muscles like never before. Those business leaders were spurred by Mayor Kevin Johnson, who has a track record of connecting the region with new movers and shakers.
Broome already has regional support in that 17 local cities and 30 CEOs are members of the Greater Sacramento council. He is pushing those cities to establish a regionwide business permitting process that never takes more than 90 days. The council works to benefit El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.
Broome and Johnson have known each other for years. Johnson saw how Broome was the symbol of economic development in Phoenix as the former CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. According to the Arizona Republic, Broome was credited with bringing more than 260 companies and more than 50,000 jobs to the Phoenix area in his decade there.
He does it by mining data to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the cities that hire him. He then uses his powerful personality to sell the upside. He also persuades the cities that hire him to change the way they look at themselves.
For example, Broome thinks promoting the region via images of the Tower Bridge, the state Capitol and cows in pastures is a losing proposition. Those are antiquated ideas. Sacramento will rise and fall on selling its youth and vitality, he said.
“When people see those symbols, they see old and tired,” Broome said. “We have excellence here centered around our people. ... I want people to see the next cool city in the western United States.”
How? “By showing them our research centers, our health care market,” he said. “By showing them UC Davis and Sacramento State.”
Broome has been cold-calling San Francisco and Silicon Valley companies and trying to interest them in the idea of Sacramento as a partner. “Phoenix has better relationships with San Francisco and San Jose than Sacramento does,” he said.
With five full-time data crunchers working for him, Broome is wooing Bay Area businesses on a single thought: Wouldn’t you rather relocate employees or divisions to Sacramento instead of losing them to Arizona, Texas and Colorado?
He’s using numbers to knock down misconceptions. “Sacramento has a younger workforce than San Jose, San Francisco and Seattle,” he said.
What about our weather? “People say that Sacramento is hot,” he said. “I’m from Phoenix. That’s hot. And we used to sell Phoenix’s climate to companies seeking to relocate.”
Broome believes Sacramento has been selling itself short for years. The region is the home of one of the great research universities in America – UC Davis. It is also the home of Sacramento State, which Broome said is an invaluable source of workforce leaders.
Meanwhile, the city is more of a nexus of industry than many think it is. The Amtrak hub in Sacramento is one of the busiest in the state, Broome said. In addition, he estimates that 119,000 people drive to the Bay Area to work from their Sacramento-area homes – while 89,000 come the other way.
From his office on the 25th floor of the Wells Fargo building, Broome points his finger at an area whose upgrade could be a big boost for the city’s image. It’s near Interstate 5, where drivers move past an old, tired picture of Sacramento: the downtown railyard.
The railyard now is locally owned and will begin to be developed. The Golden 1 Center, not far from where Broome works, is already a selling point.
A vibrant downtown will help Broome recast Sacramento as a place for entrepreneurs developing robotics, medical devices or working in renewable energy.
“The people in that white building (the state Capitol) are the most aggressive creators of new energy markets,” Broome said. “If you locate here, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee can walk 10 minutes to see your breakthrough. Maybe there is a procurement relationship?”
Broome is driven in part by a youth spent in Columbus, Ohio. He remembers what happened when Rust Belt industries died in his town. His parents only had eighth-grade educations, though his late mother later got her GED. But many others weren’t so lucky.
“Where I grew up, people were worried about money all the time and whether they were gong to eat,” he said. “In Ohio, if you lost your job you lost your life.”
Broome is bringing that kind of urgency to Sacramento. His $3.8 million budget is less than he had in Phoenix, but he said he chose to come here because the region is on the verge of big change and growth.
“I do this work because you have a chance to lift communities,” he said. With the clock ticking since the start of the new fiscal year in July, Broome has set a modest goal of bringing eight new businesses to Sacramento in a year.
“We need some successes to prove to people that the narrative is changing here,” he said.
Already, his message is being heard, both with businesses contemplating coming here and with enterprises eyeing relocation. Shanghai-based Anpac Bio-Medical Science Co., a Chinese company developing cancer-screening systems, was looking at the Bay Area to expand its operations. Anpac may begin manufacturing its product in the U.S., which could result in at least 250 jobs for biomedical and technology professionals, and support staff.
Broome and Johnson have the company seriously considering Sacramento. Anpac may make an expansion decision by December.
“Barry and his team have done an excellent job promoting Sacramento as a promising and growing biotechnology hub with great vision and talent,” said Drisha Leggitt, the company’s U.S. vice president for development, who is based in Sacramento. “Our company had initially focused attention on expanding our U.S. operations from Silicon Valley; but because of Barry and Mayor Johnson, we went from that assumption to ‘Sacramento has a lot to offer.’ ”