Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Adrift, Sac Metro Chamber wanes as a regional force

To build its future, Sacramento needs an effective, respected and regionally minded chamber of commerce. Sadly, in recent years, the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has been drifting. Too often its leadership has picked needless fights with potential partners, missing opportunities to collaborate on behalf of a stronger business climate.

The Metro Chamber’s problems have stacked up since 2012:

• Starting that year, the Metro Chamber attempted to muscle a consolidation of several regional groups, including the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization (SACTO), the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance (SARTA) and others. While there’s clearly a need to more clearly define the roles of these groups in promoting economic development – and possibly consolidate one or more of them – the chamber’s ham-handed effort only created friction at a time when the region needed to be working together.

• Early in 2013, the chamber threw its support behind Cordova Hills, a leapfrog development project in unincorporated eastern Sacramento County that conflicts with the region’s Blueprint and isn’t in the region’s transportation plan. It’s hard to imagine that the chamber would have supported this project under former CEO Matt Mahood. He courageously led the chamber’s efforts to support both the Blueprint planning initiative and the state law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Assembly Bill 32.

• Far too often the chamber has attempted to claim credit for accomplishments that were largely the work of others. An example is the decision by Bayer CropScience to expand in West Sacramento. Sac Metro Chamber CEO Roger Niello co-wrote an Aug. 8 Op-Ed for The Sacramento Bee touting this “success story,” while failing to mention the role that SACTO played in urging Bayer CropScience to stay and grow in Yolo County. (Full disclosure: Bee Publisher Cheryl Dell is a current director of SACTO).

The issue isn’t just Niello, whom the Metro Chamber hired in late 2011. It’s a board and a staff that too often are unnecessarily antagonistic.

The decision to spend $15,000 in county money to bring pro-sprawl advocate Joel Kotkin to town – with Metro Chamber Chair Martha Lofgren later defending the decision – is a symptom of a problem that goes beyond Niello and the team he has created.

The chamber can claim some successes in recent years. It has worked to identify and elevate young business leaders in the region. It has pressed the Sacramento City Council to make its codes and ordinances less burdensome to local businesses.

Yet since Mahood left, the chamber has named three CEOs, and none of them were chosen to provide lasting leadership. Niello is expected to step down in the next year. He’s had a distinguished career as a state assemblyman and Sacramento County supervisor, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.

The choice of his successor, however, will say much on whether the Metro Chamber board wants to repeat recent mistakes or choose a leader who is more collaborative and bipartisan.

Many of this nation’s most vibrant metropolitan regions have highly effective chambers of commerce, building alliances with arts, science and cultural groups, and getting help from those groups in pursuit of business-friendly policies. Denver is one such region. Sacramento deserves the same opportunity to thrive.

With a smart decision on its next CEO, the chamber can again become the respected regional player it needs to be.