Foon Rhee

Gunslinger aims for big job gains in Sacramento

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson greets Barry Broome, president and CEO of the new Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, at the downtown arena construction site in February.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson greets Barry Broome, president and CEO of the new Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, at the downtown arena construction site in February.

I don’t envy Barry Broome, even though he is getting paid rather handsomely.

He’s the new economic development czar in town, and the heat is on to deliver results. Elected officials and business leaders have high hopes that he will do nothing less than transform job recruiting in the Sacramento region.

At work since February as the $400,000-a-year CEO of the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, Broome plans to reveal his first-year business plan to his board on June 18. A full public unveiling of his strategy won’t happen until September, after feedback from local officials and after his just-hired top aides refine it.

While he’s keeping the details under wraps, from what he told me and what he’s said in public, it’s clear that he’s targeting several sectors to build around: life sciences, health care, food policy and water technology. He also aims to capitalize more on cutting-edge research being done at UC Davis and the workforce coming out of Sacramento State.

There are no eye-popping revelations here; many have talked about these ideas.

So Broome’s challenge is to turn them into actual job-creation engines. His goals: boost prosperity, diversify the regional economy beyond government and construction and make sure the next downturn isn’t as bad.

Broome is also focusing on quickly enhancing Sacramento’s identity among decision-makers. In his short time here, he has already concluded that the region often “sells itself short.” He’s been “pleasantly surprised” by the weather, quality of life and the number of multimillion-dollar companies that have been built here.

“It’s a lot more dynamic … and full of talent than I imagined,” he says. “The region’s brand and reputation is so understated. … This is a community whose story hasn’t been told.”

Whatever game plan he comes up with, Broome has tough crowds to win over.

He has to please the CEOs who brought him here after a nine-year run in Phoenix (including McClatchy CEO Pat Talamantes, the council’s vice chairman and one of 20 “founding investors”).

Broome has to stay in the good graces of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who championed his hiring and who has big development dreams of his own, especially for downtown.

Most of all, Broome owes his best to the 66,200 people officially unemployed in the six counties (El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba) where he’s in charge of economic development.

The timing of his arrival here means that more is expected.

It’s no longer the depths of the recession, so he can’t fall back on that excuse. The regional economy already is rebounding without his ideas and energy, so he has to add on to job growth.

He’s the first chief executive of a public-private partnership that has a bigger budget, higher profile and more political clout than the group it took over – the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization, which led job recruiting for four decades.

And he isn’t starting from scratch in drafting a job-growth plan. Two years ago, area business leaders produced a substantial Next Economy blueprint that identified some of the same economic sectors Broome is targeting. So his strategy can’t just be a rehash; it has to be more specific and more action-oriented.

Broome’s task is not easy. He and his staff are competing against their peers in California and across the country for many of the same high-paying jobs.

An important first step is that area cities don’t steal jobs from one another. So it’s no small matter that 17 economic development officials from across the region have signed what Broome calls a cooperation treaty and are meeting weekly.

He won’t predict when he’ll start announcing big wins, though he says it usually takes 12 to 18 months for a new economic development agency to get traction. He pledges to be fully transparent on his results, even if they’re not as good as hoped.

As a salesman, he’s bold. When Florida Gov. Rick Scott came to California in April to poach jobs, Broome called him out – “You spit in my face, I’m going to spit in your eye.”

Broome is also ambitious and doesn’t shy from the pressure. “I’m like a gunslinger,” he told me. “Whatever expectations people have for me, I have higher ones for myself.”

But in the Wild West of job hunting, there’s always a faster gunslinger lurking. If Broome wants to keep his high-paying job, he’ll have to back up his brash talk with success soon and sure enough.