Foon Rhee

Editorial notebook: Will Sacramento win the global economic struggle?

People much smarter than I are convinced that the nation’s metro regions are locked in a survival-of-the-fittest struggle. Like it or not, local leaders are competing to create and lure the kinds of jobs and people needed to prosper in the 21st century.

It’s an awfully Darwinian view of our world – and it’s one that many Sacramento-region business and political leaders have bought into with Next Economy, the ambitious effort to create 35,000 jobs and $5.3 billion in growth by 2017.

At the invitation of Next Economy, the authors of “The Metropolitan Revolution” visited The Bee’s editorial board last week to expound on this theory. Because the federal and state governments won’t, or can’t, solve the big problems, it’s up to cities and their regions to lead the way, said Bruce Katz, director of the metropolitan policy program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Katz told us that we’ll look back in 50 years and see that 25 metro areas “got it” and thrived. And all the others? They’re pretty much hosed, apparently.

The Sacramento region’s prospects for getting on the good list seemed to zoom up and nose-dive as Katz and co-author Jennifer Bradley talked.

Because it’s smaller than the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, Sacramento should be better able to pull together the leadership network necessary. But Sacramento doesn’t have the investment capital or the research base of California’s coastal economic giants.

Sacramento has a leg up from strong trade and cultural ties with China. But it needs to more aggressively attract Chinese investment and sell to that huge market.

With about $7.4 billion in total exports in 2012, the Sacramento region ranked 48th among metro areas. It is trying to move up that list. Last November, it was one of eight metro regions picked for the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase to help metros ramp up exports. A study is underway, with a strategic plan due in September. We’ll see how specific it is.

In part to juice up exports, Next Economy is smart to focus on agribusiness as one of six economic growth “clusters,” Katz and Bradley said.

Some of those behind Next Economy are joining forces with Fresno State, Chico State and others in a broader initiative to build on the farm economy with agricultural manufacturing and alternative biofuels. Central Valley AgPlus – a coalition stretching from Shasta County to Kern County – is applying to be one of 12 communities that will get preference for $1.3 billion in federal money. That would sure come in handy.

Katz and Bradley certainly offered some food for thought, yet they left me still wondering: Will Sacramento be one of the winning metros? Or will it be left in the dust in the global economic contest?

I try to be optimistic, so I’ll say the chances are better than 50-50. But it’s going to take a lot of commitment and cooperation. Everyone else, apparently, is trying to eat our lunch.