Power plays: New Sacramento economic-development group with ties to K.J. threatens chamber, other organizations

Jeff vonKaenel

What's going on in the wild and wacky world of Sacramento economic-development organizations?

First, a whole bunch of elite Sacramento-area CEOs pony up a minimum of $100,000 each to join the newly formed Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council. This exclusive club is reserved for CEOs of multimillion-dollar organizations. And Mayor Kevin Johnson.

Having raised several million dollars, the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, led by interim director Steve Oldham, will recruit new businesses to our region as well as help existing organizations stay or expand here, using both financial inducements and the personal appeal of the CEOs.

Odd. These goals sound awfully similar to the goals of the Sacramento Metro Chamber.

No sooner was this new organization formed than Sacramento Metro Chamber president Roger Niello decided to step down from his post.

Then, Sacramento Regional Technology Alliance CEO Meg Arnold also resigned. A nonprofit organization, SARTA was “founded to foster high tech entrepreneurial growth and attract investment capital to the greater Sacramento region.” Now Arnold is leaving, even though she, like Niello, does not have a replacement job lined up.

The president and CEO of another Sacramento economic-development organization, Sacramento Area Commerce & Trade Organization, Barbara Hayes, came out with a statement saying that SACTO was not threatened by this new organization. Even though it seemed to have a similar mission and to be going after the same limited funding resources, Hayes told The Sacramento Bee that she welcomed the active participation of area CEOs in business-recruitment efforts.

So, after this wild and wacky week, there will be a new chamber of commerce head, a new SARTA head, probably a much weaker SACTO, and a new organization of the region’s most powerful CEOs aligned with Mayor Johnson.

Economic development is important. It can make the difference between businesses coming to Sacramento and businesses leaving. We at SN&R experienced that firsthand when former Sacramento Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy and the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency helped us with the purchase and remodeling of a 19,000-square-foot building on Del Paso Boulevard.

But why, when there are already multiple groups working on economic development, do we need a new group?

This reminds me of two of Mayor Johnson’s other major initiatives, For Art’s Sake and Greenwise Joint Venture. Instead of working with the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, Johnson set up his own organization, which competed for resources with SMAC. Johnson was able to bring in great speakers, convey significant partners—but at the end of much effort, not much was accomplished. The same can be said for his Greenwise efforts, with a goal to make Sacramento the greenest city in the country.

I fear the same result with the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council. Control is important, but results are more important. Effective mayors know this. Our mayor may not.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.