A model for Sacramento

Jeff vonKaenel

Getting away often provides perspective. This is the motivation behind the 18th annual Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce study mission, which included 80 business and government representatives. We put the Twin Cities under a microscope for four days this September.

Minneapolis and St. Paul may seem very different from Sacramento and its neighboring cities. But they have much in common. They have similar population sizes. Both house a state capital. We are building a basketball arena, and they built a controversial billion dollar football stadium with a sizable public contribution. Purple is the color of both the Kings and the Minnesota Vikings. They had Prince and we … well, there was only one Prince.

But there are also big differences. Sacramento’s economy is dominated by state jobs. Minneapolis’ economy is dominated by its 17 homegrown Fortune 500 companies, including Target, 3M and General Mills. Minnesota has better-funded government services along with significantly higher taxes. And Minnesota is more than 80 percent white, while California is much more diverse, at 40 percent.

In deciding which cities to study, the Chamber chooses cities which face similar issues as Sacramento. One year we visited New Orleans, which, like us, has flood control problems. We’ve traveled to Seattle to see how they successfully developed their economy with a strong private-public focus. We’ve learned about Chicago’s strong mayor.

Visiting Minneapolis on the opening week of the city’s new downtown U.S. Bank Stadium, riding its recently expanded metro system and seeing how two large neighboring cities with a history of conflict are now working together provided perspective on key issues that we face here at home.

With enthusiastic fans, and more importantly with a treasure chest of Fortune 500 companies with tens of millions of dollars to spend on stadium sponsorship and company suites, the Twin Cities have built two football stadiums, two baseball stadiums and they are now planning a professional soccer stadium, all within the last 10 years. Their civic leaders believe that sports teams can help revitalize the downtown area, create energy and encourage neighboring development. Right now, the Twin Cities economies are doing very well. Hopefully Sacramento’s arena experience will mirror the Minneapolis experience and not the Detroit experience, which has not been positive.

But, far more impressive than the shining new sports shrines was the lack of people living on the streets. In extensive travels across the Twin Cities with the Chamber and then out with friends over the weekend, I did not see anyone sleeping on or living on the streets. I saw only a few panhandlers. I do not think this is an accident.

What I heard over and over again from the civic leaders of Minneapolis and St. Paul was that they have made a commitment to help people, mainly immigrants and people of color who have not yet benefited from their city’s economic prosperity. Their cities are making conscious decisions about transit, job training and social services to help those who need it the most. They believe their future will be shaped by these choices.

The Twins will not win the World Series this year. Nor is it likely that the Vikings or Timberwolves will bring home trophies. But the Twin Cities are in the running for the big prize, for being compassionate cities where all of their citizens can be winners.

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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.