An Inside Look at Equitable Economic Development in Sacramento

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This post is part of a series on NLC’s Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship.

This week, I had the opportunity to interview Melissa Anguiano, economic development manager and Economic Development (EED) Fellow from the city of Sacramento, California.

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Melissa Anguiano, City of Sacramento

Carlos Delgado: Melissa, it’s always a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for taking the time to share with our audience the work you and the Sacramento EED team are doing to create a more equitable and inclusive Sacramento. As the economic development manager of the city, what are your main responsibilities?

Melissa Anguiano: Thank you, Carlos, for the opportunity to share our work and for inviting Sacramento to participate in the Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship program. I have been with the city since 2004 and currently as the economic development manager my top priority is to support in implementation of strategies that leverage job and business growth opportunities in Sacramento.

In this capacity I manage and coordinate revitalization activities aimed at the long-term economic success of the city and the enhancement of the city’s overall economic health; evaluate and assess the local and regional economy and economic trends; develop programs to attract new businesses to the city and to retain existing businesses; and implement efforts to leverage public investments that stimulate new investment in local businesses, job growth and development throughout Sacramento.

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CD: During our meetings with Mayor Steinberg, he has reiterated the importance of creating economic opportunities for all Sacramento residents by focusing on neighborhoods. Could you tell us why a neighborhood equitable economic development agenda is a priority for him and city council?

MA: Mayor Steinberg and our city council are committed to prioritizing and implementing strategies, programs and projects that increase and diversify economic growth capacities throughout our city. We know equitable economic development is no longer a moral obligation, but an imperative obligation. Mayor Steinberg is a tireless champion for social equity and economic prosperity for all neighborhoods.

A recent Brookings report indicates that while Sacramento has seen recovery and is relatively prosperous compared to other large metro areas, our region has been on a troubling trajectory since 2006. This is mostly because our recovery and prosperity aren’t dispersed equally. First, our region has experienced slow job growth in advanced industries and second, we exhibit educational disparities by race. Workers of color are disproportionately employed in low-tech jobs, while the majority of our millennial generation are of color.

This is a clear indication of why equitable economic development is no longer an option but required if we want to grow an economy that is competitive and prosperous for all.

The Mayor is challenging us to intentionally grow a more diverse economy and provide more opportunities for everyone – even in the context of redefining the core mission of the City. We are fully engaged in equitable economic development discussions and, as a City, headed towards actions to increase equity.

CD: Following up on intentionally growing a more diverse economy providing opportunities for everyone, during the EED Fellowship, you and the Sacramento team are focusing on developing strategies along distressed commercial corridors in order to benefit neighborhoods as a whole. Can you share a little bit more about the importance of this effort?

MA: We knew when we presented our problem statement to the EED program staff, it was going to be a huge undertaking. However, we felt it was important enough to continue with given the needs in our city. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen tremendous growth in our Central City primarily due to market interest in the urban center and the development of the new Golden 1 Center, our premier sports and entertainment venue. Yet despite this resurgence, growth, investment and opportunities have been limited across the city’s outlying neighborhoods.

Couple this with staggering economic trends, as mentioned before, and it strongly suggests the city needed to pursue a model for neighborhood-based economic and community development that recognizes the varying levels of needs and capacity within each neighborhood.

Early this year the mayor and city manager launched Project Prosper, a series of public meetings intended to obtain feedback from the public on a broad range of topics that will improve the community’s economic prosperity and empower residents to nurture healthier and more vibrant neighborhoods throughout the city. Residents were given an opportunity to share their ideas through engaging in facilitated discussions, group exercises, real-time voting options of implementation choices and written prioritization and comment forms.

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NLC’s Rose Center team visits Sacramento, California.

CD: In our 2nd technical assistance visit to Sacramento last October, you had the opportunity to receive feedback and recommendations from a visiting panel comprised of outside subject matter experts and peer fellows from other EED cities. How important is to receive outside feedback and support from Mike Higbee (Sacramento’s year-long advisor), and what progress have you made since that visit?

MA: Being able to receive feedback, both positive and negative, from a group of outside experts and peer fellows really helped us view our challenge from multiple perspectives. Our peer visit was a good reminder that we need to constantly ask for feedback from across the entire community and beyond to ensure we meet our goals and implement strategies that are sustainable. The most effective cities will acknowledge that achieving equitable economic development is a continuous process. We also recognize feedback is helpful only when it highlights both weaknesses and strengths and that is exactly what our faculty advisor Mike Higbee and peers provided.

A pivotal part of the recommendations we received was to begin with establishing a foundation for applying equity. This recommendation is particularly key as we involve our network of partners, which the panel pointed out was one of our biggest strengths. In other words, we need to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.” Mike has been great in getting us to focus on how we define and intentionally incorporate an equity lens throughout all the city’s economic development work, both conceptually and organizationally.

Since our peer visit, we established an inter-department working group to define an equitable economic development strategy and key objectives. This group has already identified efforts to apply an equity lens to the work and services their respective departments deliver to advance a comprehensive economic and community development framework for the City. An example of this was implemented in a couple of grant opportunities the city recently issued that now include equity criteria and requirements.

Again, we launched Project Prosper — an initiative, a conversation, a launchpad — for us to hear what’s important from our residents, businesses and neighborhoods. We’ve just wrapped up the series of outreach meetings and in the coming days, we’ll be putting a digital tool kit together to continue the conversation. Using feedback received in these outlets, the city — with mayor and council leadership — will start to develop equity principles that will guide us as we make investments and budget decisions, and pursue economic growth at the neighborhood level.

The panel also suggested we conduct some initial rapid prototyping. We considered the best approach to rapidly prototype neighborhood-focused strategies and decided it was best to initially start on one of the corridors of focus during our peer visit. The Franklin Boulevard Business Association was recently awarded a planning grant to develop a playbook of strategies that focus on building economic opportunity and environmental sustainability along the corridor. We decided this presented some good momentum to identify projects we could use to prototype. So far, we are exploring a mural branding project for the area, a collaborative training and recruitment center inclusive of major partners, and the opportunity to incorporate equity in public improvement projects set to occur along the corridor.

CD: How was your experience being part of the visiting panel team to Nashville? What did you learn and what were your highlights?

MA: I’ll start by stating this has been a tremendous opportunity for me to participate in, both professionally and personally. I questioned how in the world we would bring together all the information we were learning and develop recommendations that could be useful and practical. It’s fascinating to see how the concept of equity has so many facets, depending on where it’s applied. Nashville, like Sacramento, has experienced tremendous growth and interest.

However, unlike Sacramento, Nashville has seen this unprecedented growth and private investment occur throughout the city. Unfortunately, Nashville’s economic success has not translated into success for everyone. Most cities yearn for such economic success. Yet Nashville and Austin, as Delia (council member from Austin) mentioned in her interview, are good examples of why equity is so critical. True economic success, if done right, benefits everyone. Imagine how progressive we could be, if we added equity into the equation?

CD: To wrap up this interview, I want to thank you once again for all the hard work you are doing in the city and your engagement with the EED Fellowship. Any final comments about the program?

MA: I’d say my most significant achievement from the year-long fellowship will likely succeed the year fellowship. Being able to start this conversation with my colleagues and community partners has been significant, particularly in terms of awareness. Although, helping to bring forward and implement strategies that create long-lasting positive impacts and benefits to our neighborhoods will be most rewarding!

carlos_ready.jpg About the Author: Carlos E. Delgado is the Senior Associate with the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use at the National League of Cities (NLC). In this role, Carlos leads the Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship program researching city efforts in economic development, serving as the primary point of contact for senior economic development officials interested in bringing an equity lens to work within their community, and gathering information on innovative initiatives in cities and towns to promote equitable development.