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What Are You Grateful for in 2019?

As each year comes to a close, Valley Vision staff reflect on what we have been grateful for over the past year. It’s an annual tradition, and we are excited to share our reflections with you. Thank you for continuing to support and collaborate with us!

Sonia Dueñas: “I am grateful for good health, friends and family, and to work amongst an awesome team.”

Isa Avanceña: “Grateful to work for causes I believe in and people I admire; to live in a city I love; and for every moment I get to spend with family, friends, and loved ones.”

Bill Mueller: “I’m most grateful for 15 years with the best board, staff team, and regional partners that have transformed thousands of lives for the better.”

Trish Kelly: “I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with my committed colleagues and partners who are dedicated to making the region healthier, more equitable and a great place to live; for new opportunities working in partnership with other regions and the State on inclusive growth strategies; and as always for my family.”

Yzabelle Dela Cruz: “I am thankful for opportunities to do meaningful work, a space to go home to every night, and people and pets to love!”

Ashley Spencer (Align Capital Region): “I am grateful my heath and the ability to move, challenge and strengthen my body and mind. My girlfriends who are truly like sisters I never had, Pete and the life we are building together. my sweet little nephew who makes the holiday season that much sweeter.”

Alan Lange: “Family and friends top my list. But my not-so-obvious point of gratitude goes to a competitive Sacramento Kings squad. Nothing better than being in Golden 1 Arena during the closing minutes of a close game!”

Houa Vang: “I am thankful for the abundance of love and support from my friends and family throughout my life thus far. I am also thankful for working with a team who is passionate in making the community a better place.”

Adrian Rehn: “I am grateful for all of the things I have been given by others this year – it’s hard to believe that I deserve these opportunities.”

Jaqueline Chavez (Thousand Strong Intern): “I’m grateful for my family, friends, and all the opportunities I have been blessed with this year.”

Evan Schmidt: “I feel very fortunate to live the life that I get to live: having a loving and supportive family, working on topics that I care about with smart and supportive colleagues, and living in a community that I love, alongside good friends and neighbors.”

Meg Arnold: “I’m grateful for sailboats, goldendoodles, soup, haircuts, and chili (both vegetarian and non) – and also for the confidence of the Board and staff as I move into the Interim CEO role at Valley Vision in 2020.”

Emma Koefoed: “Friends, family, and health!”

My Growth at Valley Vision

I first applied to be a Valley Vision intern through La Familia’s Thousand Strong program. Initially I was unsure because I did not fully understand what Valley Vision did and almost mistook it for an optometrist. However I found out it was a job that would not require me to be on a desk all day answering phone calls and organizing files. It was more than that, so I decided to apply and find out what Valley Vision was really about.

When I went to my interview I talked with Valley Vision staff and became so much more interested in the job after I found out what they do and what I would be doing. As a Valley Vision Intern you are not just answering phone calls and organizing files, you get to be part of the big picture. So far as a Valley Vision Intern I have been able to help with events, be part of meetings and develop my work ethic. During my first week I learned that so much actually goes into planning an event. It’s not like a party where you just get food and invite your friends over, you need to look at things like budgets so you can get a venue and food as well as all the supplies you need and scheduling everything at a time that works for most people. A lot goes on behind the scenes for projects – it’s not as simple as it seems.

After joining Valley Vision I also developed many useful skills. I have learned how to use digital systems that I do not typically use but that will be useful for my future. I am also treated like an adult and expected to act like an adult which helps develop my work ethic. Through my experiences here I have learned that no matter how stressful and annoying school is, it is teaching me skills that I will need to have for a good majority of jobs. Things like presentations and projects are preparing me for the real world because lots of jobs will require me to be comfortable giving speeches and presenting. Also, all that writing that I do will be very important for when I am writing proper emails or using good communication skills in general. Joining Valley Vision, in the beginning I did feel a bit inexperienced but ready to learn. After working here for a bit I have discovered that all the things I have learned at school are useful for my work.

Jackie feels that working at Valley Vision has taught her the value of continuing her education.

Valley Vision also administers a bunch of massive projects and creates immense changes in our region. The work that is done here is not something quantitative, it is a long process that all starts with a proposal. I have had the privilege to read some proposals as well as sit in on important meetings. Valley Vision creates the foundation for massive projects and builds them up, and as a Valley Vision employee you get to see all of that. What really makes Valley Vision so enjoyable is that there’s always something new, you aren’t always working on the same thing, but rather everyday there is something new to look forward to and you can find projects you really love and want to work on.

Although I have not worked with Valley Vision for long and still have a long ways to go, I have and will continue to learn so much and become a much more efficient person with my work. I feel that in the short amount of time that I have worked here I have been given various diverse tasks that will help develop not only one skill but multiple skills that will mold me into a better person.

Jaqueline Chavez is Valley Vision’s Thousand Strong Intern, brought to us by the City of Sacramento through a sponsorship from Verizon.

Roger Ruvolo Is Wrong About the California Economic Summit

Key points:

  • The State of California lacks a coordinated policy framework to support and invest in California’s 15-18 economic regions. This is the main deliverable of this year’s California Economic Summit.
  • New York’s Regional Councils have proven effective over the past eight years at creating jobs and economic opportunity using a bottoms-up, regionally focused strategy. Let’s borrow a page from their playbook.
  • The Summit will be what we make of it. Let’s have the courage to set aside our differences and work together.

Last week the assistant editor for the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, CA, Roger Ruvolo, wrote an opinion piece called “How Coastal Elites Pat Inlanders On the Head.”  The timing coincides with this week’s California Economic Summit in Fresno. Governor Gavin Newsom is due to give a major economic address there. 

Mr. Ruvolo contends that central planners in Sacramento are bent on fixing one-size-fits-all policies firmly across the state – that the Economic Summit is political staging for already-existing projects like High Speed Rail “that misuses gas tax money.” What really ails Inlanders the most, says Ruvolo, is a local land use pattern that discourages dense downtown economic centers, which tend to spark new business connections and deal making, knowledge sharing and product innovations. Ruvolo implies the State is not helping Inlanders here, citing the work of economist Chris Thornberg.

Ruvolo’s message could easily be dismissed as just another political rant that is all heat and no light. Yet his core message is worth paying attention to for those who attend the Summit. After all, no one could be blamed for being a bit skeptical about a State that grinds on as economic conditions have worsened for one in six Californians; a State that has been known to be disinterested in practical policies that encourage business growth and job creation for all. Could this time be different?

After 10 years of working directly with State and local policy makers, and 20 years in the private and public sectors before that, I feel that this time is different.

California currently lacks a coordinated policy framework for investing in individual regions.

One size does not fit all. Policies that activate downtown LA cannot possibly be made to work in sparsely populated Markleeville in the remote Sierras. At 40 million people and 164,000 square miles, our State is simply too big and diverse for one-size-fits-all economic policies. I believe we all have learned this lesson the hard way – look at urban and rural poverty levels currently. Thankfully, the California Economic Summit and its leaders start with this basic understanding – it’s the bedrock upon which all other conversations are being advanced. Check out the newly released Summit 2019 Playbook to see for yourself.

The much harder job facing the Newsom Administration and lawmakers will be constructing a coordinated policy framework that respects and aligns with individual regions and their economic aspirations. Depending on how you count, there are 15-18 economic regions in the State, necessitating a framework that is adaptive and scalable. In past years the State had something close to this, and made strategic investments in our workforce system which we still benefit from, for example. But nothing like a comprehensive, regions first, bottoms-up policy framework exists today. Yet this is the primary deliverable at the 2019 Economic Summit – to leave with early agreement around a regionally-focused economic framework that is driven by local leaders and supported (vs. directed) by the State. The good news is that there is practical inspiration for how the State can do this at the level we need. Take New York State, for example. 

Ten years ago, New York was falling behind economically, poverty was rising, and the State invested little in high-growth innovation industries or supporting business start-ups. So in 2011, Governor Cuomo established 10 regional councils to develop long-term strategic plans for economic growth in their region. Each Council created their own economic playbook informed by data and evidence, built from the ground up by business, education, local government, and community-based organizations – not by central planners. The State provided regional actors parameters for performance, participation, and desired outcomes. New York’s Governor and Legislature, knowing that these job growth strategies came with local buy-in and a lot of consideration, then put the weight of the State government behind them. After seven annual rounds of funding, over $5.4 billion has been awarded in performance-based grants and tax credits to these 10 regions, plus targeted investments from aligned State programs. More than 220,000 jobs have been created or retained since the program launched. Future funding rounds are focused on unmanned systems and preparing people for the future of work.So it can be done: regional groups that represent broad-based economic, social, and environmental interests can work closely with State government to achieve measurable economic results that transform lives.

The 2019 Summit is the start to a regionally-focused framework for economic growth that is driven by local leaders with State support.

Here in Sacramento, we have a six-county-wide inclusive growth strategy that’s been in the works since the Brookings Institute provided us a wake-up call about several underlying weaknesses in our local economy. Our response was built with input from business, government, education, labor, and community-based groups and championed by Valley Vision, GSEC, SACOG, and the Metro Chamber. Core features include focusing on building a current and future workforce fluent in digital skills, placemaking investments like Aggie Square and the California Mobility Center, innovation centers that can generate thousands of new jobs, and ensuring job-creating mobility infrastructure investments to move people and goods around the urban core and beyond.

Our Regional Playbook will be unveiled at the Summit. And we aren’t alone. Riverside and Fresno, as well as coastal areas like the San Francisco Bay Area, LA, and San Diego are each advancing their own regional playbooks that leverage unique local assets and economic strengths. Now what we need in 2020 is a policy framework at the State level that can unleash each region’s economic potential, using locally-built economic strategies designed by people and groups who have a big stake in their success. Like New York, some State funding to back up these regional job strategies are high on the list for Sacramento and other regions. The pay off? Greater employment, more tax revenue, reduced social service needs, and an improved quality of life for all Californians.

This week’s Summit in Fresno will be what we make of it.  We can do the easy thing, like criticizing “coastal elites” and “central planners” who we judge don’t understand our communities. Or we can do the hard thing – that is, to summon the courage to use the Summit as a place where we all set aside our differences and find agreement to act boldly together on a bottom’s up, regionally-driven, inclusive growth strategy that fosters economic opportunity for all. The choice is ours.

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive through January 31st, 2020.

A Strategic Approach to Connecting the Region

Valley Vision has led regional broadband access and deployment efforts in Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba Counties for several years now, but our involvement in a new and innovative statewide partnership is helping rural regions across California get connected, one transportation project at a time.

On October 17, the California Broadband Council (CBC) held its final meeting of 2019. Valley Vision’s Trish Kelly addressed the CBC on behalf of its Strategic Broadband Corridors (SBC) Task Force, to provide an update on the SBC Project, including its status, issues for consideration moving forward, and next steps.

The SBC Project was initiated in the Fall of 2018, at a Stakeholders Meeting on Strategic Corridors hosted by the California Department of Technology (CDT). At that meeting, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) highlighted its next steps in “Dig-Once” policy implementation, including the need to identify so-called “corridor gaps” — strategic corridors where no Internet service provider or public agency is prepared for installation of broadband infrastructure in alignment with construction of a transportation project. In response, Tom West — the Manager of the North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium — volunteered for the 16-member Regional Broadband Consortia, funded by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), to develop a list of regional priorities and a statewide map for Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission (CTC). Thus, the Strategic Broadband Corridors Project was born, with the ultimate goal of engaging the Consortia to coordinate planning and development of broadband and transportation projects with Caltrans and the CTC.

As a follow-up to the initial Fall 2018 Stakeholders Meeting, the Consortia — including Valley Vision, which manages the Connected Capital Broadband Consortium — identified the SBCs in an initial draft report. While this was a promising first step, the report was overly broad, listing almost every major transportation corridor in California. Caltrans’ Chris Schmidt suggested that the Consortia further narrow the list by choosing three “priority” corridors per region. Valley Vision agreed to help coordinate these next steps, together with its partners — the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), the California Association of Councils of Government (CalCOG), California Forward (CaFWD), and CSU Chico. The CBC, the CPUC, other state agencies, and our congressional delegation – especially Congressman Garamendi and Congresswoman Matsui – all have been consistent champions for broadband infrastructure and very engaged since Fall 2018.

A scene from the post-Broadband Council meeting at The Gualco Group, Inc. on October 17

At the October 17 CBC meeting, Kelly provided updates on the delivery to Caltrans of the updated SBC report and maps with three “priority corridors” per region; results of the stakeholder meeting that took place in September, in which the Regional Consortia, CalCOG, the state agencies, and the internet service providers discussed issues and challenges in transportation policy and funding; and coordination with the Rural Transportation Planning Agencies (RTPAs). Kelly also highlighted the need for continued conversation around issues such as the regions’ eligibility for transportation funding to be used for broadband infrastructure deployment; the adoption of “Dig Once/Joint-Use” policies and planning; permitting challenges and variations across Caltrans districts; and overall funding availability/constraints with the CPUC.

After the meeting, partners, stakeholders, and representatives from state agencies gathered at The Gualco Group, Inc. to break bread and engage in dialogue on next steps towards digital equity. Bob Gore of the Gualco Group, Inc. spoke to the group about the importance of broadband to the Agriculture and Technology Development Roundtable; Bill Higgins of CalCOG gave a brief update of their work and expressed enthusiasm in further collaborating with partners; Susan Lovenburg of CaFWD spoke about the upcoming California Economic Summit in November and affirmed support for the draft Digital Equity for All document; and Sunne Wright McPeak of CETF expressed gratitude to all those present for their work in keeping the conversation going and pushing for continued progress, and to Stephanie Tom especially of the CBC for cultivating strong broadband partnerships and policy support. The event ended at sunset, against the beautiful backdrop of the State Capitol and Downtown Sacramento. It was a fitting conclusion to an afternoon spent recognizing the progress that had been made and, more importantly, gearing up for action in 2020.

SBC Project Next Steps and Issues for Consideration:

Caltrans committed to continue the process of updating and refining the list of strategic corridors, using input from CalCOG on transportation projects, and information from the CPUC on where fiber does or does not exist. Valley Vision will continue to work with CalCOG to facilitate coordination between Consortia across the state and the Rural Transportation Planning Agencies, with the goal of incorporating broadband infrastructure projects into forthcoming transportation projects and fostering “Dig-Once” and “Joint-Use” planning. SBC Project partners will be presenting their work to the California Economic Summit on November 7-8, 2019 to drive the agenda forward.

Valley Vision is working to ensure that urban and rural residents across the Sacramento region and the state have equitable access to information.

Issues that need to be elevated with the state by stakeholders include the role of broadband to achieve innovative mobility solutions for California’s regions; the challenges that Internet service providers face in the variable permitting processes across the Caltrans district offices; and the lack of federal funding for broadband infrastructure projects; among others. Persistent dialogue around these issues is critical, because better broadband infrastructure is indispensable for greater information and access to resources; improving the efficiency of the transportation system; and helping to meet the region’s greenhouse gas emission targets, through reductions in vehicle miles traveled.

Valley Vision’s Continued Work in Broadband:

Valley Vision recognizes that, notwithstanding California’s standing as the fifth largest economy in the world, poor connectivity persists throughout the Capital Region. In addition to its leadership role in the SBC Project, Valley Vision continues to advocate for the region’s connectivity through the management of other endeavors, such as the AgTech Pilot; the School-to-Home project; its policy work with numerous regional partners; and, most recently, working with the CPUC, the Federal Communications Commission, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the challenges that the state and the Regions face concerning eligibility for federal funding programs such as the new USDA ReConnect Program.

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our Vantage Point email newsletter!

Isa Avanceña is a Valley Vision Project Associate supporting the Board of Directors, and the Innovation & Infrastructure and Leadership and Civic Engagement impact areas.

Building a Future-Ready Education System

People in our region are eager to learn new job skills – how will our region create the right opportunities?

Valley Vision, partnered with the Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State, recently had a new poll in the field – this time on education and workforce. This demographically representative poll across the six county region (Sacramento, Yolo, El Dorado, Placer, Yuba, and Sutter) surveyed residents on the future of work, the future of education, perceptions of and experiences with current education and workforce systems, and priorities for investments. We found that 58% of respondents said that they are ready to learn new skills to remain employable in the future and 57% would like more education and training. How will we, as a region, engage residents who are eager to gain skills and training to prepare for a changing world?

According to a recent article from the Brookings Institution, “Free college won’t be enough to prepare Americans for the future of work,” we will need a multi-pronged approach to be able to meet the needs of our future workforce. Pathway programs, career technical education, workplace training and more will be needed in addition to four-year college to create equitable opportunity and support a talented workforce in a changing world.

What are some of the challenges within the educational system?

Four-year college doesn’t work for everyone. Tuition costs, the high opportunity cost of not working,  high housing costs, and other expenses make college a difficult proposition for many. Here in Sacramento, students are struggling to afford housing and dropping out or, in some cases, attending school while homeless according to an October 3rd Sacramento Bee article, “The new face of California’s housing crisis: College students forced to drop out.”

In a society that is focused on a four-year degree, a lack of a college degree, including those who start a degree but don’t finish, is a challenge for many. Uncompleted degrees contribute to social disparities, limited ability to access opportunity, and economic hardship.  In California, 60% of adults aged 25-64 do not have a college degree. Of these, 33% have college credits without a degree and about half of them are people of color. These incompletions have serious financial consequences – an average 45-year-old who has started but not completed college has lost up to $450,000 in wages. (Back to College, Part One: California’s Imperative to Re-Engage Adults)

What are some approaches that can help?

The pace of technology and the changing needs of industry will require adult re-skilling, flexible entry- and exit- points, and more agile education and workplace systems for learning. Not all skills can be taught in the classroom. Utilizing a blend of on-the-job training, certificate programs, apprenticeships, academic classroom time, and other models creates an effective ecosystem of educational systems ready to educate and train all.

Career Technical Education (CTE) and the blended pathway approach: regional educational systems in K-12, community college, and four-year college have created pathway systems that creates a flexible learning environment with entry and exit points throughout a connected system. Valley Vision is supported by the Los Rios Community College District to connect these programs to employers in the region to ensure that educational systems are aligned with the industry needs – including job skills and anticipating emerging trends. The CTE and blended pathway approach needs to be amplified by increasing awareness and communicating its value.

According to Project Attain!, 62,000 people in the Sacramento region are within 15 units of degree completion.

Helping people complete their degree at any level: Degree or educational program completion is a critical need. Degree completion is needed in various settings, including high school, community college, accreditation or certification, or four-year college. According to Project Attain!, a program dedicated to reaching 60% degree attainment by 2025 in the Sacramento region, 62,000 people in our region are within 15 units of degree completion. Helping create and communicate a flexible educational environment helps get people who have left back on track for degrees across a spectrum of educational programming. Adult learning and retraining needs to be a strong focus in our workforce education ecosystem.

Leaders both at the local and national level must acknowledge that the changing nature of work will necessitate a sophisticated vision for creating an equitable and flexible talent ecosystem that supports learning across a lifetime. This will require new thinking and system changes to become more adaptable and relevant to today’s workers. In our region, people are eager and ready to learn – let’s make sure we have systems and programs in place to provide that opportunity.

Stay tuned…Valley Vision will be releasing our first installment of the Education and Workforce poll early next year – learn more about what our region has to say about the future of work, the future of our education systems, and perceptions on our current education and talent systems.

Evan Schmidt is Valley Vision’s Senior Director working on the Public Opinion Surveying initiative and projects in the Healthy Communities and 21st Century Workforce impact areas.

Departing After 15 Years

The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Dear friends,

As you may have heard, after 15 years at Valley Vision, I am handing the reins over to the next CEO. My last day will be January 31st. It’s been a true privilege to have led this organization for so many years, and to see it evolve and grow to prominence, like this region.

I believe any leader long in their position looks for signs of a “good exit.” Valley Vision today has an A-list board of directors, a top-flight staff team of 16, a strong and growing client base, money in reserves, and a long list of results – air that is getting cleaner, students who are better fed and taught, communities that are getting healthier, more mobile and connected, and people better prepared for jobs of the future. This work is never done, but it’s comforting to know Valley Vision is stronger and more resilient today than the organization I inherited as “employee number four.” I know Valley Vision’s next leader will do the same.

The work of Valley Vision is the work of inclusion and collaboration. It is about overcoming perceived and real differences between us. It is about imaginative problem solving that puts our people and our communities first. It is about bringing everyone together. This is not the stuff that lends itself to glittering news announcements. Far from it. It is instead mostly quiet, persistent, and very patient efforts carried out over many years by many people. Yet it is, without a doubt, the vital “connective tissue” that pulls us all together that makes all the rest possible.

I have the highest hopes for Valley Vision’s next leader. This organization and our region have come so far, and have so much promise ahead. As for me, I will return to the private sector February 1st as a consultant, supporting and advising business and government clients here in Sacramento and throughout California. It’s time for change. Time to build the new. My sincerest thanks to each of you for your advice, your support, and your friendship over the years. It has been a life-changing journey.

In gratitude,
Bill Mueller

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.

Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller Announces He Is Handing Over the Reins January 31

Arnold to Serve as Interim CEO while National Search is Conducted

SACRAMENTO (September 27, 2019) – Bill Mueller, the long-standing CEO of the civic leadership group Valley Vision based in Sacramento, announced that he will be leaving Valley Vision after Jan. 31, 2020, following 15 years of service. A CEO search will be conducted starting in October. Consultant Meg Arnold will serve as interim CEO starting February 1 until a permanent replacement is found.

“Bill has been a great leader for Valley Vision.  He took a young organization and helped transform it into a relevant force throughout our region and beyond,” said Scott Shapiro, Chairman of the Board and Managing Partner of Downey Brand, a leading area law firm.  “He has led the organization to have a big impact on people’s lives and it is because of his thoughtful work and the work of many others over the years that our community is poised for great things.”

“I am really proud of the work we’ve done together making our region more prosperous, just, and sustainable,” said Mueller, echoing the triple-bottom-line goal of Valley Vision. “Our community-building work is always a work in progress, but I feel Valley Vision and our partners have demonstrated now for a couple decades that when we come together as one community, especially when the pressure is on, we can accomplish amazing things.”

Asked about what he will do next, Mueller said he is launching a consulting business and is in active talks with potential partners about teaming up.

Valley Vision plays a vital role in the region as a trusted convener, independent research organization, and leadership network designed to solve complex economic, social and environmental issues that no single leader or group can address alone.  The 25-year-old organization has a CEO-level board of directors, 17 staff and consultants, and works closely with government, business, foundations, nonprofits, and community groups to achieve its nonprofit mission of making the Sacramento Region the most livable in the nation.

The Board is launching the CEO search process in the coming days and plans to hire a permanent replacement in the first half of 2020. Meg Arnold will serve in the Interim CEO role effective February 1st until the permanent replacement is named.

“These are big shoes to fill, but this is a strong organization under great volunteer leadership,” Arnold said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to assist Valley Vision until the next CEO is named early next year.”

Leaping from Visioning to Visualization

Taking a major shift in a new direction is never easy, but major shifts can be a catalyst toward progress and the pursuit of big goals. This we know from our work at Valley Vision, where our purpose is to unite the region and to build the necessary energy and scale to overcome the system-sized problems we collectively face. After five and a half years at Valley Vision, I am taking a major leap in the pursuit of big goals.

It’s been an honor to have worked at Valley Vision. Nowhere else would I have had the opportunity to help impact policy, community, and economic development priorities across such a breadth of issue areas important to the Sacramento region. I’ve worked on interesting and challenging projects related to clean air, resilience and sustainability, broadband access and adoption, workforce development, and mental health, to name a few. It’s been an honor to be part of an organization that values collaboration, diversity, and evidence-based decision making. It’s also been an honor to be part of a team of colleagues who are driven, connected, and visionary.

Tammy taking Breathe California Sacramento Region’s Clean Air Pledge in 2018.

As this chapter at Valley Vision comes to a close for me, I am excited to build new skills and explore opportunities in the new world of work. Valley Vision’s work in preparing the 21st Century Workforce has highlighted the importance of building digital skills and upskilling as the future of work continues to unfold. Now is the time for me to pivot into a new opportunity to build skills in data analytics and visualization. As a first step in this journey, I’m attending a six-month intensive bootcamp starting this month! As I begin my new journey and say farewell to colleagues and friends at Valley Vision, I’d like to thank you all for the awesome, interesting, and challenging learning experience my time here has been.  In particular, my thanks go to Trish Kelly – a Woman who Means Business, recipient of the Golden Bear lifetime achievement award for economic development, leader, mentor and friend – for making my time here both rewarding and unforgettable. I look forward to following all that Valley Vision and our partners achieve for the region in the future. I also look forward to our paths crossing again soon along the way.

Tammy Cronin was a Valley Vision Project Leader working in the 21st Century Workforce and Broadband Access and Adoption impact areas. She can be reached at

Technology for the Food and Ag Economy

Farm-to-Fork Live! is broadening across the region… [it is an] opportunity to show the ag-tech and food-tech assets that we are growing in our community.” City of Woodland Mayor Xóchitl Rodríguez

part i: introductions to ag and food technology innovation in the region

On a balmy August afternoon, Valley Vision — together with Woodland Community College and AgStart — hosted “Farm-to-Fork LIVE! Technology for the Food and Ag Economy.” The event was the Season 1 finale of Valley Vision’s Farm-to-Fork LIVE! series, which features conversations on a range of topics, with leaders who are shaping the future of Farm-to-Fork in the Capital Region.

The event kicked off at Woodland Community College with welcome remarks from Woodland Community College President, Dr. Art Pimentel, and City of Woodland Mayor Xóchitl Rodríguez.President Pimentel highlighted Yolo County as a major agricultural area for the entire region, as well as the College’s role in preparing the region’s youth for the future and ensuring that there are opportunities for them to enter the workforce once they graduate. Mayor Rodríguez likewise emphasized food and agriculture as the base of the community, with food products being one of its top priorities.

Attendees listen to innovative Ag Panel at Farm-to-Fork Live! at Woodland Community College.

Following these welcome remarks,
Gabe Youtsey, Chief Innovation Officer at the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, provided an overview of global trends in food and agriculture technology. Youtsey drew attention to the serious threats facing sustainability in agriculture — climate change, resource challenges, shrinking wilderness, a projected increase in food demand. One of the ways to address these threats, Youtsey asserted, is to pluck at the so-called “low-hanging fruit” in food and agriculture, such as making use of robotics or growing food indoors. In addition, there needs to be an agriculture innovation system in California that brings in and hosts new people; opens up the space for different disciplines to get together and understand each other; and considers how to develop the workforce and its entrepreneurs.

The focal point of Part I was a panel discussion with food and agriculture leaders Dr. Martin Ruebelt, Head of Global Consumer Research and Development at Bayer Crop Science andDr. Amit Vasavada, Chief Technology Officer of Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. Trish Kelly, Valley Vision’s Managing Director, rounded out the panel as its facilitator.

The panel began with self-introductions and overview of their respective companies – one a global life science company and one a home-grown company establishing a global presence. Bayer Crop Science harnesses cutting-edge agricultural and environmental innovations, in pursuit of “Science for a Better Life.” The company strives to deliver solutions that help maximize farm yields, secure harvests from devastating disease and pests, and keep living spaces healthy and vibrant.  In the same respect, Marrone Bio Innovations creates products from microorganisms isolated from samples collected from unique niches and habitats such as flowers, insects, soil and composts. Their proprietary technology enables them to isolate and screen naturally occurring microorganisms and plant extracts to identify those that may have novel, effective and safe pest management or plant health-promoting characteristics.

Led by Kelly, Dr. Ruebelt and Dr. Vasavada discussed the most recent technological advancements in food and agriculture; the implications of these advancements on individuals and society as well as the industry; and the region’s role as one of the world’s hubs for food and agriculture innovation.

on the market rationale for operatilng in the region.

Dr. Vasavada explained that one of the reasons Maronne continues to expand its research and development operations in the region is the education pipeline available at the University of California Davis. UC Davis, one of the leading agricultural universities, provides Maronne with interns who are a perfect fit, many of whom return to work fulltime for the company after graduation. Dr. Ruebelt echoed this sentiment, describing the region as a powerhouse for academia, industry, and farmers to come together. He pointed out that people in the region have a passion and understanding of agriculture, having either grown up immersed in it, or gone to school for it, or perhaps both.

on emerging opportunities in the food and ag industry.

Dr. Vasavada submitted that artificial intelligence (AI) and sustainability are at the forefront of food and agriculture innovation. Additionally, he reflected on how to make use of data and information obtained in the field so that farmers can benefit. Dr. Ruebelt highlighted consumers’ desire for delicious, high-quality, organic food, and developing AI and robotics to address through the roof labor cost.

on current innovation relating to food and ag products.

According to Dr. Vasavada, the focus is likely to be on non-animal based products, such as almond milk and impossible meat. For Dr. Ruebelt, innovation in food will have a lot to do with the creation of new products enabling automation, in order to cut down labor and automize the process of growing and harvesting produce. Genetics can be controlled, but the real challenge in food growth is controlling the environment, especially because of the effects of climate change.

on regional support and the growth of the industry.

Dr. Vasavada emphasized regional partners need to help bridge the conversation between the people developing technology solutions for farmers and the farmers themselves. Additionally, they should fund students and give scholarships. For Dr. Ruebelt, regional partners need to continue the great effort of educating people on the advancements in agriculture, emphasizing how it is changing and evolving to address issues such as water quality, how to store energy, and how to feed people. This includes bringing science, technology, engineering, and math into schools early on.

part i: wrap-up

In their closing statements, Drs. Vasavada and Ruebelt reiterated the need to use technology in order to minimize inputs and maximize outputs, as well as the importance of sharing ideas, recognizing that one company cannot provide everything. The incredible ecosystem of food and agriculture players and partners in the region should be utilized to the fullest extent. The panel finished with an open forum, with questions and conversations that touched on information sharing; the accessibility of technology to small farmers; urban agriculture; and addressing ethical considerations related to new technology and processes.

Part I concluded with a brief presentation by John Hodgson on the proposed Woodland Research and Technology Park — a new technology hub going through the planning process in the City of Woodland, intended to serve an array of research and technology companies interested in locating and growing near U. C. Davis, and other research and technology institutions within the Sacramento region. 

part ii: the entrepreneur spotlight and reception

It’s not just an office; it’s a family.” Anat Bujanover, Saturas USA, Inc.

Part II of the event was an opportunity for attendees to tour AgStart in Woodland and hear from entrepreneurs about their respective technologies, and the ways that AgStart and other partners have helped them expand their capabilities and the reach of their companies.

AgStart, is a non-profit business incubator that is accelerating the growth of innovative food and agriculture technology companies, and strengthening the region’s innovation ecosystem.  Its network-centric incubation model offers mentorship and connections, providing access to resources that new companies need to thrive. Through Economic Development Administration funding support, AgStart is a partner with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources in the Verde Innovation Network (The VINE), facilitating a statewide network of incubators and accelerators. AgStart Sponsors include Bayer Crop Science and HM. CLAUSE.

AgStart Program Director Leanna Sweha gave an overview of AgStart’s missionKen Hiatt, Assistant City Manager of the City of Woodland, communicated Woodland’s natural resources and culture of innovation have shaped the future of food and agriculture for over a century. He also highlighted The Food Front — a movement dedicated to keeping Woodland at the forefront of food and agricultural responsibility by cultivating existing relationships and warmly welcoming new ones. Supervisor Don Saylor, of District 2, Yolo County, elaborated on Woodland and UC Davis’ extensive network of collaborators, not just in the region, but in several other parts of the world as well. AgStart’s President John Selep introduced some of AgStart’s entrepreneurs and underscored the importance of their work in advancing food and agriculture technology in the region and around the world:

Anat Bujanover, General Manager of Saturas USA, IncSaturas, an Israeli irrigation company, is making its first USA home in Woodland at AgStart.  Eighty percent of farmers irrigate their trees without any scientifically-based information. This causes water waste, affects the quality and quantity of the fruit, and reduces profitability. Although stem water potential (SWP) is scientifically recognized as the most accurate measurement of water status in plants, famers today can only use a manual, labor-intensive procedure for SWP measurement for optimal irrigation. Saturas’ SWP sensor-based precision irrigation system provides a solution that combines accuracy, ease of use, and affordability. It involves embedding sensors in the trunk, which provides direct contact with water tissues for accurate and continuous water status measurement.

Dr. Fatma Kaplan, Chief Executive Officer of Pheronym. Pheronym is a Davis-based ag biotech start-up that relocated to the region from Florida; it develops nontoxic solutions for plant protection. It is a tenant in the UC Davis-HM. CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center. Without pesticides, there would be 50-80% crop loss globally, representing billions of dollars of financial loss to producers. Farmers have to use pesticides, but toxic chemical pesticides are being removed from the market. Nemastim™, Pheronym’s patented beneficial nematode conditioner, provides a safe and effective way to direct beneficial nematodes to attack target insects in a “pack,” resulting in a 5X insect kill rate as compared untreated nematodes. Pherocoat™, its patented seed treatment, directs plant-parasitic nematodes away from healthy roots

Daniel Cathey,Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Inputs. Daniel is a UC Davis graduate and home-grown entrepreneur. Inputs is an online agricultural marketplace which helps farmers obtain the best prices for their inputs while providing broader market reach, shorter sales cycles, reduced costs, and increased sales for retailers. Inputs addresses key pains facing growers and retailers, while bringing added value to both sides of the marketplace.

All three entrepreneurs noted the value they receive from being part of the region’s innovation ecosystem – the access to rich resources through UC Davis, AgStart, HM.CLAUSE, farmers, other companies, local jurisdictions, network partners supporting the food and ag economy, and overall community support. Attendees then had the opportunity to converse with one another while enjoying a selection of locally-sourced wines and snacks. 

Valley Vision is grateful to its partners for the opportunity to collaborate in bringing Farm-to-Fork to the forefront of community discussion and engagement. We look forward to continuing our work in this area, and we hope to see you at Season 2 of our series!  If you’d like to receive updates about future events, we invite you to subscribe to our Food and Agriculture newsletter.

Look for information on next Season’s Farm-to-Fork Live Series!

Isa Avancena is Valley Vision Project Associate supporting our Innovation & Infrastructure impact area, as well as an Executive Assistant to Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller, and Managing Director Trish Kelly.

Wildfire Preparation and Air Monitoring Efforts Heat Up

On Friday, August 30th in Sacramento, local leaders heard new eye-opening statistics about the state of California’s forests. Compared to last year’s 1.2 million acres burned in wildfires across the state, this year has been far less destructive, with less than 5% of 2018’s fire-scarred acreage burned so far in 2019. With under four months to go before 2020, there is hope that we can continue to manage wildfires at the current pace and save lives in the process.

Every three months, the Valley Vision-managed Cleaner Air Partnership gathers business leaders, agency representatives, environmental advocates, elected officials, and others to discuss pressing topics in the air quality space. On August 30th at the Sacramento Regional Builders’ Exchange (SRBX), 55 attendees had a conversation about the State of California’s wildfire preparation efforts and received an update on implementation of Community Air Protection efforts (also known as AB 617) in the South Sacramento – Florin area. A full video of the gathering can be viewed here.

The meeting kicked off with an update from Pat Shelby, a resident of the South Sacramento community where Florin Road crosses Highway 99. This community faces deep environmental inequities related to air pollution in particular, and last year was designated one of ten AB 617 implementation communities across the state. AB 617 (also known as the ‘Community Air Protection Program’) empowers residents to take ownership of air monitoring and community investments meant to alleviate environmental injustices. Currently, Pat serves as Vice Chair on the Community Steering Committee which is guiding deployment of air monitors and working toward a Community Air Monitoring Plan, in partnership with the local Sac Metro Air District, to be informed by the monitoring data. The Committee meets monthly and the public is encouraged to attend. You can find more information, including an upcoming meeting schedule on the Sac Metro Air District website.

A Steering Committee of South Sacramento – Florin residents is guiding clean air investments to improve air quality and to alleviate environmental injustices.

A panel of wildfire and forest management experts then took the stage: Supervisor Brian Veerkamp, representing the County of El Dorado; Evan Johnson, Executive Officer at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and head of the Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery; John Melvin, Staff Chief for Resource Protection & Improvement at CAL FIRE; and Matthew Reischman, Assistant Deputy Director for Resource Protection & Improvement at CAL FIRE. Matthew provided the following eye-opening wildfire statistics from January 1st to August 26th:

  • In 2018, there were 5,300 fires across the State
  • In 2019 so far, there has been a total fire count of 4,200 fires, which is shaping up to be a similar total to 2018
  • In 2018, 1.2 million acres burned statewide
  • So far 2019, only 55,000 acres have burned (27,000 acres in the state responsibility area, and 28,000 on federal land)
  • Typically, CAL FIRE keeps 95% of wildfires on state-managed land to 10 acres burned or less

Of course, this begs the question – why are we in such better shape this year compared to last? Panelists provided a number of reasons for the improvements. This year Governor Newsom and the Legislature provided CAL FIRE with additional fire suppression resources and aircraft to combat fires. Our state continuously setting records for its worst historical fire season over the past five years has resulted in a deeper awareness of catastrophic wildfire and the danger it poses. Two “wet years” following an extended drought period increase health of trees and surrounding vegetation. Deeper snow pack combined with late spring rains have shortened the fire season, and we have been lucky with a comparative lack of high winds so far this year.

But luck isn’t enough, and state agencies and localities are moving rapidly to build resilience and to prepare. Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-05-19 on January 9, 2019, which directed CAL FIRE, in consultation with other state agencies and departments, to recommend immediate, medium and long-term actions to help prevent destructive wildfires. CAL FIRE identified 35 priority fuels reduction projects across the state to be completed before the end of 2019, a map of which can be found here.

Evan Johnson’s Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery authored a final report that includes recommendations to revise existing utility liability provisions, establish a wildfire fund, and take action on cost recovery and wildfire insurance.

El Dorado County Supervisor Brian Veerkamp and a panel of forest management experts provided an overview of state and local wildfire abatement efforts.

The State of California is also in the process of pulling together a shared stewardship agreement with the federal government. CAL FIRE, the Governor’s Office, and U.S. Forest Service Region 5 officials are in talks to finalize this agreement, which will outline responsibilities of the state and the U.S. Forest Service. It will include everything from fuel break work to capacity-building and finding new uses for wood products. Workforce development and new strategies to elevate rural economies are deeply interwoven with this process.

Supervisor Veerkamp affirmed the need for homeowner education. In 2018, the State codified Public Resources Code 4291, which includes mandates for properties on forested or mountainous lands. Unfortunately, only a small minority of El Dorado County residents are aware of these laws. In line with PRC 4291, El Dorado County passed a mandatory vegetation management ordinance which crosses property lines – with vegetation required to be kept at a minimum of 100 feet from structures that will burn.

In August, the Governor announced Listos California, a new $50 Million statewide effort to build resiliency from the ground up in vulnerable communities at high risk for wildfires and other disasters, with Valley Vision serving as the support team.

John Melvin summed it up well – “the state has committed $200 Million toward wildfire preparation every year for the next five years. Can we continue to spend $200 Million annually to do this work?” In order to continue to treat overgrown forests at risk of wildfire and to ensure markets for the debris that is generated, commercialization becomes a priority and an avenue to real change. If we work together to find innovative solutions, perhaps we can make certain that this work gets done.

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our Vantage Point email newsletter!

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager managing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.

Announcing a Major Effort to Empower At-Risk Communities

It is no secret that Californians have suffered mightily at the hands of natural disasters. In one year – 2017 – over 15,625 square miles of California burned due to wildfires.  That’s roughly 10% of the land mass of the entire state. The equivalent of five Los Angeles Counties were incinerated. Far too many lost their homes, their entire communities, and their lives. 

What the Camp, Carr, Tubbs, and Woolsey Fires are still teaching all of us is that the havoc of these disasters inevitably falls heaviest upon people who are socially isolated or live in poverty, have language barriers, or other access or functional needs challenges. The difference between life and death during these disasters often comes down to having access to timely information in a way that can be practically understood and then acted upon. To engage these more vulnerable populations, the State legislature and the Governor agreed this year to set aside $50 million for not-for-profit groups embedded in these higher risk areas to reach out and engage their harder-to-reach community members with information, training, and support to help them be ready when the next disaster strikes.

Community resilience has long been part of Valley Vision’s mission. A high quality of life depends upon it. So when leaders at the state invited Valley Vision to apply for a grant to help other not-for-profits in California collaborate to save lives in times of disaster – especially people often left out – we jumped at the chance. After a competitive process, Valley Vision’s proposal was judged best, and we immediately began working closely with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and California Volunteers this summer in a support team role to start organizing and aligning the efforts of hundreds of government and nonprofit agencies from Siskiyou to San Diego Counties.

The new initiative is called “Listos (Ready) California,” and was unveiled on Tuesday, August 20th at a news conference we organized with the Governor’s office. The work will continue into 2020 and beyond and will be responsible for reaching over one million disadvantaged and socially isolated Californians so that they, their families, and their communities are better prepared. This work will happen through hundreds of local nonprofits, community foundations, and emergency preparedness groups like Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Listos, Firesafe Councils, and AmeriCorps, not to mention a bevy of government agencies.

The “Listos California” initiative kicked off with a press event on August 20th in Sacramento.

This new, high-intensity statewide project has required us to staff up further at Valley Vision, adding three new team members. We’re excited to announce that Houa Vang has joined Valley Vision as an executive assistant and project associate responsible for the many administrative and support requirements we are delivering to our nonprofit partners. We will soon formally announce our newest senior team member who joins us as Valley Vision’s Executive Director of Emergency Preparedness. She will drive the project overall with co-chairs Karen Baker and Justin Knighten and the rest of our Valley Vision / Cal OES and California Volunteers team. We expect to name a new project manager to help support Listos California in September.

We strongly agree with Governor Newsom that California is at its best when we look out for each other and focus on solutions that come from the bottom up, not the top down. Empowering not-for-profit organizations and emergency responders to work together to prepare for emergencies will make community resiliency possible for those who need it most. I’m proud to say that, once more, Valley Vision is doing our part to help others do what they do best.

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our Vantage Point email newsletter!

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.

Preventing Displacement in the Future of Work

The future of work will not arrive all at once, with a thud and a sudden robot takeover. Rather, incremental changes will gradually affect how work is organized and the mix of jobs in the economy. Of course, this is already happening. Technologies, like automation, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and more are giving rise to new occupations and phasing out old ones. McKinsey Global Institute issued a new report, The Future of Work, in July 2019 describing a nuanced picture of how different geographies, occupations, and social demographics will be impacted by these changes to work as a result of technological disruption.

  • They found that for different geographies, the size and economic engine of a community makes a huge difference in how significantly job displacement impacts that area. 25 mega-cities, or the nation’s largest cities with the most dynamic economies, like San Francisco, Chicago, or Atlanta, house 96 million people and have generated most job growth since the Great Recession. These same cities could capture 60% of US job growth through 2030.  To contrast, 54 trailing or more mid-sized cities, such as Yuba City, El Paso, Texas, or Flint, Michigan and roughly 2,000 rural counties, which collectively house 78 million people, have shrinking workforces, lower educational attainment, and higher unemployment. These cities are positioned for modest job gains, but rural counties could see a decade of flat or even negative growth.
  • Some occupations are at high risk for displacement while others will change and grow. Office support, food service, transportation and logistics, and customer service roles are at high risk of displacement in the next round of automation. At the same time, the economy will continue to create jobs, particularly roles in healthcare, STEM fields, and business services, as well as work requiring personal interaction. These changes will be uneven with new jobs appearing in some place and not others – there will be challenges in addressing these mismatches in different localities and workers will need help gaining new skills.
  • Labor market outcomes already vary across demographic groups and automation could amplify these patterns. Individuals with a high school degree or less are four times more likely to hold highly automatable jobs than those with bachelor’s degrees. Hispanic and African-American workers may be hit the hardest, with up to 12 million displaced. Nearly 15 million jobs held by young people could be lost, requiring new actions around creating career pathways for today’s students and young workers. Workers over 50 hold an additional 11.5 million at-risk jobs. Finally, middle wage jobs may shrink as growth concentrates at the high and low ends of the wage scale.
Valley Vision and SETA are partnering to prevent displacement of high-risk occupations.

Where is the Sacramento region in all of this? In the McKinsey research, metropolitan Sacramento is considered a stable city – in league with other comparable cities such as Kansas City, Fresno, Stockton, Birmingham, Alabama, Indianapolis, Indiana, and many others. These cities fall between the growth of mega-cities and the risk of trailing cities and rural areas. The Brookings Institution categorized us similarly when they did an economic assessment of our region last year and came to some similar findings about our region’s need to prepare workers for a digital future. Brookings noted that we are lagging in our attainment of digital skills. The need for digital skills is increasing significantly at all job levels, but our workers are behind in the attainment of digital skills and there are disparities across demographic groups in learning these skills, with Hispanic and African-Americans falling the furthest behind.

All signs point to the need to address these realities today. Valley Vision has been actively working to create dialogue, alignment, and action to prepare us for a digital and automated future for our regional employers, education systems, and communities. We are excited to announce a new effort to address regional Future of Work challenges. Valley Vision is working with the four Capital Region Workforce Development Boards, including the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA), Golden Sierra, Yolo County, and North Central Counties Consortium to develop our own regional analysis of high-risk occupational profiles. Much like the McKinsey report outlined, different occupations and demographic groups will be impacted differently by job displacement due to automation and other technologies. We will create a much deeper understanding of how Sacramento will be affected by these differences by defining and quantifying high-risk occupations in this region. We will be able to pinpoint the risk that our region faces when it comes to displacement and use this research to develop lay-off aversion, education, and job training strategies. This cutting-edge research will provide valuable insight and help us move past our worries about the future and move towards taking action to improve our opportunities and economy.

Valley Vision has already been active with Future of Work issues and our new project will get us to the next level. Some of the key actions we’ve taken so far:

  • We have been working with the four Capital Region Workforce Development Boards on a Future of Work initiative to understand the shape and dimensions of these changes in the Capital region since 2017. Starting with forums in Yolo, El Dorado, Yuba, and Sacramento counties, Valley Vision reviewed the preeminent research from across the country exploring these changes in the nation and used the findings to create priorities with community partners from business, education, workforce, and others.
  • In May this year, we worked in partnership with the regional Workforce Development Boards to create the Future Focus event – bringing a national futurist speaker to the region to address the coming challenges.
  • We have initiated a Digital Skills Initiative to address the gap in digital skills and ready workers for the future. Through this work we are developing strategies to prepare the workforce for the future of work as part of the regional Prosperity Strategy in partnerhship with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, and the Sacramento Metro Chamber.
  • As part of our Digital Skill focus, we are part of the Sacramento Digital Inclusion Coalition to expanding digital equity in the region.

The Future of Work will change the dimensions of our economy and impact the opportunities throughout our nation and region. In the next few months, Valley Vision will be sharing a great deal of information about how we can best prepare for this disruption. To keep up with Valley Vision’s work, subscribe to our Vantage Point email newsletter!

Evan Schmidt is Valley Vision’s Senior Director working on the Public Opinion Surveying initiative and projects in the Healthy Communities and 21st Century Workforce strategy areas.