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Workers with Disabilities, Untapped Potential

The month of October is designated Disability Employment Awareness Month to recognize the contributions of individuals with disabilities to our workforce and economy. Originally established in 1945, the first week of October was designated as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. In 1962, the word “physically” was removed and 25 years later the week was expanded to one month and renamed National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year’s theme is appropriately named “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.”

A significant milestone in the fight for disability employment rights occurred on September 27th of this year when Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 639 into law. This bill prohibits employers from paying employees with disabilities below minimum wage. It also creates a path that transitions workers with disabilities from working in a segregated setting with solely people with disabilities to fully integrated settings. With the signing of this bill, California becomes the seventh state in the nation to outlaw paying workers with disabilities a subminimum wage. The bill sets forth the conditions for a phase-out strategy by January 1, 2025, and requires the involvement and input from people with disabilities.

How Did We Get Here?

In 1939, when President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) into law, there was a fear people with disabilities, particularly returning World War I veterans, would have a disadvantage and experience high rates of unemployment if employers had to pay comparable wages. Therefore, a provision was created to allow workers with disabilities to receive lower wages. Despite the allowance of subminimum wage categories, unemployment rates for people with disabilities have consistently remained disproportionately high compared to the general public. The employment to population ratio for people with disabilities in December 2019 was 30.6, compared to 74.8 for non-disabled people. Additionally, the use of subminimum wage categories has had the unfortunate effect of limiting the potential and advancement of workers with disabilities and resulted in unfair pay compared with their non-disabled peers as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor. Working adults with disabilities are two times more likely to be living in poverty than their non-disabled peers.

WIOA Propelled the Cause

When the Workforce Investment Act was amended in 2016 to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), one of the many provisions was the creation of an Advisory Committee on increasing Competitive Integrated Employment (at least minimum wage and integrated setting) for individuals with disabilities. The work of the Committee was intended to address the pervasive unemployment and low workforce participation among individuals with significant disabilities in the United States. Another backdrop to the Committee’s work was the evolving federal disability employment policy which presumes that all individuals with disabilities are employable when opportunity and support are available.

The Time Has Come

With the signing of Senate Bill 639, Competitive Integrated Employment has the capacity to be a pathway out of poverty for thousands of individuals in our community. By and large, people with disabilities want to work. Changes in work structure, including remote work, have the ability to allow additional opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate more fully in our economy. Often, accommodations can be the barrier to gainful employment. With the increased opportunity to work from home, many individuals have the opportunity to obtain and maintain employment in an environment equipped and conducive to their health. Many studies document employees with disabilities work harder, are more productive, more loyal, and show a lower absenteeism rate than their non-disabled peers. In the current environment of large-scale job openings and a shortage of workers, casting a wider net can yield immediate benefits.

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance a future-ready workforce in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our 21st Century Workforce email newsletter!

Angelina Olweny is a Valley Vision Project Associate supporting initiatives within the 21st Century Workforce impact area.

Renee John is a Valley Vision Project Leader managing initiatives within the 21st Century Workforce impact area.

Bringing a Region Together Around Housing

California needs more housing. The cost of housing is too high and options available are too limited. These factors are threatening the prosperity of our State. There is little opposition to any of the preceding statements. But friction often emerges as the details of proposed solutions are explored. What type of housing is needed? Where should housing be built? What codes and standards should dictate development? Who should pay the direct and ancillary costs for development? Bringing jurisdictions, developers, residents, and other directly interested stakeholders to consensus on these matters can be grueling. But the payoff has generational impact on the vibrancy of a region.

Stanislaus County initiated the Housing Stanislaus effort to build a common vision for housing in Stanislaus County, and has engaged Valley Vision to facilitate the effort. Valley Vision will work with stakeholders of all backgrounds and interests to establish a shared understanding of the needs, challenges, and opportunities associated with housing in Stanislaus County. That information will be used to build a unified and actionable countywide vision and strategy framework that takes into account priorities, policies, and investments to accelerate affordable and market-rate housing in Stanislaus County.

Valley Vision’s goal is to keep all parties focused on the collective best interest. It will require sacrifices by some, creative solutions by many, and active contribution of ideas and perspectives by all. Valley Vision will be engaging the diverse stakeholders through interviews, listening sessions, surveys, and other forums to collect as much insight as possible, test ideas, and find consensus on what is needed.

All interested parties should keep an eye on the website (under construction but will be launched soon), or sign up for the Housing Stanislaus email newsletter to track progress and discover opportunities to weigh in.

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

Alan Lange is Valley Vision’s Managing Director, and project lead for Valley Vision’s Healthy Communities Impact Area.

Our Federal Policy “Asks” for a Resilient Food System

The small but mighty 2021 Food and Ag Cap-to-Cap Team is back prepping for the Metro Chamber’s annual regional advocacy program, which will be held virtually during the last week of October. As America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, the Team strives to elevate the importance of the $12 billion+ food and agriculture economic cluster, highlighting innovations and initiatives across our food system, and leveraging federal policies, programs and investments.

After the Spring 2020 Cap-to-Cap visit was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team continued to work with regional, state and federal partners on issues that have even more urgency than before – strengthening the resiliency of the regional food system, and ensuring a strong workforce. Our third big issue – broadband connectivity, access and adoption, which focused on supporting our rural economies and driving adoption of agri-food technologies – has broadened to a high overall regional priority, given all the impacts from the pandemic. We’re grateful to the Cap-to-Cap Economic Development Team for taking on this issue, linking to it as one of the region’s key infrastructure strategies.

To strengthen the region’s resilience, one Cap-to-Cap priority is to target institutional procurement policy changes that will expand local purchasing and supply chains and support local growers, food processors, distributors, and more. We are seeking increased flexibility in the USDA National School Lunch Program’s procurement regulations so local school districts can receive Cash in Lieu of Commodities – meaning school districts can use funds to purchase local goods instead of having to obtain food products from outside the state. This is a true Farm-to-School approach. As we have for many years, we continue to support the development of food system infrastructure such as food hubs, central kitchens at schools, and other facilities and equipment to increase opportunities for farm-to-institution procurement, including for hospitals. We have excellent examples of local procurement initiatives such as with Sacramento City Unified School District’s Nutrition Services and UC Davis Health system that have greatly expanded local purchasing, supporting the local economy and also delivering more than 65,000 fresh and healthy meals daily prepared by our local chefs. We also have a goal to address SNAP eligibility requirements for food insecure college students across the region.

Our other Cap-to-Cap priority is supporting the food and ag cluster’s workforce. Pre-COVID, there was already a skills gap and a pipeline gap across the economic cluster. With the average farmer being 57.5 years of years of age and the average skilled manufacturing (food processing) worker being 55 years of age, we now face a new challenge of worker retention, along with increased demand for digital and agri-tech skills across the entire industry. And of course, we want to ensure that our farmworkers and other front-line workers who kept the regional food system and supply chain going – through health crises and climate challenges, to ensure safe and healthy food for all of us – have safe working conditions and opportunities for income mobility. The Team supports increased federal investments in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, including for training, industry partnerships, and apprenticeships among others, to reskill, upskill, retain, recruit and grow the next generation of farmers, food entrepreneurs and food system workers. We also support legislation to provides certified agricultural workers with a path to help achieve earned legal status.

The Cap to Cap team is led by Honey Agency, Sacramento City Unified School District Nutrition Services, Valley Vision and Wilson Vineyards. Valley Vision is excited that this year’s program also will benefit from the update of the Food System Action Plan from 2015, prepared in partnership with the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, and the new Food System Resilience Poll, conducted in partnership with Sacramento State Institute for Social Research. These linked reports will be released in early October, giving us new insights for our food system. It will help drive the success of our Greater Sacramento Region Prosperity Strategy, in which food and agriculture is one of our three competitive advantage clusters. We’re also excited that Cap-to-Cap will provide the opportunity to work with our supportive Congressional delegation and new leaders at USDA and other agencies who hail from the region. Please join us to lend your voice and expertise to our food and ag mission!

To continue staying up to date with efforts to strengthen our regional food system, subscribe to Valley Vision’s Food for Thought email newsletter!

Trish Kelly is Valley Vision’s Managing Director, leading its food, agriculture, workforce, and broadband initiatives.

Serving Refugees – A Lesson in Collaboration

Valley Vision is creating a vibrant and prosperous economy by supporting development of a talented workforce – educated, trained and ready – for the 21st Century economy. The current wave of Afghan refugees has drawn attention to how these new arrivals are integrated into our local workforce system. A refugee is a person living outside of his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return because of persecution, or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The Sacramento region resettles a large number of refugees each year and is considered one of eight refugee impacted counties in California. Our region has begun receiving what is expected to be approximately 1,600 refugees, including Special Immigrant Visa holders, in the coming months.

A Collaborative Approach

In California, refugee programs are administered through the Refugee Programs Bureau (RPB), a division of the Department of Social Services. In a uniquely collaborative arrangement, goals are achieved by partnering with counties, workforce boards, nonprofits, school districts, faith-based, ethnic and community organizations. Each County Board of Supervisors determines which agency within the county governmental structure will be responsible for administering the refugee programs. Most often the County Welfare Department (CWD) is the designated agency. However, in Sacramento, there is a unique partnership between the CWD that oversees the delivery of public assistance, and the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA), which oversees the delivery of employment and acculturation services and overall refugee program coordination. Since 1983, SETA has been responsible for planning, coordinating and managing grant funds allocated to the county to provide refugee-specific employment services. The local resettlement agencies regularly convene forums open to refugees, service organizations and other stakeholders, in an effort to continuously collaborate and improve upon services.

The Refugee Experience

When refugees first arrive at the Sacramento International Airport, they are greeted by representatives from one of five local resettlement agencies; Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, Opening Doors Inc. Sacramento, Lao Family Community Development Inc., World Relief Sacramento and International Rescue Committee. These agencies provide welcome, resources and introduction to services to help individuals and families survive and acclimate for their first 90 days in the country. Shortly before the arrival of the refugees, the resettlement agencies arrange for their housing, which includes basic furnishings, appliances, climate-appropriate clothing, and some food typical of the refugees’ culture. After arrival, resettlement agencies help refugees start their lives in the U.S., assisting them with applying for a Social Security card, registering children in school, learning how to access shopping facilities, arranging medical appointments, and connecting them with needed social, employment and language services.

Refugee status is accompanied by employment authorization and refugees are expected to become employed quickly in order to afford the high cost of living in our region and to begin repaying their loans to travel to the U.S., which can cost thousands of dollars. These conditions make employment attainment essential to the well-being of refugee families. SETA works with a number of community based organizations, school districts and resettlement agencies to assist refugees with transitioning to employment as quickly as possible. Services provided include Vocational English as a Second Language training, employment placement services, on the job training, navigator services, social adjustment and cultural orientation. A full list of refugee employment service providers is located on SETA’s website.

Of the more than 20 million refugees of concern to the United Nations, less than 1% are resettled each year. Although historically the U.S. has resettled more refugees than other country, its resettlement program has waned recently with the most recent fiscal year having the lowest U.S. refugee limit since 1980. Each year the number accepted to the U.S. is set by the President in consultation with Congress. Additional information on this most recent wave of refugees, refugee resettlement and services is available at the following links: California’s Afghan Arrival Response, videos on the Refugee Resettlement experience, and the Sacramento Region’s local services. Creating inclusive opportunities for the regional refugee community is a critical function of our workforce system, and the collaborative efforts of these partners are critical to ensuring a high quality of life for these populations.

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance a future-ready workforce in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our 21st Century Workforce email newsletter!”

Renee John is a Valley Vision Project Leader managing initiatives within the 21st Century Workforce impact area.

Investing In Our Region

New, historic investments in regional economic recovery present our region with the opportunity to rebuild and grow, with a commitment to community and equity at the center of it. What have we done, and what must we do to take advantage?

This summer, we are seeing historic financial commitments to infrastructure, economic, environmental, and community resilience through both state and federal government channels. Just yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed a $1 trillion dollar infrastructure bill that will support expanded high speed internet access, roads, bridges, airports, Amtrak, and more. This will be the largest infusion of infrastructure investments in more than a decade and will certainly be felt within our region as those dollars get deployed across the country. In addition to infrastructure dollars, we have seen a significant commitment to recovery and community investment from both the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), starting in 2020, and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), passed in February 2021. The ARPA funds, which are just beginning to be deployed, will be used to meet pandemic response needs and rebuild a stronger, and more equitable economy as the country recovers. One example includes the Homeless Master Siting Plan that the City of Sacramento passed on Tuesday night, which will use $100 million in ARPA funds. We are seeing other ways the funds will be deployed including the Economic Development Administration’s recent release of a series of Notices of Funding Availability directed towards regional economic recovery.

In addition to these significant federal commitments, we are also seeing state investment opportunities. The state of California boasted an astonishing $75 billion budget surplus and, as a result, the 2021-22 California state budget and new recovery programs provide abundant opportunities for critical infrastructure improvements as well as needed community and regional recovery initiatives. For example, in late July, Governor Newsom made a $6 billion commitment to equitable and affordable access to broadband, providing needed dollars to close infrastructure and affordability gaps in underserved areas throughout the state. Additionally, the budget includes $3.7 billion for climate resilience, $600 million for inclusive regional economic development in a pending trailer bill, $1 billion for wildfire prevention and response, and $1 billion for workforce development statewide, to name just a few programmatic investments.

Photo Credit: City of Sacramento

What does all this mean for our region? It means that we have the opportunity for big regional initiatives and bold, ambitious, and achievable goals. Luckily, we aren’t starting from scratch. We already have a roadmap for inclusive economic growth and an approved Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy in the Prosperity Strategy. We have bodies like the Capital Region Climate Readiness Collaborative, the Cleaner Air Partnership, the Connected Capital Area Broadband Consortium, the Sacramento Coalition for Digital Inclusion and many other regional and localized collaborative bodies who are shaping priorities and ideas for regional initiatives. 

As we bring these investments into our region, we must all be committed to ensuring it is used to advance access to opportunity for all – particularly our neighborhoods and communities that have too often been overlooked. The rising tide must lift ALL boats. This is the time to build on our existing frameworks with additional inclusive, collaborative, and equity-centered planning to achieve bold, moonshot goals. What is your vision for a resilient, prosperous, equitable, and sustainable future for our region? Let’s work together to create impactful and bold initiatives that will serve our region and communities now and for generations to come. Contact us with any ideas or to stay engaged.

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

Evan Schmidt is Valley Vision’s Chief Executive Officer.

Recap: Challenges and Opportunities in Our Region’s Food System

Photo Credit: Brian Baer

Valley Vision is proud to be researching and working alongside partners to support investment in the region’s food system.

Last month, as part of the 2021 Food System Action Plan update, Valley Vision hosted a series of Listening Sessions in topical areas as an opportunity to identify funding, capacity, and resource needs in the region’s Food System. We were joined by almost 200 participants who shared their expertise in workforce development and career pathways; viability of agriculture and land preservation; environmental sustainability and climate change; health and nutrition education; healthy food access and food security; and food economy and local market development. 

Supported by the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, the 2021 Food System Action Plan (FSAP) is a regional food system investment strategy that will identify best practices, priorities, prevailing challenges, opportunities, and funding recommendations related to the region’s food system for the communities of El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, and Yolo Counties. The goal is to increase the vitality of the region’s food system and to identify financing strategies and mechanisms to support a more equitable, health-promoting and accessible food system for all residents of the Greater Sacramento Region. The report will be released this Fall, and excitingly, for the first time, the report will be paired with a Food System Resilience Poll, in partnership with the Sacramento State Institute for Social Research (ISR) and Capital Public Radio. The poll covers similar topics related to the food system and will inform the Food System Action Plan. Both of these reports are slated to be released in Fall 2021. 

Participants were provided a series of questions that were similar in each session. Participants had the opportunity to provide verbal and anonymous input.

If you weren’t able to attend the listening sessions, below is a brief summary of each session:

  • Session #1: The participants in the Careers in Food and Agriculture session discussed the manufacturing, processing, and distribution networks of the food system, illustrating the diversity of farm operations in the region. Although the session reminded us that the region has many successful Career Technical Education (CTE) programs in food and agriculture-which prepare high school students for college – challenges remain in sustaining, building, and retaining a local workforce, including the next generation of farmers and food producers. Lack of awareness of workforce opportunities and less than positive image were also challenges.
  • Session #2: Land, capital and broadband access, agriculture technology, local markets, and land preservation were constant themes in the Viability of Agriculture session. Despite land conversion being a threat to agriculture’s viability, our region is doing better than others in the state; however, access to land to start a farm or a community garden remains a challenge. Workforce is another challenge.
  • Session #3: During the Environmental Sustainability session, participants discussed local food production, food waste, edible food recovery, and the impacts climate change has had (and will have) on the food system, as is manifesting now. Although food hubs were discussed in some fashion in every session, in this session they were discussed extensively as a mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation of produce and international trade and to provide additional capacity for packaging, processing and distribution of local produce for local consumption. 
  • Session #4: The Healthy Food Access and Food Security session showcased the strong network of nonprofits in the region, especially those in the emergency food system, who work to provide access to fresh, local, and nutritious food to under-resourced communities. In spite of the increased impact on this sector due to the pandemic, participants shared that consistent and expanded funding for infrastructure, organizational capacity and growth to manage the increased levels of clients and food remains a challenge.
  • Session #5: In the Health and Nutrition session, the importance of family-based nutrition education and supply chain awareness was emphasized. A number of participants mentioned that most people are not aware of the correlation between food, health, and eating habits, and that robust educational support is needed to help promote healthy eating and nutrition literacy. 
  • Session #6: The Food Economy session focused on institutional purchases, entrepreneurship support, and local procurement partnerships. There are a significant number of small farmers in the region, but corporate producers can produce food for a lower price, making local food procurement and local economic development challenging. There are innovative efforts through schools and hospitals that can be models for increased local procurement and purchasing partnerships, support local producers and keep more dollars local. 

The listening sessions revealed what most of us already know: As America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, we have a lot of work to do but we have the infrastructure and the strong networks to do it. If we are organized as a region, we can better promote, support, and partner with one another to bring additional funding to the region. We look forward to sharing additional challenges, opportunities, and funding recommendations in the Fall when we release the 2021 Food System Action Plan.

The full recordings and presentation slides are available on Valley Vision’s website. If you weren’t able to attend the sessions and would like to provide comments for the FSAP, we have created a survey to gather additional input. Please reach out to Grace Kaufman ( should you have any questions. 

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our monthly Food and Ag newsletter!

Grace Kaufman is a Valley Vision Project Manager working in the Food and Ag and Clean Economy impact areas

A Broader Vision: Road Tripping Across America

The stunning Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

Bigger rivers. The world’s largest Viking statue. The best mac and cheese I’ve ever had. A problematic coolant leak. All of these experiences and more contributed to an amazing 41-day road trip with my partner in June and July of 2021. It also brought a new perspective to my work at Valley Vision as l celebrated my seven-year anniVVersary last week (how time flies!).

Road trips are an American tradition – aligning the freedom of the automobile with the exploration of our country’s vast open spaces, beautiful national parks and forests, and distinct urban centers. For most of us mere mortals, our lives are largely confined to the physical spaces in which we live and work. So, to access a wider vision of our world by seeing the country – and a great deal of its nooks and crannies which you can only access by car – is a deeply rewarding experience. After a year of global trauma and emotional exhaustion resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, this trip, for me, was sorely needed.

At Valley Vision, we’re focused on improving quality of life in our own Sacramento region, but we have also been at the center of important statewide projects like the Listos California Emergency Preparedness Campaign, and statewide leadership networks like the CA Stewardship Network. To learn from other regions, and to see their approaches to problem-solving firsthand, is a deeply valuable practice as we seek to improve our own region. Many of our local chambers of commerce organize ‘Study Missions’ to visit and learn from places elsewhere in the country just for this reason (one of which I was privileged to participate in back in 2018). So I took that line of thinking on the road with me and applied it as I explored other communities across the nation.

The Monument to Joe Louis, known also as “The Fist,” in downtown Detroit.

I committed to work remotely while on the road roughly half-time, continuing to move projects forward, participate in calls and meetings, and build the biweekly ‘Vantage Point’ email newsletter that people know and love. Cell coverage was sometimes more spotty than expected, accounting for time changes was a fun brain game, and coffee shops were a godsend (quite literally in one case, when a Christian coffee shop in Billings, MT allowed me to use their state-of-the-art conference room to facilitate the June Cleaner Air Partnership Luncheon on the day I was traveling from North Dakota to Yellowstone).

We spent time in a number of great places during our time on the road, and had very little “rest” time. I made it a point to explore the approaches to urbanism in each of these places, including architecture, use of space, and intangibles like the “energy” of a place. Checking out key landmarks was also a priority, such as ‘Tech Square’ in Atlanta, which Sacramento’s ‘Aggie Square’ is modeled on, or San Antonio’s famous River Walk, a world-class riverfront attraction. These small-scale ‘Study Missions’ exemplified the spirit of Valley Vision – to investigate and learn, but to have fun doing it.

We used ‘Atlas Obscura’ to find strange and kitschy points of interest along our trip, including the 110-year-old USS Sachem, a “ghost ship” rusting in a creek along the Ohio River.

We drove my trusty 2006 Honda Odyssey, which ran great until we hit Yellowstone. A coolant leak had me filling up the radiator with antifreeze and water every couple of hours for several days of touring Yellowstone, to avoid an overheated engine. I am convinced that a marmot or chipmunk chewed the water pump cable – an occurrence some high-elevation backpackers are familiar with. It was very nerve-racking to drive with an eye on the temperature gauge, and we eventually had to get it repaired in Spokane, WA before being on our way. My advice: check your fluids! And AAA, I learned the hard way, doesn’t provide roadside services in National Parks. We spent nights in the following places, either in a hostel, Airbnb, camping, or “boondocking” (sleeping in my van in a national forest or legal parking area), and the order of the list aligns with our route:

  • Las Vegas/Red Rock Canyon
  • Flagstaff/Grand Canyon
  • Santa Fe
  • San Antonio
  • New Orleans/Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge
  • Atlanta
  • Charleston
  • Charlotte
  • Asheville/Great Smoky Mountains
  • Cincinnati
  • Detroit
  • Chicago
  • Minneapolis
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)
  • Yellowstone National Park/Grand Teton National Park
  • Bigfork/Glacier National Park
  • Spokane
  • Seattle/Olympic National Park
  • Portland
  • Bend/Crater Lake National Park
There were some one-night stopovers that turned out to be surprisingly compelling places to spend time. Cincinnati in particular I didn’t expect to impress, until we stayed in the “Over-the-Rhine” neighborhood, one of the largest and most well-preserved historic districts in the U.S.

As a white male who has experienced deep privilege over the course of my life, it was important to educate myself on some of the history of the places we were passing through – particularly in the South. On our way from New Orleans to Atlanta, we made several stops at Civil Rights landmarks in places like Meridian, Mississippi and the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. The latter is home to an array of powerful statues and plaques commemorating the events of May 3rd, 1963, when top cop “Bull” Connor ordered his men to attack peaceful protesters and children with dogs, water cannons, and more. This was a horrific milestone and a turning point in the 1960s Civil Rights movement when images were published in the New York Times the following day. We also visited the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, which is located in “Sweet Auburn,” the neighborhood of Dr. King’s youth, and explored the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta, which powerfully linked Civil Rights history with the global inequities and injustices of the modern age. It was rather shocking how much of the history I had not been taught in class, and how much the framing of what I was taught differed from many of the personal accounts documented across these places of power.

Native American and Indigenous history was also a throughline of the trip, but it is deeply dismaying to see the lack of government recognition of the extermination and displacement of Native people across the country. It was particularly frustrating to see the vast majority of the items for sale in National Park gift shops being from non-Native sources. As we traveled from Detroit to Chicago, we stopped in Western Michigan to meet up with an old friend of my father who is an Elder in the Potawatomi Tribe of the Great Lakes area. We visited his Tribe’s highly successful casino and learned about how Tribes interact with the Federal government – gaining a deeper understanding of how tribal relationships with the Feds remain fraught, even today. It was a privilege to travel and learn this firsthand.

I haven’t processed the totality of my road trip experience, but it has given me a fresh layer of perspective on the work of Valley Vision and our many partners – including many of you reading this today. Your work and my work to make communities more livable is what it’s all about. We are attempting to solve the messy problems of our age, and doing it with a reverence for the past but also an excitement for what is to come. The desire to achieve this balance, while continuously learning and building trust, provides the energy and motivation to keep doing consistently challenging and sometimes thankless work to better our communities. We’ll continue to find our sweet spot as we collaborate on bold solutions that improve people’s lives – I hope you will too!

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 Leader overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership, Sacramento Neighborhoods Activating on Air Quality, and Valley Vision’s online communications. He can be reached at

Listos California: Bringing Equity to Disaster Preparedness

Year after year, California is reminded of the devastation brought by wildfires and other natural disasters. That devastation has disproportionately impacted our state’s diverse and vulnerable populations – our older adults, people with disabilities, residents with language barriers, families in poverty, and others who are isolated, whether due to cultural, geographic, or other circumstances.

Valley Vision was proud to help combat this reality while serving as the backbone organization for the Listos California emergency preparedness campaign from 2019 to 2021. It was our first statewide project with implementation taking place almost entirely outside of the greater Sacramento region, where most of Valley Vision’s work typically takes place.

Listos California is a first-of-its-kind effort to bring equity to disaster preparedness, launched by the Governor and State Legislature in 2019 and anchored at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). The campaign was designed with the sole intent of providing diverse and often overlooked populations with knowledge and tools to be better prepared if ever faced with an emergency. 

To ensure campaign messaging would effectively reach and resonate with the primary audiences, Listos California took a studied approach and developed new tools in formats and styles to appeal to the diverse audience groups.  More than 80 unique assets were developed and presented in more than 20 languages.  Perhaps even more significant than the tools developed, however, was the approach that Listos California took to reaching the targeted audiences. The state, through Cal OES and California Volunteers, awarded grants to more than 80 community-based organizations and service organizations around the state. The grantees were selected because they understood their local communities, knew which populations needed to be reached and which trusted voices would capture the attention of targeted populations most.  They also knew where to go and which mediums to use to reach the populations. It was this on-the-ground knowledge and ability to customize at the local level that fueled the success of the campaign.

The Listos California campaign partnered with artists to create culturally competent and compelling messaging (Credit: Ernesto Yerena)

In our role, Valley Vision provided guidance and technical assistance to the grantees to help amplify their respective and collective impact. We also oversaw the work of dozens of creative, strategic, and production consultants and vendors that developed curricula, content, and assets used to engage targeted audiences.  This organizational backbone role also provided us with the ultimate vantage point to observe what can be accomplished when you have the right mix of partners, all of whom are passionately committed to a cause. 

The state’s initial goal for Listos California was to engage one million diverse and vulnerable Californians with emergency preparedness information.  The campaign blew this goal out of the water by ultimately engaging nearly four million residents with actionable emergency preparedness education.  These individuals and families are now more prepared and resilient if they are ever confronted by a disaster. The Listos California Impact Report and corresponding Innovations for Equity in Disaster Resilience report share the experience and results of the campaign, and also provide a blueprint and recommendations for how similar equity-focused efforts might be constructed.  All those interested in equity – whether specific to disaster preparedness or in other areas – should scan the report and take what you can to inform future work. The strategies employed and lessons learned serve as fodder for those interested in actively engaging populations that have too frequently been overlooked.

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

Alan Lange is Valley Vision’s Director of Production, and project lead for Valley Vision’s contributions to the Listos California campaign.

Hybrid Work: The Disruption of 2021

With June 15th passing this week, marking California’s first opening since the pandemic hit, returning to the office and creating hybrid work environments is front of mind for many employers and employees. Microsoft Worklab published a recent report on hybrid work as the next big disruption – what are the big trends, how are they playing out in our region, and where do we go from here?

1. Flexible work is here to stay

Many workers got to experience remote work for the first time and don’t want to leave the positives of the experience behind. Nationwide, 70% want to retain a hybrid model although many are also clamoring for in-person time with their teams. In our region, the COVID-19 Resilience Poll tells us that 63% of workers worked full-time in office before the pandemic but 69% want a hybrid model now to avoid commutes and maintain more flexible hours.

2. Leaders need increased connection to workers

A recent study shows that business leaders are faring better than their employees throughout the pandemic with 61% saying that they are thriving while only 38% of those without decision-making authority say the same. Further, disparities in pandemic impacts are contributing to a divide – younger workers, workers of color, and women have struggled through the pandemic more intensely than others and are less likely to be in leadership roles at work.

3. High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce

Anecdotally, companies are reporting high productivity this year with commute, travel time and distractions of the office eliminated. Microsoft data shows that chats, emails, meetings, and time spent in documents have significantly increased between February 2020 and February 2021. It also shows that 54% of workers feel overworked and 39% feel exhausted. Digital overload and increased isolation are seriously taxing workers.

4. Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized

Gen-Z, or those between 18-25 years old, are feeling these effects the strongest. 60% of Gen Z are merely surviving or flat-out struggling right now. This age demographic reports struggling to get new ideas on the table, get a word in during meetings, and feel excited or engaged about work. Because they are younger, often single, early in career, and less financially stable – isolation, network connections, and meaningful engagement has been much harder during the pandemic. The COVID-19 Poll found that in our region these factors and others contributed to higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression for our younger respondents.

5. Shrinking networks are endangering innovation

The pandemic shrunk our worlds – both personally and professionally. Research shows that interactions with our close networks increased while our interactions with our more distant networks decreased. This reduces the inflow of new ideas, stifling innovation.

6. Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing

2020 was the year that home life was made visible at work – children, pets, and personal spaces came with many of us to our virtual meetings and as a result we had the opportunity to see each other as full humans in ways that never came through in routine office life. Additionally, our shared vulnerability of going through a tough time together bonded co-workers in new ways.

7. Talent is everywhere in a hybrid work world

The pandemic accelerated the notion that we can work from anywhere – and that is exactly what many workers want to do. A study from LinkedIn reports that remote job postings increased five-fold and 46% of workers say they want to move this year, anticipating continued remote work opportunities. Remote work can increase access to job opportunities for underrepresented groups – the same study found that women, Gen-Z, those without a graduate degree are more likely to apply for remote work and women, Black, and Latino workers are more likely than white men to prefer remote work. People are at inflection points in their careers with 41% noting that they’d like to leave their job within the year. In Sacramento County, 40% of jobs are remote eligible by function, as reported by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. Additionally, the trend is that people in high cost areas are moving to lower cost areas – translating to an influx of Bay area residents to our region, a spike in real estate prices and growth in our professional workforce. 

The trends are clear – we are in the midst of major disruption and transition to different ways of doing work. There are some clear recommendations for both employers and the region at large:

Empower workers to be able to work in office or remote environments: a mix of both will result in flexibility, productivity, and increased connection and collaboration. Just as employers pivoted to remote, now is the time to pivot again to safely open offices and create a new type of environment that embraces hybrid work where possible. Solutions should address technology tools, office design, home accomodation, and policy practices that maximize hybrid options.

Combat digital exhaustion starting from the top: Leaders need to understand the challenges of workers and actively promote a culture that encourages strong work/life boundaries and downtime. Organizations and companies need to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion practices and policies to address the intersectional burdens that people of color and other underrepresented groups face at work.

Rebuild our collaborative fabric: Isolation and smaller networks have marked 2020 and 2021 so far. Expanding networks, building collaborative opportunities and environments, and reacquainting with more distant networks (slowly for introverts!) will be a key activity of 2021.

Enhance employee experience to attract talent: While workers are reconsidering career, location, and the opportunity landscape, employers must cultivate a diverse, inclusive, and flexible culture to attract top talent.

By maximizing the positives of the remote work experiences that we have experienced while mitigating the isolation and digital overload of the past year, 2021 is an opportunity to build stronger, more resilient organizations and businesses to support a trhiving, healthy, and innovative workforce.

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

Evan Schmidt is Valley Vision’s Chief Executive Officer.

AgStart’s Woodland Lab Space Opens to Rush of Demand from Startups

Sacramento Business Journal – Emily Hamann (May 31, 2021) – “It’s been open for less than a week, but the Lab@AgStart already has reservations or commitments for half of its lab benches.

AgStart, a Woodland-based incubator for agriculture and food technology startups, celebrated the grand opening of its new $1.5 million facility in Downtown Woodland last Thursday.

The 4,800-square-foot space includes coworking space for startups; the Yocha Dehe Lab, a wet chemistry laboratory space with 28 benches; and the Raley’s Food Lab, a certified food facility that will allow startups to take ingredients they develop and experiment on recipes and formulas for new food products.

“Having the food facility and the wet lab under the same roof allows them to do that closed-loop development, testing and commercialization,” said John Selep, president and board chair for the AgTech Innovation Alliance.

Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, attended Lab@AgStart’s opening event. She said facilities like the Lab@AgStart are vital to solving the biggest challenges in agriculture, including drought and climate change.

“We’re becoming so dependent on science, math and engineering as part of the multidisciplinary approach to solve these really big issues,” Ross said. “So having this space to do that kind of experimentation, to prove out the concepts, and then get it ready for scaling up for commercialization is huge to our ability to not only feed people better, with better nourishment, but with a smaller environmental impact.”

Six startups have already signed commitments to move into the lab, including Pheronym, a biological pest management technology company.

“We are so happy for this lab space,” said Pheronym co-founder and CEO Fatma Kaplan. Before now, the company had been working out of the HM.Clause Life Science Innovation Center south of Davis.

“We knew we were going to grow, we knew we needed to move to another place, but there wasn’t the next step for us,” Kaplan said. “In this place, it is going to be a lot easier to expand.”

For years, the Sacramento region has faced a shortage of wet lab space, which is necessary for working with biological samples.

“There is a critical need for wet lab space in the region,” said Trish Kelly, managing director of Valley Vision, a research and advocacy nonprofit focused on the Sacramento region economy. “Companies cannot scale in the region, because the current lab space is way undersupplied.”

Existing local incubators are bursting at the seams, Kelly said. “We have companies coming to us, begging for space.”

The opening of the Lab@Agstart has doubled local wet lab capacity.

“We know we have this great concentration of assets, and this is going to give us the ability to take things to the next level,” Kelly said. “It’s a world-class piece of infrastructure.”

Beyond the equipment, Kelly said the lab will also bring startups and researchers together.

“It’s our innovation ecosystem that we’re trying to build here,” Kelly said.

Selep said there will likely still be demand for lab space after the Lab@AgStart fills up. He said AgStart is already thinking about another facility.

“Because of the demand that we’re seeing, again, half the space is spoken for, we’ve had discussions with the folks at the Woodland Research and Technology Park,” Selep said. “Our long-term vision is, if we can demonstrate that we are able to open and operate a lab here successfully, financially successfully — as a nonprofit we need to be able to cover our costs — we can start to have a conversation about a new expanded facility at the Woodland Research and Technology Park two or three years down the road.”

Skills for a Ready Future Workforce

Valley Vision has been examining Future of Work trends for many years. Our latest research was made possible through funding from the City of Sacramento CARES COVID Relief and in partnership with Burning Glass Technologies.  This analysis sought to answer the question, where should resources be targeted to provide the most effective skills acquisition and training, especially to disproportionately impacted community members, to enhance and accelerate recovery from the pandemic.

Building on previous work, Automation Risk for Jobs in the Capital Region (March 2020) report looking at the potential impacts of automation in our nine county region, recovery from the pandemic and future workforce development strategies need to be responsive to multiple factors including: 

• Meeting current and projected job needs 

• Reducing future risk of automation/obsolescence 

• Improving job quality (higher wages, benefits and career advancement opportunities) 

• Improving equity for communities of color, women and underserved groups 

The following white paper highlights the result of these efforts:

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance a future-ready workforce in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our 21st Century Workforce email newsletter!”

Renee John is a Valley Vision Project Leader managing initiatives within the 21st Century Workforce impact area.

Spring Advisories: Preparing our Regional Workforce for Success

April 2021 was a month filled with dynamic industry discussions for Valley Vision, as it hosted three Regional Industry Advisories funded by Los Rios Community College District Strong Workforce Program and in partnerships with Sierra College, Yuba Community College District, and the Capital Region workforce boards. The Advisories’ objectives included building strong relationships between employers, educators, and workforce partners that provided timely information on skills gaps and opportunities for more ongoing engagement. April’s advisories served to foster workforce pipelines into the Sacramento Region’s diverse sectors, some of which have been especially harmed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, as emphasized throughout the Advisories, the region’s workforce partners can play a strong role in meeting industry demand for a skilled workforce that helps industries pivot and thrive.

The month’s series of virtual Advisories began with Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism (RHT), an industry especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but in recovery. Keynote Speaker Mike Testa of Visit Sacramento shared an optimistic re-opening of Sacramento’s RHT industry and its benefits for the region, saying “This isn’t just about the City of Sacramento – it’s about everybody else“.  An Industry Insights Panel featuring employers followed, emphasizing how businesses pivoted with COVID-19 and their demand for a diverse RHT workforce that possesses critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and communication skills. Afterwards, Dr. Robert Eyler offered an engaging presentation on economic and policy conditions behind the RHT industry. For a more detailed look at the Advisory, take a look at our separate blog on the event here!

Mike Testa of Visit Sacramento presenting on the recovery of Sacramento’s tourism sector.

Next was a Regional Industry Advisory on Gerontology, Geriatrics and Business Services in the Field of Aging, which began with a presentation on shifting demographics and occupational data by North/Far North Center of Excellence Research Manager, Ebony Benzing. This data further informed industry insights provided by keynote speaker Leading Age California President and CEO, Jeannee Parker Martin, and the employer panel on arising issues in the field. Towards the end of the event, American River College’s Gerontology Department Chair and Career Education Program Coordinator, Laurinda Reynolds, presented on ageism and interventions that could promote careers in the field.

Ebony Benzing of Center of Excellence presenting on demographics and occupational data.

The month’s Advisories finished off with a cross-sector look at Automation & AI in Agriculture and Manufacturing. The event uniquely featured two industry panels, one focusing on current employer needs and the second focusing on the future of automation in food processing. “There’s a common theme when you walk into a processing plant… how can we keep the plant running, with limited supply of people who are available? That is the biggest challenge,” described Raf Peeters, CEO and Founder of Qcify, Inc. and one of the Advisory’s employer panelists. Employers went on to describe the need for workers who can operate this automation and AI technology, which workforce partners can assist with through course development and trainings

Industry panel featuring employers from Automation/AI in Manufacturing and Agriculture.

By the end of April, Valley Vision and its community college and workforce partners had successfully facilitated a wide range of opportunities for employer engagement to inform curriculum development. The ongoing pandemic’s toll on Sacramento Region industries has made it increasingly important for workforce pipelines to be responsive to employer and worker needs. These needs have been carefully documented by Valley Vision staff throughout its 2020-21 academic year advisories, which included data-driven presentations and employer discussions on the following sectors:

Additional information on advisories can be found via the links above. Valley Vision and the Sacramento Region’s workforce stakeholders greatly appreciate the attendees who have contributed their valuable insights into the curriculum development process.

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance a future-ready workforce in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our 21st Century Workforce email newsletter!

Jesse Flores is a Valley Vision Project Associate supporting initiatives within the 21st Century Workforce and Clean Economy impact areas.