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Envisioning 2023

By Evan Schmidt

At Valley Vision, we have a tradition of offering predictions for the year to come each January. However—the last few years have taught us (reminded us?) that the world just isn’t that predictable. Instead, let’s look at some of the data trends for our region and envision how these data could inform our priorities and actions this year.

Our Regional Economy

After the roller coaster ride of 2020-2022, we go into 2023 with trepidation about a possible recession, a state budget shortfall, and ongoing economic inequities. Inflation continues to run hot at about 6.5%, but the good news is that it is trending downward and unemployment is holding steady at 3.4% in the Sacramento region, lower than California as a whole at 3.9% and below pre-pandemic levels (COE North Far North Labor Market Update and News, December 2022). There are other bright spots in our regional economy—employment trends have increased across our core sectors since 2021, and we are seeing a bounceback for tourism and hospitality, with hospitality as one of our highest growth sectors in 2022. Likewise, we are seeing a healthy return from tourists – bookings for festivals and hotels are up to (and beyond) pre-pandemic levels (Comstocks January 2023). 

Despite bright spots, there remain concerning trends and economic inequities. Affordability of housing remains deeply problematic—mortgage prices are falling but mortgage rates are increasing, ultimately adding to monthly costs. Valley Vision’s recent Livability Poll shows that housing prices and availability are residents’ greatest concerns related to the quality of life. Rental costs remain high and people making $100,000 a year can afford just 10% of the homes on the market. Those who earn $50,000 annually can afford a paltry 0.3% of listings (Sac Bee, Oct 2022). Evidence of our housing affordability crisis is apparent across Sacramento with over 6,000 unhoused individuals at the July 2022 count. Finally, after surplus budgets for the State of California for the last few years, the Governor’s 2023 shows a projected $22.5 billion shortfall. This will not only impact government spending and programs in our region but will likely have an outsized impact on our employment as the state’s capital.

Workforce Trends

Valley Vision’s public opinion polling suggests that changes to how we work since the pandemic truly are here to stay. Our latest poll (The Built Environment Poll, to be released next month) shows that 56% of respondents say that their job can continue to be done remotely and the number of respondents doing 5-day-a-week commutes has dropped from 56% prior to the pandemic to 10% today. Looking into the future, about 90% of respondents imagine they will work onsite three days a week or less. 

With changing workplace expectations and skills, ongoing training and growth are key.

Over half of all respondents participating in our recent Livability Poll are interested in learning new skills—with the most popular options being short-term, weekend programs that are remote or hybrid. These views reflect some changing expectations about how people would like to gain skills and credentials. Our recent Employer Survey shows that employers are ready to participate in training—67% are interested in providing work experience, internship, and/or on-the-job training opportunities to students and the most preferred method of training for employers is remote/virtual. One reason that remote continues to be an attractive choice for workers can be the challenges around childcare. A recent study by the Los Rios Centers of Excellence and Valley Vision shows early childhood education workers face low wages, a lack of opportunity (especially for people of color), and ongoing concerns about attracting and retaining a viable workforce. 

A Changing Climate

2023 got off to a dramatic start with three weeks of atmospheric rivers and cyclone bombs, reminding us that intense weather patterns—from drought to flood—are increasing trends that we face. With January storms came the loss of life, over 1,000 downed trees in Sacramento, property damage, and power outages (Sac Bee January 2023). These events remind us that the changing climate has implications for the health and well-being of people—especially our most vulnerable communities—our economy, our ecosystems, our agricultural economy and food supply, and more. Our ability to adapt, plan for, and contribute to solutions is vital. There are many bright spots in our region as we advance solutions and action to meet needs in our changing climate, including a recent $2 million investment to Placer County to develop a biomass facility in the north Tahoe region; a recognition for Sacramento County Regional Sanitation District (RegionalSan) as a Utility of the Future for their sustainable principles and practices in water management; and SMUD’s 2030 Clean Energy Vision to eliminate 100% of greenhouse gas emissions from the energy grid by 2030. These are just a few—there is a tremendous amount of climate action moving toward a more sustainable future.

What’s Next? 

None of these challenges stand alone—the interconnections across the economy, community, and environment require holistic and inclusive solutions. That is why Valley Vision strives to bridge across sectors and networks to break down silos and advance comprehensive regional solutions that work for everyone. Whether we are activating the Capital Region Food System Action Plan, advancing a Ready Workforce, bringing together the Capital Region Coalition for Digital Equity, providing backbone support for emergency preparedness through Listos California, or creating a policy platform on behalf of the Cleaner Air Partnership—we are collaborating to create resilient, equitable, and thriving communities. 

Although we can’t control global economic trends, we can work at the regional scale to envision and build an inclusive, resilient, and growing economy.

One major initiative this year that Valley Vision is spearheading is the region’s Community Economic Resilience Fund (CERF) program—an opportunity to create a regional vision and investment plan for an inclusive and low-carbon economy. This work will build upon the Prosperity Strategy with a focus on a community-centered vision for a clean and inclusive economy. Learn more and join the conversation at our upcoming Building A Community Centered Clean Economy event on February 13th. 

Finally, it is critically important to use data as a platform for action. We are planning two to three polls this year, our first to be released later this winter in partnership with SACOG—The Built Environment Poll looking at transportation, housing, and other neighborhood and community amenities that impact our daily lives. We’ll also continue to advance research across our impact areas, including employer polling, economic research, and more. Later this year we’ll take another deep dive into livability—looking at the issues that matter most to our quality of life with our signature Livability Poll and Livability Summit—we can’t wait to share more and work on solutions with you to make our region more resilient, equitable, and prosperous for all.