Elk Grove Should Focus On Strengths, Heritage To Develop Bright Economic Future

September 8, 2014 | Recently, I received an out-of-town visitor at my Elk Grove residence. One of my siblings and his wife visited E...

September 8, 2014 |

Recently, I received an out-of-town visitor at my Elk Grove residence. One of my siblings and his wife visited Elk Grove after spending three days in San Francisco and three days at a Sonoma County inn.

My brother and sister-in-law, who are relatively new transplants to California, have lived in a variety of places both domestically and internationally over the span of his 35-plus year career. A good part of the international time was spent in Southwestern Germany.

Being on the French border, they developed an appreciation for the large selection of fine European wines. Now living in the San Diego area, they regularly visit the increasingly popular vineyards and wineries springing up just outside of Temecula, Calif.

After leaving the Sonoma region, they visited Lodi where they spent a full day visiting the tasting rooms of the scores of wineries and vineyards there. While they said it was not as tony as Sonoma, they nonetheless enjoyed their visit, liked the wine (they bought several bottles) and would have spent the night in Lodi, save for their trek north to Elk Grove.

As regular readers of this site know, the City of Elk Grove has stated its desire to correct the jobs to housing imbalance, and one of the ways they proposed to do this is by making Elk Grove a destination city. Correcting the imbalance by attracting large employers is a worthy goal, but can Elk Grove become a tourist destination?

With regards to attracting a large employer to town, what can Elk Grove, much less California offer?

Consider Tesla's recent decision to build its battery plant in Nevada. As much as we like California and Elk Grove, we are sadly at a serious competitive disadvantage compared to other states. Exclusive of the city throwing out several more multi-million dollar incentives, just about any jurisdiction in the state cannot overcome this.

When there are employers willing to bring new jobs to California, in many ways Elk Grove is at a competitive disadvantage. Tracy was able to land the Amazon warehouse that brought 200 more jobs mostly because its location is logistically superior to Elk Grove.

No knock on Elk Grove, but in terms of distribution and logistics, Tracy has far better access to markets than we do. Additionally, the fact that many businesses are locating in that community gives Tracy the sort of inertia that makes it hard for a place like Elk Grove to overcome.

Furthermore, we lack the cultural amenities that many large high-paying employers like to have for their executives.

So what are some possible solutions for Elk Grove?

As any good coach will advise, play to your strengths.

I was reminded of this today when I was invited to "like" a business on Facebook that I was not aware of - Hanford Ranch Winery in nearby Galt. Their website reveals a nice place for events like wedding receptions, which typically draw out-of-town visitors.

One of the city's popular taglines is Proud Heritage, Bright Future. So what is one major part of our proud heritage?


What is a very popular and growing trend that is part of Elk Grove's proud heritage? Agriculture, Specifically organic products, craft beers, wine and of course the growing farm-to-fork movement.

The history of Elk Grove is that of an agricultural community. While we cling to that heritage, our appetite for subdivisions has been insatiably eating up large swathes of property used for dairy and cattle operations.

Still, why can't Elk Grove join in this burgeoning movement of farm-to-fork and locally sourced products ranging from honey to wine and make it part of a bright future?

Let's take wine as an example.

While I cannot attest to the suitability of our soil for wine grapes, nearby Lodi, and now Galt (unincorporated Sacramento County) seemingly have suitable soil and are growing grapes. Elk Grove already has McConnell Estates so it seems it can be done.

Is it not possible to encourage small vineyards to locate here? Instead of having tasting rooms at the small vineyards that could be established in the ag-res Sheldon area, perhaps a tasting center could operate in Old Town Elk Grove like Clarksburg's Old Sugar Mill facility. Elk Grove could market itself as the home of small batch, high-quality, boutique wines.

A big obstacle obviously is getting large owners to commit their property that is arguably more valuable as a future subdivision. However, Elk Grove still does have several five-acre and larger parcels within its borders that could grow grapes for wine makers. Furthermore, if the city is so hell bent on expansion, maybe look north to the appropriately named Vineyard area and consider annexing that as a possible wine grape growing area.

To show that it can be done, below is a video from PBS's News Hour program on how the fruits of the work started 14 years ago in Walla Walla, Wash., are now paying big dividends for that formerly struggling agricultural community.

"A wine tourist spends about two-and-a-half times as much at their destination as the average tourist," Steven VansAusdle, President of Walla Walla Community College said in the report. "So, attracting tourists and keeping them here became an objective."

For all the talk about making Elk Grove a tourist destination, what reason do people have to visit and stay here from out of town other than to visit family? We have no distinguishing geographic features, nor the cultural amenities of a large metropolitan area. We do not even have a realistic time frame on when the competitive soccer fields might be available.

Spending resources in pursuit of tourists to come visit and stay in Elk Grove is like the State of Kansas touting itself as the perfect beach vacation destination. It just defies logic.    

Maybe if we had a wine region, numerous micro breweries or some other substantial specialty agricultural based industry, we could give tourists a real reason to visit here for something more than gas and fast food. Additionally, if there was some sort of thriving specialty agricultural industry in Elk Grove, there would be other businesses locating here to service them.

Obviously this would be a major undertaking requiring a long-term vision and commitment, but we still have agricultural land in the city limits, and it does play to our the agricultural heritage. Maybe Elk Grove High School's Ag and Cosumnes Oaks High School's culinary programs could be incorporated into the plan.

The point is this - short of giving away millions of dollars to relocate more state jobs in another whack-a-mole regional job stealing exercise, all the other efforts of Elk Grove to attract major employers have flopped.

I am obviously not saying the brief scenario outlined here is the end all. It is not and never will be.

What I am suggesting is that the city leaders need to have the courage to look beyond their parochial interests, which are the contributors who fund their campaigns, and formulate plans that play to Elk Grove's realistic and historic strengths. Quantify our strengths, make a long-range realistic plan with attainable goals, get buy-in from all the stakeholders, and stick to the plan.

"What we have done here is, we have done creative risk-taking. At times, we did — we were going places that no one knew where we were going," Myles Anderson Of WWCC said in the report. "And, so, I call that leadership. Leadership is going places that you have never gone before and taking people with you."

A bright future might start with our leaders looking at the ground they stand on.  

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Anonymous said...

Not a bad idea. How about continue to make Elk Grove the best place to live and raise a family? Reduce traffic, have great parks, open space, and trails. Slow down the cookie cutter homes and add some high end executive housing. Add a few cultural amenities like the arts and great local restaurants. We're not far from job centers in Rancho Cordova and Downtown Sacramento. Yes, having jobs in Elk Grove would be nice but luring employers to the city by using subsidies (like the State buildings off Laguna Springs) is doomed to fail long term. Make our city the best place to live and employers will come to us.

Sarah Johnson said...

Yes, recognize our strengths and capitalize on them. Return to our agricultural roots and embrace that. With the recent interest in farm to fork, it sounds like a natural. Stop trying to make Elk Grove something it is not.

Anonymous said...

We have many very intelligent, business minded people who live in our community and whose expertise should be taken advantage of. But IMO, the city lost the voice of the people and enbarked on the journey alone. For many different reasons I am sure, but in the end can prove very costly for us all. To make a city great it takes a whole community working tirelessly together and with openness throughout the process.

There can be no more sliding things through under the cover of darkness. By that I mean through "Consent" items on an Agenda. Just OPEN the door to the peoples house again and leave your future political journey hopes at home.

Capt. Benjamin L. Willard said...

An interesting idea. Unfortunately this idea comes about a dozen years or so to late. To bad the city didn't consider using the land from the Sacramento Sewer District for something like this instead of making it just another cookie-cutter subdivision. Our city councilmen definitely lack "the vision thing".

Connie Conley said...

I wish I could find my copy of the "Envision" four-color coffee table book the city of Elk Grove paid thousands of dollars to have printed which described the future for Elk Grove. It outlined "our" long-term vision of our city.

Does anyone have a copy that could be shared with the readership?

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