The best economic news in Sacramento lately is that jobs are back. A recent survey by the state’s Employment Development Department shows that the six-county Sacramento metro region has rebounded, gaining back jobs it lost during the recession — 25,000 in just the last year. But, while this is fantastic news, it’s not enough. We must ask ourselves, “Is our region growing,” and more importantly, “What kind of jobs do we need?”
Two-thirds of those jobs regained, detailed in the EDD report, were in retail and hospitality. And while many of those positions make up the lifeblood of small business, they are also typically at the lower end of the wage scale. The figures show that while the region has seen an increase in service jobs, we aren’t doing much to add higher wage jobs that are typically the foundation for a strong economy. Government employment, traditionally the strongest component of the region’s economy, grew only 1 percent last year. Construction added a couple thousand jobs as housing began to creep back from the bust. But other professional fields — such as health care, education and finance — added even fewer jobs than construction and government did last year. The statistics show that we actually lost manufacturing jobs.
And there are professions missing from the Sacramento economic scene, notably in high tech, engineering and the sciences. To be sure, there are reasons to have hope, and efforts toward improvement are underway:
- Anpac Bio-Medical will relocate its headquarters to Sacramento, bringing 250 science profession positions in the next two years, with plans to hire an additional 1,000 people within 10 years.
- VSP’s Innovation Lab is developing new generations of optical products from a downtown location remote from its Rancho Cordova offices, giving the engineers and design staff freedom to create new products without distraction.
- Hacker Lab in downtown Sacramento is serving as a hub for high tech entrepreneurs to collaborate on business plans, design innovative new web applications or engineer solutions to high tech problems.
- NRC Manufacturing’s announced Elk Grove campus will bring with it 2,500 new manufacturing jobs.
- Business leaders have created the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council to promote Sacramento to companies in other regions, such as the Bay Area, who could expand or relocate here.
- Developers have incorporated space in The Railyards for an innovation center, with access to high speed data connections and floor plans that fit the business needs of high tech companies.
There are many positive aspects that we all know make the Sacramento region an attractive place to do business: two strong public universities, proximity to the Bay Area and less expensive land and housing costs — to name a few. But Sacramento needs to do a better job of marketing those assets to capture Bay Area expansions that are now going to places such as Austin and Salt Lake City.
To be sure, we appreciate getting 25,000 new jobs in the last year. However, we can always use more. Better jobs are just as important as more jobs — maybe even more important, because a service economy isn’t sustainable over the long haul.