In his 2013 State of the City speech, Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis said his vision for the future was centered on the concept of balance. Without it, he says, the city’s future is unsustainable.
“Elk Grove is a city with 159,000 people and 30,000 jobs. We have the greatest jobs-to-housing imbalance in the region, so we’re laser focused on job growth, growing our economic base and making Elk Grove more attractive for business,” he says.
With a new planning term, “employment-oriented development,” and a 1,200-acre parcel slated for commercial construction, Elk Grove is already making headway in attracting business and creating a new identity. We recently caught up with Mayor Davis to better understand his city’s strategy for economic growth.
Comstock’s: As recently as 2006, Elk Grove was considered one of the least business-friendly cities in the region. By 2011, Region Builders ranked Elk Grove the area’s most business-friendly city. How did you turn that around?
Davis: We had to change our reputation by changing the reality. We had an outside party conduct an audit, and we implemented every recommendation. We lowered fees, streamlined processes and we made everything more transparent. The purpose was to create predictability for people on the other side of the counter. If you call Elk Grove today and ask what it’s going to take to locate a business here, you’ll get a straight answer. But we also had to be very aggressive. We did press tours, invited employers in and showed them the sites, and we created economic incentives for businesses to bring their jobs here.
Comstock’s: You’ve also said this economy has been a test of wills. How has that been the case for Elk Grove?
Davis: It’s our residents who have been hurt most. We have 24,000 state employees who call Elk Grove home, and almost overnight most of them saw a huge cut in pay with furloughs, and many nonstate employees lost their jobs altogether. We’re a working-class community with most households relying on two incomes, so these have been challenging times. We have found ways to creatively engage and provide support, but in general, Elk Grove also has a tremendously giving spirit, and that’s helping make ends meet.
Comstock’s: Would you describe Elk Grove as healthy today?
Davis: From a balanced-budget perspective, yes. To have a balanced budget — while not having to lay off police officers and seeing a decrease in crimes — speaks to the kind of community we have. On the housing and jobs balance, we have a long way to go. But we have a solid vision for the future, and we’re doing the planning now to be successful when the economy decides to grow.
Comstock’s: One project that would help with jobs is the Promenade Mall, but it’s been languishing. What’s the outlook on that?
Davis: Howard Hughes Corp. took it over after General Growth Properties went bankrupt, and we’ve been pushing them to finish. We’re telling them that if they build it, the retailers will come. They’re saying that if the retailers come first, they’ll build it. That’s being too conservative. Retail follows rooftops, and we absolutely have the rooftops. If that mall was built already, it would be doing fine — it just needs to get built.
Comstock’s: How are you pushing the developer?
Davis: One strategy is to drive people to the areas near the mall site. Showing traffic volume in that area might give them the confidence to finish. This region can absolutely support a professional soccer team, and Elk Grove is the best location for that. Having 500,000 people a year visiting the property right next to the mall should convince them to finish it and be a catalyst for the whole 1,200-acre center.
Comstock’s: What’s your vision for the role of Elk Grove in the broader Sacramento region?
Davis: We represent a large portion of the region, and we want to be at the table with other cities, counties and civic organizations. We’re working hard to play a part in various regional discussions, especially economic growth. It’s important that we’re working with the rest of the region so we’re collectively implementing a larger economic development strategy that benefits all. Of course, we’ll continue to advocate that a large percentage of regional jobs should go to Elk Grove because of our imbalance.
Comstock’s: What’s the loudest message you want to send about Elk Grove?
Davis: Elk Grove is open for business. We’re actively working to help our existing businesses grow, and we want employers seeking to expand to give us a chance. There’s no city in this region as hungry as we are for economic development and job growth, and we’ll literally bend over backwards to ensure a prospective employer is successful in planting their roots here.
It’s been quite a year for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, topped in most people’s minds by his stunning, come-from-behind effort to block the Maloof family from selling and relocating the Sacramento Kings. We sat down with him recently to discuss basketball and several other topics important to the Capital Region.
For as long as I can remember, I have been preaching the doctrine of regional cooperation. And, I think we have made some important steps in that direction.