Is it Time for a Technological Shift?

Letter from the publisher

Back Commentary Oct 1, 2015 By Winnie Comstock-Carlson

It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down to pen a publisher’s letter, but the abrupt September shutdown of the Sacramento Area Technology Alliance was such a jaw-dropper that I couldn’t resist weighing in. Who knows, now that the fire has been lit, perhaps you will read more from me in the coming months.

Sacramento is in the midst of an unprecedented time of rebirth. As a half-billion dollar arena begins to transform the downtown core, a serious rehab for the rail yards comes into focus, and even economic pessimists see the region’s future as promising, SARTA’s closure is unfortunate — to say the least. However, I’ve always told my team at Comstock’s that when a door closes, a window opens. It is vital that stakeholders throughout the region ensure that SARTA’s mission to foster innovation in the Capital Region is not abandoned.

Howard Bubb is a member of our editorial board and SARTA’s recently acquired and highly regarded CEO. He still insists the nonprofit’s goal to help attract and nurture technology startups is viable. As a long-time supporter of SARTA, I wholeheartedly agree. But the organization’s closure proves that opinion, sadly, is not universal.

Despite having aided hundreds of new and potential startups each year, SARTA was underfunded for the last few years and began operating in the red after the departure of founding CEO Meg Arnold (also one of our board members) in 2013. One of the nonprofit sector’s hardest lessons — if there’s no money, there’s no mission — rings true. Perhaps, in the eyes of local corporate donors, SARTA spent too much time and money on the tech-related sectors that are already well-established here, like medicine, and allocated too many resources to seminars and celebrations and not enough to scouting out the next high-tech home-run hitters.

Major players in the regional economy have gone their own way, and last year we saw the formation of the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council. Charter member VSP got into the incubator game, sponsoring The Hacker Lab even as it invested heavily in its own Sacramento-based tech lab, The Shop. And GSAC as a public-private partnership is challenging the 6-county region with a lofty goal: Make our region the “best and easiest” place to do business in California. It’s an admirable mission, but it’s also imperative that we not lose track of the smaller, lesser-known entrepreneurs who either already live or may want to launch in our region.

It remains to be seen if GSAC, the Metro Chamber or the market itself will fill the void that SARTA’s shut-down has opened. While GSAC and its enigmatic new leader Barry Broome may bring more established firms (and more jobs) to the region, Sacramento isn’t big enough or rich enough to ignore the potential of smart, hungry tech innovators. Hewlett Packard began in a suburban garage. Facebook was born in a college dorm. Even mighty Walmart began as just a sleepy Arkansas 5 & 10.

A forward-thinker like Bubb is invaluable to our region. Surely his vision has a place within our regional economy. I hope our business investors can find a way to retain his talent, and suss out how to allocate finances in a way that draws big names but doesn’t leave those waiting to be discovered in the dark. Most importantly, we need to pick up or even expand upon SARTA’s 15-year mission.

There’s nothing wrong with going after the big fish, as long as you keep stocking the pond with the little ones that just may grow.