Eye On the Prize

Acuity with Bill Mueller

Back Q&A Apr 30, 2012 By Douglas Curley

Bill Mueller, 47, is CEO and managing partner at Valley Vision. One of four partners in the regional Next Economy initiative, Valley Vision serves as the project manager of the Capital Region’s latest economic development effort.

“Valley Vision’s mission is to provide analysis and action to improve the region’s economic posterity, social equity and environmental sustainability. The action part is what sets us apart from other like organizations.”

“We are not simply a think tank. It’s not research and analysis for the sake of research and analysis. We call ourselves an action tank, combining the best parts of research with action.”

“One of the goals of Next Economy is to increase the region’s innovation metabolism. We have an economy in which one out of every three jobs is a government job. We don’t have an entrepreneurial spirit here for a whole host of reasons. The big, hairy, audacious reason that repeatedly comes up is the lack of innovation funding. There’s an ongoing debate regarding whether there are sufficient ideas or sufficient money. Is it that we don’t have sufficient ideas to attract capital? Or is it that we don’t have sufficient capital, so the ideas leave town to find funding elsewhere? Through Next Economy, we are having that conversation with the right players, right now.”

“The region’s venture capital and seed capital ecosystem — or lack thereof — was the primary topic of discussion at our recent innovation workforce meeting. In the past, economic development conversations did not concentrate on this issue. When you look at the economic-cluster analysis, we are very underbuilt in this critical arena when compared to the Bay Area, San Diego and other competitive regions.”

“Oftentimes, an image campaign begins with the thought, ‘We need a new image.’ Then you begin what has become an endless cycle at times: What do we brand ourselves as? Are we a livable community? Do we promote agriculture? Do we say we’re world class this or that?”

“We know we don’t want to be known as the pit stop, or that we are a gas tank away from all the great amenities that Northern California has to offer. I believe the Next Economy effort will empirically identify through research what we are good at, whether it’s our civic amenities or our educational and health care prowess.”

“The region suffers from a Midwestern, ‘Aw shucks, I’m not all that great’ sort of attitude. We don’t have the swagger that lots of people have talked about. Part of the theory is that we don’t know what is really amazing and incredible here. We have to figure out how to answer that question, fill that void.”

“I don’t believe we need to raise $500,000 to hire a firm to create that elusive, incredible branding campaign. What we need is for our business and political leadership to determine a specific set of talking points that differentiates us from others and describes who we are and what our unique assets are.”

“Education and workforce development is a real strength. UC Davis is a tier-one research university that is supporting the world. Sacramento State is one of the best and largest [California State University] campuses in the state. Los Rios is the fifth largest community college system in the country. With UOP and the addition of Drexel and the for-profit institutions, we have become a center of education and knowledge creation.”

“We do need to improve our talent retention effort. We have anecdotal evidence, from places like the UC Davis Health System, that highly educated 20- and 30-somethings are getting their first jobs here. But when it comes time for the move-up positions, they are having to go elsewhere.”

“We don’t currently have a talent retention strategy. That will become a critical component of our effort to pursue venture capital and seed capital for local entrepreneurs and to advance technology transfer. That is a chain of activity that is interlinked. It can’t work without a talent retention strategy. We can’t simply spin off better workers to some other region.”

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