What is ‘economic gardening’ and why is the City’s chief innovation officer so excited about it?

The City of Sacramento on Nov. 6 will begin  accepting applications for a new pilot program called “Economic Gardening 2.0,” which pairs local companies with funding as well as experts who assist in analyzing data and creating strategies to achieve desired outcomes.

Louis Stewart, the City’s chief innovation officer, answered a few questions about the program and explained why he’s so excited about the possibilities it could open up for local businesses.

What exactly is “economic gardening?”

Louis Stewart, Chief Innovation Officer

The term “economic gardening” was pioneered in the late-1980s as an alternative to traditional economic practices. Essentially, it focuses on growing local businesses.

Back in the ’80s, and even today, governments often spend considerable time and resources working to get large national corporations to relocate to their area as a way to improve the local economy.

On the flip side, local companies tend to have more roots in the soil, so whenever you have the chance to grow them from the inside out, you have a better shot at success.

Why is the City’s program version 2.0?

We call the program “Economic Gardening 2.0” because in this two-year pilot, we’re adapting a national model and making it fit Sacramento.

Working with the National Center for Economic Gardening, area business chambers and California State University, Sacramento, our innovation team is hoping to build on the idea of economic gardening and take it one step further by offering one-to-one matching funds up to $50,000 as in incentive to participate in the program.

That’s huge because it gives us a chance to retain and expand business in the area, rather than solely attracting it from the outside. It is crucial that we explore innovative ways to support our local economy.

How will economic gardening help local business in Sacramento?

After a successful round of innovation grants to startups in Sacramento, our Urban Technology Lab is turning its attention to existing business that are ready to grow.

To help local companies do that — and create new jobs — our program connects businesses with resources and information usually only available to national firms. That means they’re assigned an expert who takes data and company strategies

What type of business qualifies and how do they apply?

The program applies to what’s called a “second-stage” business, those who have 5 to 99 employees and $1 million to $50 million in revenues. They must also be transparent about their policies and practices, though information is kept private.

Businesses can apply for the program Nov. 6 through Dec. 23.

Why are you so excited about this program?

We can’t achieve what’s possible without pushing the boundaries here and there, but sometimes companies need a little wiggle room and some expert guidance; that’s what Economic Gardening 2.0 does.

I’ve been re-energized so many times by businesses here in Sacramento, and I think it’s fantastic that we can truly support them in a myriad of ways.

As the City’s Chief Innovation Officer, Louis Stewart’s job is to ask “what if?” and apply that to problem solving in the real world. With a diverse portfolio of projects, he and his team take the status quo and applies new technology, strategy and policy to make City government more efficient, inclusive and better serve its community.