Study Mission 2023: A lesson in driving economy by embracing culture

Jenna Abbott Avatar

The Metro Chamber has been organizing Study Missions to another city for 23 years and, this year, 70 business and thought leaders from all corners of the six-county region traveled to Toronto, Canada for three immersive days of learning and exploration. Our delegation was comprised of a broad base of multi-county elected officials, both city and county staffers, real estate developers, investors, members of our regional utility districts, CEOs, post-secondary education professionals, healthcare leaders, and representatives from several special districts. Our region’s best and brightest arrived in Toronto ready to glean tactics to build actionable projects, ideas, and programs from our host city that will improve the lives of Sacramentans and help our region thrive.

While Study Missions often touch on common themes – healthcare, education, mixed-use development, redevelopment, and civic amenities, for instance – no two Study Missions are ever the same experience because each city’s approach to opportunity and challenge is unique. Finding common ground between Sacramento and our host city is what brings the Study Mission to life. While Toronto’s governmental structure, healthcare, education, and other systems and approaches may be very unlike our own in California, the city’s undeniable care for and focus on celebrating and promoting culture, community, people and place offered us an exceptional opportunity to look at a successful city through the lens of equity and inclusion. Aspirational cities like Toronto offer a chance for our local leaders to imagine ways to build a culture economy, bridge the equity gap, improve livability for all in our Region, and take away inspiration from a city that leans into these values as a means to drive economic success.

Over our three-day immersion, each session builds on the last. Our program participants quickly learned that, while Toronto is a big, busy city, it’s also a tightly-knit city of neighborhoods. A day spent at St. Lawrence Market and the Distillery District highlighted the enormous opportunity that exists for the Sacramento Railyards and other adaptive reuse projects currently imagined in our region. A session on the value of cultural districts for both citizens and tourism had our special district attendees making plans to amp up their marketing and events. A ‘no holds barred’ discussion about the financial impacts of a thriving Toronto sports economy had our local soccer supporters high-fiving each other with renewed fervor to build a stadium and bring an MLS team to Sacramento.

Toronto City Councillor, Shelley Carroll stressed how the role of culture in the structure of the city had evolved with ‘a forced amalgamation of the central city with the inner suburbs’ resulting in a staff structure and a big enough budget to support the program. She went on to say that aligning the budgets and goals of culture with economic development is integral to vibrancy and growth and warned our delegation that “your municipal budget is a value statement.” Perhaps most importantly, our participants learned about how Toronto Inc. was formed and leveraged as a strategic alliance to showcase Toronto for talent attraction, meetings, events, and trade.

Throughout the program, Toronto’s business and elected leaders offered example after example showcasing how they have built a culture economy, bridged equity gaps, and improved livability for all as a means to drive economic growth. Their success is clear: Despite a very high cost of living, Forbes’ 2022 list of best international cities to call home applauded Toronto for its infrastructure and unmistakable skyline. The city also scored an overall rating of 95.4 out of a possible 100, with top points in healthcare, education, and culture. Toronto was ranked one of the best cities in the world by Time Out and one of the best cities for students by the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Best Student Cities 2023.

The Metro Chamber’s mission is to serve, build, and support businesses. Now that we’re home from Toronto, the Metro Chamber intends to reconvene the Study Mission delegation and other interested parties to identify partnerships that better embrace and help prioritize investments in community, people, and place. Like Toronto, Sacramento is a diverse city. In fact, we’ve long been named one of the most diverse cities in the nation, beating out multicultural metropolises like Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Miami—according to a 2019 Sacramento Bee report. As a Chamber, a board of directors, a membership body made up of both large and small businesses, and as a region, we need to lean into creating a culture that sees building business as table stakes and remains acutely interested in supporting entrepreneurship by finding a way to get to ‘yes’.

Please contact if you wish to take part in this upcoming convening. We look forward to sharing the takeaways Toronto provides and building the plan to adapt them to make our region shine even more brightly.

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