The city planner that was helping to give me a tour of the town was almost apologetic when she said, “We’re probably only going to have 600 building permits issued in 2007.” Her perspective was shaped by the 4,000 permits that were issued in 2004, when building hits its peak in Elk Grove, CA (population 59,984 in 2000; 146,793 in 2006).
I laughed at the time, telling her that there were some regions that would love to have 600 building permits. However, when I reflected upon it later, I realized that there are some whole states that would love to have that many building permits in a year.
In doing some 300 tours in 44 states over the past three years, I’ve yet to see a town that is growing more rapidly than Elk Grove. There are new roads being built in anticipation of future housing, a new civic center is in the works and three hospitals are collectively investing over $500 million into new medical facilities. And, the town was only incorporated in 2000!
Frontier Communications, my host for the tour, moved their western headquarters to the town three years ago. Denise Baumbach, Sr. VP and General Manager, told me, “Our goal is to make Elk Grove our model telecom town and we’re rolling out all of our new technology here first.” Frontier is underlying the entire town with fiber and recently rolled out a massive Wi-Fi broadband network in the town.
Everything is there in Elk Grove, everything that is, except jobs. Of the 74,914 workers in the labor force (71.6% of the population compared to a 65.0% national average), it is estimated that 60,000 are driving out of town each day to work. Most are driving north to Sacramento but about 10% (6,000) are driving west to the Bay Area. San Francisco is only 100 miles away but depending upon time of day and the traffic pattern, that trip can take several hours.
And just think of the time and energy that would be saved if the jobs were located in Elk Grove. A rough calc of both is about 750 million miles, 40 million gallons of fuel and $130 million in miles/fuel and 30,000,000 hours in time wasted in commuting for its workers.
In addition to be terribly wasteful, Elk Grove is hurt by those commuters not spending time and money in the community. Those commuters aren’t as likely to volunteer, sit on school boards, coach a little league team, be a scout leader, etc. They are exhausted from their commute and hibernating for their return trip the next day.
In my talk, I applauded the efforts of Elk Grove and its citizens in setting up a new Economic Development Corporation, raising over $1.5 million in pledges to get started. To really build a community you’ve got to have people living, shopping and also working in the town. Elk Grove is on the right track.