CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: Setting an example for Sacramento

“To improve Sacramento, learn from Indianapolis” was the headline of a column in the Nov. 18 Sacramento Business Journal.

It’s always nice to get a compliment and some good PR.

Turns out a delegation of nearly a hundred Sacramentonians-or is it Sacramentites?-were here in October on a three-day study mission to learn how to become a great city. It was the seventh year in a row for them to make a learning visit to another community.

Tom Stallard, head of the mission and principal in The Rose Colored Glass Co. near Sacramento, wrote the column. From the beginning of his treatise, I could tell he wasn’t looking through them. Rose-colored glasses, that is.

He began, “When all you start with is a flat, undistinguished landscape with a single, nearly featureless river, what do you do?” Nearly featureless? The mighty White?

Things quickly improved in his 750-word piece, which concluded, “As we work to achieve our potential in this region, we should adopt some of the sense of urgency and necessity that has helped the leaders of Indianapolis achieve so much so quickly.”

Thank you very much.

It’s always interesting to see how others perceive us.

Stallard and his contingent reported some of the obvious conclusions to be drawn about how we’ve done what we’ve done, such as the benefits of Unigov, public/private partnership, adaptive reuse of real estate, amateur sports, public green space and building major sports facilities downtown instead of in the suburbs.

But then there were the less obvious. Stallard wrote, “Public service was a civic expectation [of private-sector individuals] in Indianapolis. If you do not engage somewhere, somehow, for the larger good of the community, you will not be respected.”


And the occasionally untrue: “Political differences exist in Indianapolis as they do everywhere, but in Indy, they do not get in the way of getting things done.” I guess the group left town before the police/sheriff consolidation came up for a vote.

But wait; now I’m getting picky. When you look back over the last 30 years of progress here, you would have to conclude that cooperation across party lines was a key ingredient, at least on the really big stuff.

You can find the column on the Sacramento Business Journal Web site, Find the icon for the current print edition, click on “Go to Print Edition,” scan down to “Opinion,” and click on “Another Voice.”

And, you can find an eight-page summary of the conclusions reached by the California delegation by visiting the Web site of the Sacramento Metro Chamber at Under the headline of “Hot Topics” and next to “Study Mission findings,” you can click on “Report PDF” and read the entire thing.

It’s worth it, if for nothing else than to absorb the line, “Indianapolis has grown to become one of America’s great cities … .”

When asked to list their key observations about Indianapolis, 71 percent of the delegation identified community leadership as the most important ingredient in the city’s recipe for success. At the same time, the Sacramento leaders admonished themselves for thinking “too small” and not acting boldly enough.

They praised us specifically for developing White River State Park and the Canal Walk, stating that we “reclaimed a former blighted industrial area,” and turned it into “a world-class urban park.”

They also liked our focused economic development strategy, identifying first how amateur sports drove our growth and then dovetailed with general convention and trade-show business. They also made note of our current thrust in life sciences, advanced manufacturing, and distribution and logistics.

We sometimes get caught up in the day to day of life in Indianapolis and forget how far our city has come. That’s why, every once in a while, it’s really nice to find someone from the outside who notices.

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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