Meet The New Bosses


SACTO does it again: bringing top-notch businesses to the Sacramento region.

The folks at the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization don’t want much. A mere 16,500 new jobs in the region, generating about $18 billion in annual output, would suit them just fine. As long as it happens within the next four years.

That was the goal of a program SACTO launched this past year as part of its ongoing mission to attract new business and new jobs to the area. The program came about in recognition of how Sacramento has evolved and grown since SACTO opened its doors 32 years ago. Sacramento, once little more than a government town with an economy dependent on the public sector, is now a highly diversified marketplace that fuels a vibrant and healthy economic outlook.

“Sacramento is emerging as a top-tier city in the nation in terms of size, population and economy,” says Bob Burris, SACTO’s deputy director. “As a result, we see our function changing a little. We’re going after those companies that we see as being able to have the greatest economic impact on the region.”

Specifically, SACTO now is targeting what it calls “high-value” companies—those that would have a significant economic impact by offering higher wages and triggering greater investment in the region. Of the 16,500 new jobs SACTO is working to bring here, about 60 percent are expected to be high-value positions.
High tech, education and energy are the leading examples of the kinds of high-value companies and jobs SACTO has brought to the area or helped expand in the past year. California’s emergence as a leader in promoting clean energy has been a tremendous boon for Sacramento, potentially positioning it as a major hub for clean-energy technology and research.

Likewise, as Sacramento’s economy has diversified throughout the past decade, there has been a greater need for training and educational services, perhaps explaining why four trade schools have made Sacramento home in the past 10 months.

Together with other companies servicing some of Sacramento’s strongest industries, including construction, SACTO can take credit for bringing 12 new companies and 800 new jobs to the area, with an estimated economic impact of $261 million, in just the past year.

With new companies come new faces, underscoring that, at the end of the day, the businesses that drive the area’s economy are led by dedicated people who see more than an economic opportunity here. They see the chance to become part of what they describe as a very special community. They see the potential for achieving a fantastic quality of life for themselves and their employees. They see a very bright future.

Here’s a look at just a few of the new bosses in town and what their companies do. Want more? SACTO is hosting its own version of a debutante ball on March 6 when it presents its Salute to New Industry luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento. For tickets and information, visit SACTO’s website:

Kitchen Academy

When Chris Becker wanted to open a school of culinary arts, Sacramento was high on his list of possible locations.

“I’ve traveled to Sacramento frequently over the past 25 years and every time I fly in, I think, ‘What a great market for a school,’” says Becker, a culinary force of nature.

Kitchen Academy’s new Sacramento campus, which opened in late 2006 in Natomas near Arco Arena, is not Becker’s first culinary-school venture. After working as a professional chef for 20 years, he founded the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena in 1994 and developed it into one of the largest and most recognized culinary schools in the nation. Then, in 2003, he decided to try something different.

“I wanted to create a culinary program that was more financially within reach of most people and one that could get them started on their culinary careers sooner,” he says.

That vision became Kitchen Academy, which opened its first campus in Hollywood in 2005. Then, as now, the program somewhat revolutionized culinary education. Instead of enrolling in a traditional two-year program that can cost as much as $40,000, Kitchen Academy students can earn their culinary arts degree in 30 weeks. Tuition is $18,500 and students can take advantage of flexible teaching schedules. The new 20,000-square-foot facility can accommodate up to 400 students and has 20 instructors.

Becker says he’ll continue to live in Southern California but plans to take a very hands-on role in the Sacramento campus’s operations; he plans to be a visible presence in the community. He’s also importing some of his Hollywood staff to help run the new school.

Chief among the imported talent is Sacramento campus director Jennifer Farris, who started working with
Becker 10 years ago and says she’s already in love with her new hometown.

“It’s a truly different environment here; people are actually nice. They say hello and they’re interested in you, versus Hollywood where it’s so fast-paced and busy, the general environment is ‘get outta my way,’” she says.

Farris looks forward to making Kitchen Academy an active member of the community, much as she did in Hollywood, where the school donated food, time and resources to nonprofits such as Meals on Wheels and other charities.

At the same time, she looks forward to giving her all to her new students.

“I care deeply about what I do in my work; I want our students to get the very best they can for their money,” she says. “Kitchen Academy provides a premium product at an affordable cost and I feel good about that. It’s important to me.”

New classes at Kitchen Academy are starting now, and Becker and Farris expect the school and its graduates will be in high demand. Both point to the region’s exceptional business and population growth and its evolution into an entertainment-rich environment in need of fresh culinary talent as examples of why they see Sacramento as a great fit for the company.

That said, perhaps Becker puts it best, in his characteristically enthusiastic style: “I’m honored, excited and thrilled to be opening this school here; I’m so looking forward to becoming a part of this community,” he says. “I’d like to be welcomed like this in every city I consider for a school, and I’m more excited about being in Sacramento than in any other market. I’m really, really pumped.”

Hartung Glass Industries

It perhaps comes as no surprise that a man who has commuted from his Vacaville home to jobs throughout the Central Valley, and most recently Sacramento, has an affinity for cars.

Meet Vic Thompson, plant manager for the production side of Hartung Glass Industries in Sacramento, which expanded operations beyond distribution and began manufacturing high-volume tempered and annealed glass here in 2006.

“My hobbies are all related to cars,” Thompson says. “Street-rod pickups, other hot-rod hobbies and off-roading in the Sierra are among my favorites.”

As plant manager with Hartung, he’ll oversee a 45-person work force that he expects will grow exponentially as the business expands in the next few years. Indeed, while the regional construction market seems to have returned to Earth in the past year, it’s still impossible to describe it as anything but robust and healthy. Anyone building anything from a small cottage to a high-rise needs glass, and Hartung saw a strategic advantage in being able to manufacture the glass here and get it to customers more quickly, again underscoring one of Sacramento’s greatest assets: its location.

“This is a terrific central location to service Northern California as far as Redding and Nevada as far east as Reno; it’s a perfect transportation hub,” Thompson says.
The expansion into manufacturing is not Hartung’s first big move to capitalize on the economic promises of California’s future. Its distribution operations have been here in Sacramento since 1996, and it has two other facilities in Union City and Anaheim. That’s in addition to plants in British Columbia, Oregon, Colorado, Indiana, Texas and Washington, where the Seattle-based company was founded in 1924.

As for Thompson, however, this may be the year he finally breaks from tradition and leaves Vacaville to make Sacramento the place where he works and lives.

“We’re at a point in life where our kids are all grown, and now we’re looking at where we might want to settle down as we look toward retirement,” he says. “The Sacramento area is very appealing for many things related to that.”

For starters, he’ll be 40 miles closer to his favorite off-road trails.

SunTechnics Energy Systems, Inc.

When Florian Edler, chief executive officer of European-based SunTechnics Energy Systems Inc., took the assignment to leave Germany and open an office in Sacramento, he brought along more than just a charismatic smile. He imported a healthy dose of excitement about his company, a turnkey provider of solar and renewable energy solutions, specializing in developing customized systems for homes and businesses.
“The United States is the third-largest solar market in the world, and California makes up about 80 percent of that market,” Edler says. “This is a phenomenal opportunity to excel as a leader in the industry and be part of a community that so far has revealed itself to be very warm, welcoming and friendly.”

Edler, newly married in December, will head up a local team of 42 employees—likely growing to 100 by the end of 2007—primarily focused on sales of the company’s products and services. Its parent company, SunTechnics, is a leading system supplier of renewable energy solutions in Europe. Leaders of both companies consider it vital to be geographically close to their customers so systems can be designed with local utility requirements, homeowner association restrictions and other variables in mind.

Sacramento is the third SunTechnics Energy Systems office in California and is the company’s U.S. headquarters. Edler has big plans for the company’s role in the Greater Sacramento area.

What made Sacramento attractive to SunTechnics, in addition to the presence of a governor who is a strong advocate of clean energy, was its central location, affordable real estate and good access to a qualified work force.

Someone who’s experiencing the area’s quality of life is Edler’s assistant, Christian Kaesler, who followed his boss here from Germany in August 2006.  The single, Berlin-raised, MBA-holding Kaesler lives in Natomas and says he’s making the adjustment well.

“One of the things I like about Sacramento is it’s not a big city, like San Francisco or Los Angeles; that has its advantages,” he says. “I’m really interested in showing people how beneficial solar energy or other renewable energy options can be for them,” he says.“That’s something very important to me and it’s why I chose this profession.”


Coming Soon: The Art Institutes

Handshakes were still going around the room as press time approached, but any announcement of new companies coming to town would not be complete without including the pending arrival the newest campus of The Art Institutes, a nationwide private education system offering associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as diploma and certificate programs.

The deal is so fresh that, as of late January, the school had yet to pick a name for the new campus or hire any staff. But Bill Tsatsoulis, group vice president with Education Management Corporation (parent company of The Art Institutes), says Sacramento is a natural choice for a new school.

“Sacramento is a hub for this region,” he says. “It’s a city with a growing arts community and employment opportunities, and we’d like our Sacramento school to become an integral part of the educational landscape here.”

The Sacramento campus will be the company’s seventh California location. (Others are in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Francisco, San Diego, Orange County and the Inland Empire.) The Art Institutes offer a broad range of programs, including audio production, culinary arts and management, graphic and industrial design, media arts and animation, photography and other arts disciplines.

Becoming an “integral part of the education landscape” involves more than just preparing students to enter careers in art and design fields, however. Volunteerism is a key component of the school’s activities; nationwide, more than 5,000 Art Institutes students donate more than 250,000 hours of service to local nonprofits.

That’s a trend that company executives expect to see continue in Sacramento.

“If I could give any advice to my counterpart in Sacramento, it would be to strive for being more than just another school,” says Byron Chung, campus president with The Art Institute of California—Inland Empire.  “We need to be a service provider to help meet the needs of the greater community of which we are a part.”

Where are they Now?

In years past, we’ve profiled several companies that were wooed to the region by the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization. Here, a progress report on three that say coming here was a good move.

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airways came to Sacramento in 2004, promising to “bring humanity back to air travel” and, based on customer response, the company has lived up to that promise. Between 2005 and 2006, JetBlue more than doubled its passengers at Sacramento International Airport, added three flights to Long Beach and currently offers the only direct flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

The company also has done a lot to become a part of the community, sponsoring events and working with local charities. All in all, JetBlue is pleased with its decision to operate in Sacramento.

“Our growth over the past two years has more than met the company’s expectations,” says Rudy Lucero, general manager of JetBlue in Sacramento. “We’ve doubled our staff and more than doubled our customer base. Now, for 2007, we’re looking at opportunities to build on that success even further.”

Universal Technical Institute, Inc

Universal Technical Institute, Inc. came to Sacramento with a goal of bringing 200 jobs and more than 2,000 students to its proposed campus, which would provide automotive, diesel and collision repair training.

The first phase of construction, 118,000 square feet of instruction space for automotive service training programs, was completed in Natomas in mid-2006. Already, UTI has a teaching staff of 100 and more than 700 students.

“We’re really pleased with the success we’re having with the Sacramento campus,” says Kimberly McWaters, president and CEO of UTI. “We’re right in line with our internal business plan, the campus is beautiful, student satisfaction is extremely high, and Sacramento is emerging as one of our top performing sites.”

McWaters expects the second phase of construction, 100,000 square feet of space for collision repair and diesel instruction, to be completed this summer.

“We made the right decision to build a campus here, to make our school even more accessible to students throughout Northern California and the Pacific Northwest,” McWaters says. “That’s good for us, it’s good for local employers who need these skilled workers, and it’s good for the economy. It’s a win-win.”                     

Talley Communications,

Talley Communications Corp., a family-owned business that bills itself as an “infrastructure supplier to cell phone companies,” moved its Hayward distribution center to Sacramento in October 2005 to offer better service to the region’s customers and take advantage of the area’s appealing quality of life.

The fact that nearly every Hayward employee chose to follow the company to Sacramento says the quality-of-life factor was right on the mark.

As for the business side of the equation, Sacramento has been fantastic.

“We’ve enjoyed a solid 20 percent growth rate in just the first year here,” says John D. Talley, executive vice president with the company. “It was a big decision to make this change, but we saw more and more of our customer base moving out of the Bay Area to the Sacramento region, and it made sense to become part of that migration. We’re very glad to be here.”