Chris Rico excited about opportunities as new Solano EDC presidentJanuary 27 2022
PUBLISHED: January 26, 2022 at 6:55 p.m. | UPDATED: January 27, 2022 at 8:13 a.m.
Serving as the president and CEO of Solano Economic Development Corporation is a job that requires a deep knowledge of economic development. For Chris Rico, the agency’s new leader, it is just one topic he is well-versed in.
Rico’s professional career has taken him from working in Hollywood to having jobs in education, grassroots organizing and, yes, economic development, where he helped put on more than 100 events in Los Angeles as part of a startup organization.
One area he had not spent much time in was Solano County itself, but he has been quickly learning since starting the job last week.
“I hadn’t spent a lot of time in this part of the world,” he said. “I’ve lived in the Bay Area several times before… and I think most of us have just passed through on the (Interstate) 80, and several of the team members here at the organization have taken me out and started showing me around the county, and it’s just breathtaking.”
Rico takes the reins from Sean Quinn, the former Fairfield city manager who had been serving as interim president following Bob Burris’ departure for a position with the Rural County Representatives of California.
Rico said he has enjoyed his first week, especially his colleagues.
“I have a really extraordinary team that works with me here,” he said. “People have been incredibly friendly and gracious, and a lot of people have reached out to me.”
Rico did not initially set out to work in economic development, as he went to Duke University with plans to become a diplomat. Instead, he went into the entertainment industry, promoting rock bands in college and working in film and television for 10 years, eventually becoming an executive.
“I realized most of the people I worked with didn’t share my values, and I went and took a 180-degree turn and became a special needs teacher in inner city schools,” he said.
Rico also worked on political campaigns and in nonprofits. He then entered the world of economic development when he was hired as the director of innovation for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. It was here that he developed Innovate LA, a series of events that showcased the L.A. area as a hub of innovation, whether for food, art, fashion, technology, aerospace and bioscience.
Rico said the idea was a result of trying to do something like South by Southwest — a multimedia showcase event held annually in Austin, Texas — but in L.A.
“Los Angeles County is a nation-state-size economy,” he said. “It’s 10 million people, it’s the 15th largest economy on the planet, it’s obviously the global center for entertainment, art and culture.”
From this experience, Rico learned about the importance of linking different sectors together to drive economic development.
“That was the biggest and best byproduct of that festival,” he said. “We connected a lot of people and a lot of organizations that normally wouldn’t have a chance to connect with each other, and we would learn over time that ideas and companies would be born out of those interactions.”
While Rico’s path to economic development was atypical, he said every profession gave him experience in the different fields that make up Economic Development.
“I worked in the public sector, I worked in the private sector, I’ve worked in education, I’ve worked in politics,” he said. “One of the things I love about what I do is that I get to touch all of those different sectors, and they’re all important pieces in the puzzle about how you bring more prosperity to a region.”
When the Solano EDC position became available, Rico was encouraged by Elsa Flores, public affairs director for Kaiser Permanente in Napa and Solano, to go for it.
“She is keen on economic development and knew there was an open position,” he said. “She really lobbied me to take a look at this. It’s not something I probably would have known about.”
Rico also sees a bit of synchronicity in working in the area. He grew up in Ohio, which has a lot of rural areas, and sees a lot of the state in certain areas of Solano.
“When I drive through these green hills and these green vineyards and all this other agriculture, it pulls at my soul,” he said. “I think it’s in my blood.”
Rico is excited about the opportunities in Solano County, which ranges from having cities as populated as Vallejo and Fairfield to ones as small as Dixon and Rio Vista. In between, it has large employment sectors such as Travis Air Force Base, which he called “a huge asset to the region.”
However, Rico also noted that 140,000 residents are employed outside of Solano.
“To me, that’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “If we can figure out a way for those folks to not have to drive out, that they can work here, that we can attract the right companies here, that solves so many problems. It’s a quality of life issue, it reduces congestion, it helps with climate change remediation because there will be a smaller carbon footprint.”
Rico is also excited about starting work on Moving Solano Forward 3, the third installment of a grant-financed multi-phase initiative aimed at identifying economic development strategies in the county.
“It’s a perfect time for me to land here,” he said. “We have a team of amazing consultants that we’re working with, we have all of our public and private partners lined up. Through the course of the next year, we will be convening about 50 different groups of people to roll up our sleeves and look at what are the next steps that we need to take regionally to keep driving this economy.”
Other goals of Rico’s include workforce development, helping to lift residents out of poverty, providing space for diversity and equity, providing job training through apprenticeships and providing workforce-based learning programs.
While it will not all be easy work, Rico is up for it.
“There’s a lot to do, and that excites me,” he said.