Sacramento – Urban Region, Rural Economic Driver

This blog post summarizes a case study from NLC’s Bridging the Urban-Rural Economic Divide report. This post is part of a series about reducing the divide between urban and rural communities.

California, the state with the highest urban population density, has a capital city that is largely rural. Eighty five percent of Sacramento’s land area is rural and generates extensive economic benefits for the region and state. Sacramento is solidifying these rural-urban economic connections via the specialty crops industry cluster.

This is because the way that food reaches our tables is a complicated yet remarkable process that generates jobs and income from start to finish.

Although consumers purchase some products “raw,” most are transformed into processed or packaged goods along the way. The specialty crop food system encompasses multiple business sectors providing a range of services that refine, enhance and move food products from farms to consumers. Much of these processes take place in urban areas, and together, these industries represent the specialty crop cluster—a group of interdependent firms and related institutions linked through strong relationships and transactions.

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Image from Food System Multipliers for Specialty Crops. A project of the Rural-Urban Connections Strategy, Sacramento Area Council of Governments, July 2016.

Although actual on the farm crop production comprises most of the employment within the cluster, only 30 percent of the economic benefit to the region is derived from the specialty crops, such as grapes, as they leave the farm. Over 6,400 jobs (37%) are in distribution, processing and support subsectors that take place in urban parts of the region.

Additionally, the specialty crops cluster generates $4 billion in goods and services a year that are sold and directly benefit the Sacramento regional economy. Most of the economic value is generated as these crops move through the larger regional food system and are processed into different products- activities that take place throughout the region.

By expanding the food system beyond the farm, Sacramento is creating vital urban-rural connections, and building a competitive advantage that extends to urban communities, the region and the entire state.

For more information, contact David Shabazian with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments at

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About the Author: Christiana McFarland is NLC’s Research Director. She leads NLC’s efforts to transform city-level data into information that strengthens the capacity of city leaders and that raises awareness of challenges, trends and successes in cities. Follow her on Twitter @ckmcfarland.