The Sierra Business Council (SBC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Truckee that helps businesses and does work throughout the entire Sierra Nevada region. Though SBC doesn’t work as much with Amador County as much as you may think, SBC is seeking to expand cooperation with county government and businesses.
Steve Frisch has been the president of SBC since 2008, but his involvement in SBC goes all the way back to its founding in 1994. “I never would have guessed that I would become what I think of as a ruralist,” Frisch laughed. He was born and raised in Chicago, though he had a taste of rural life spending summers with his family in rural Wisconsin.
After high school, Frisch decided to go to San Francisco State University to get a bachelor’s degree in political science. He loved food, so he became a professional chef, too. “I had this torn identity where I love food and cooking, but I’m also really interested in public policy,” he said. Frisch would put both identities to use during his professional career.
In 1985, Frisch realized that he preferred living in the mountains over living in the city, so he moved to Truckee with his then-fiancée and worked as a professional chef. Eventually, he owned his own restaurant and joined SBC as a business member during SBC’s first business recruiting efforts. SBC spoke to Frisch’s interest in public policy and as the years passed, Frisch started to wonder if he should switch careers.
A Unique Business Model
What finally pushed Frisch out of the restaurant business, aside from the rigors associated with operating a restaurant, was the realization that he couldn’t change the world. “We only have a certain amount of time, and you should make a mark in that time,” he said. So, Frisch sold his restaurant in 2000 and started working for SBC.
Though he worked on various initiatives at the outset, he eventually moved to the business side of SBC as they shifted their business model from a donation and grant-based model to a fee-for-service model. “We have a unique business model where 70 percent of our revenue is fee-for-service,” Frisch said, “and that change was so successful that I realized I really liked the organizational management and development side of it.” He liked it so much that he became the president in 2008 and has served as the president since.
SBC offers programs in three core areas: economic empowerment, climate and energy, and policy advocacy. To fund initiatives in all three areas, SBC uses a triple-bottom-line approach that prioritizes investments and measures performance in social, environmental, and financial areas. The added focus on social and environmental areas is what makes the triple-bottom-line approach effective in building up scarce resources.
Support for Sierra Nevada businesses is obviously one of SBC’s core services, and Frisch ticked off a long list of initiatives SBC works on. “We’re the Small Business Development Center for northeastern California from El Dorado County to Modoc County. We’re also the economic development district for the central Sierra region Sierra, Nevada, Placer, and El Dorado counties.
“We implement the Gold Country Broadband Consortium, which is the broadband consortium funded by the Public Utilities Commission for that region. We also implement a number of different programs around business innovation and business development funded by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development and the USDA.”
He also spotlighted the Resilience Fund, which is a micro-lending fund for small businesses. “It’s a really interesting vehicle to capture the wealth in the local community,” Frisch said. “Instead of it being invested in Wall Street, we’re investing in local businesses.” Though the Resilience Fund currently serves businesses in the Tahoe Basin and Nevada County, he added that “I would love to extend it across the entire Sierra Nevada. We’re looking to extend it to other regions.”
Under the Radar
A lot of the programs provided by SBC aren’t available to Amador County, at least not yet. What has SBC done in Amador County? “We’ve worked on our direct install energy efficiency program, greenhouse gas emission inventories, and energy action plans for Amador County,” Frisch said. “All our interactions with Amador County are with the regional organization Rural County Representatives of California or RCRC.”
Beyond that, Frisch said, SBC hasn’t done much with Amador County “largely because Amador is not necessarily focused on our change model and strategy.” He noted that SBC has done much more work in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, such as a climate action plan in Calaveras County that SBC and the county are developing now.
Frisch thinks there will be more cooperation from counties SBC hasn’t worked with much in the past like Amador County because of the changing climate and wildfire risk. “State policy is pushing counties in the direction of wildfire mitigation,” he said. “For example, the state requires counties to measure vehicle miles traveled instead of the level of service for land use planning.” So, Frisch noted, the result of these policies “is actually taking counties like Amador that have historically been a bit more reluctant around those issues and bringing them into the fold.”
Raise Your Voices
That said, Frisch wants to work with Amador County more. “I think there are a number of places where there could be some opportunities,” he said. “For example, in the process of doing general plan updates and land use planning, we have a lot of experience around this issue about coming up with carbon mitigation and climate scenario planning that can help. We’d love to continue working with them on things like greenhouse gas inventories. We’re very involved in forest management, so there could be some opportunities there.”
How can Amador County businesses get involved with SBC? “One of our major engagements at the state level is working with California Forward to produce the California Economic Summit,” Frisch said. “The summit puts out an economic development agenda for the state on an annual basis. There is not enough rural representation and activity in that group, and we need more rural voices in Sacramento talking about what rural regions really need.”
That work is part of the larger work SBC does to advocate for Sierra Nevada counties in Sacramento. “Right now, we’re working with the broadband for all legislation, which is relevant to a place like Amador County,” Frisch said. “We’re working on getting permanent funding for regional economic development strategies through GO-Biz, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic development.”
Despite that, Frisch said SBC needs more members and more involvement to tell the state what Amador County and the entire Sierra Nevada region needs. “We’ve talked about the need to do some kind of economic strategy for the Sierra that would look at the common interest that many counties have that they can speak together about,” he said. “So, I think there are a lot of opportunities.”
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