Jul 18, 2022

Jenna Abbott Means Business—In Every Job She’s Had

The Sacramento Metro Chamber creates a job just for her—and really, for itself

By Ed Goldman

A few days after Jenna Abbott was hired to fill a position created expressly for her, her new bosses sent her packing.

No, the Sacramento Metro Chamber—for which she was recruited to be its senior vice president of strategic initiatives—didn’t fire her. Far from that: the chamber sent her on a reconnaissance trip to San Diego to prep for a fall “study mission” expected to draw 100 or more capital business types to find out what an ocean city does better (or worse) than The River City (the capital’s self-anointed nickname). 

Jenna Abbott. Photo courtesy Sacramento Metro Chamber.

“Looking at what other cities and chambers do is part of this business,” she says at a recent lunch. “It’s my version of R&D.” I take the bait and ask, Research and Development? She smiles: “No. Rip-Off and Duplicate.”

In her new post, Abbott will be, she says, “trying to build the chamber’s book of business.” She doesn’t mean recruitment, which is the essential building block of trade and business groups. She means she wants to beef up some of the organization’s signature programs, which were created or resuscitated under Abbott’s boss, Amanda Blackwood—the chamber’s youngest and first female CEO in its 127-year history.

Looking for a Great Gift?

Abbott has the right business DNA for the job crafted for her and her alone. 

She’s run two of the region’s property business improvement districts (jauntily pronounced P-BIDs) in two tough areas: one, the non-affluent and somewhat under-served community near Mack Road on the city’s southernmost side; and the other, the River District & Capitol Station Associates, a mostly industrial area not far from the State Capitol, where factories, warehouses and persistent homelessness clutter and block riverfront development. (Full disclosure: the River District has been a marketing client of mine twice, under different execs. Abbott wasn’t one of them.) 

In addition, she’s run associations, managed corporate compensation and equity programs, supervised mortgage-backed securities for a trust company, and been an entrepreneur more than once (real entrepreneurs are always repeat up-enders): for her company Abbott Fabrications, which reached out to the wholesale design trade, and for her mostly online work promoting skin-care products, which sees her frequently taking on the role of Before and After consumer. In reality, this means that a woman whose presence could easily land her a job as a news anchor willingly leaves her vanity at the doorstep to reveal what she looks like pre-transformation.

In her work for the PBIDs, Abbott had to continuously apply political savvy in dealing with grumpy elected and appointed officials as well as with business owners who paid dues to prevent their nabes from enduring physical decrepitude and social desiccation. The hardest part of her job at Mack Road, she told me years ago for an interview in the Sacramento Business Journal, was when she had to go from business to business to ask each to re-up its annual membership. At the time she told me, “It’s harder to get someone to keep supporting an effort if they feel it’s been successful than if it hasn’t been. They figure they’re out of the woods for good.”

But she was persuasive then and in her new job may need to be even more so. Busines owners often question their involvement with chambers of commerce: these organizations usually aren’t recruiting new busines to the area, which could enhance their community’s tax base and increase their own businesses’ spheres of influence. But corporate recruitment and relocations are the twin goals of economic development groups, not chambers. 

Abbott will need to convince Sacramento’s existing and wanna-be members that programs—such as the chamber’s Rapid Response Hub, which during the worst days of COVID helped navigate information and services available through the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] and other private-sector lifelines, and its Small Business Development Center, which has served around 2,000 clients, supported thousands of jobs, helped start more than a dozen new businesses and helped secure $23 million in funding—are providing the proper amount of bang for their sometimes limited bucks.

“One of our more serious and visible problems in Sacramento is homelessness,” Abbott says. She indicates that the chamber is studying the creation of shelters via office and hotel conversions but is quick to point out that “anything we do is data-driven.” On her post-recon trip to San Diego in October she hopes to ask San Diego business owners and elected officials what’s gone right for them “but also to tell us about the times they’ve fallen on their faces and chipped their teeth. Because if we know that, maybe when we fall, we’ll only break a fingernail.”

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).