Takeoff! The Business of Flight with Chris Wimsatt, CFO of Sacramento Airport System

netWORKed Podcast: Episode 4

Chris Marshall shares the mic with Chris Wimsatt, deputy director and CFO of the Sacramento Airport System, who oversees the finances of four airports with a regional economic impact of the more than $4 billion annually—and has a planned $1.3 billion SMForward Capital Program on tap. 


Chris Marshall
netWORKed is the official podcast of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. I'm your host, Chris Marshall, director of alumni relations and network strategy. On this podcast, we will feature conversations with industry leaders who are preparing the next generation of inspired, innovative and collaborative leaders who are committed to making a positive impact.

We are super excited today to have Chris Wimsatt, the CFO of the Sacramento Airport System. I'm really excited to share this conversation with you.

Thanks so much for spending some time with us today, Chris.

Chris Wimsatt
Hey, thanks Chris for having me, really glad to be here.

Chris Marshall
All right, we'll start with a couple of softballs for you before we dig too far into your background and what it looks like to be in your role. I wanted to give you a chance to talk about some of the awards, and some of the really exciting projects and growth that is coming to the Sacramento airport system.

Chris Wimsatt
Yeah, sure. Thanks, Chris. So, you know, I'll start out with a little bit of background. So, the Sacramento County Airport System is a department of Sacramento County. We operate as an enterprise fund, which means we generate all of our own revenue. We don't receive any local tax dollars. And so, when I talk about the cost of some of the projects that we're going to be working on, those are all generated onsite at the airport from user fees.

We've got about a $300 million annual budget and we operate four airports, including Sacramento International Airport, which hopefully most people in the area are familiar with. That's the, as of calendar year 2022, was the 36th busiest airport in the nation for passenger traffic. We hit a new all-time traffic high in calendar year 2023 of 6.5 million in plane passengers or just shy of 13 million total passengers.

In addition to SMF, we've got Mather Airport in Rancho Cordova that's a general aviation and cargo airport. We've got Executive Airport just south of downtown, which is a general aviation airport, and then Franklin Field in the south of the county, and that's primarily used for agricultural and training purposes.

Chris Marshall
So, you mentioned some awards.

Chris Wimsatt
We're very proud of some of the awards that we've gotten recently. I'll just mention two specifically. So, in January 2024, AirHelp rated SMF as the number one stress-free travel airport in the country, in terms of percentage of on-time flights, we're certainly very proud of that.

Chris Marshall
That is a big deal. That is something to be super excited about. Absolutely, absolutely. And as someone who travels all the time, it's easy for me to forget how stressful travel can be for people who maybe only do it a couple of times a year, or maybe even less frequently than that.

Chris Wimsatt
So to be able to provide a stress-free environment for our passengers is obviously something we take a lot of pride in.

Chris Marshall
I'm slowly turning into my father where I am three hours early for my flight to Los Angeles and go through Clear and TSA-Pre so I'm ready for my Cinnabon when I get there.

Chris Wimsatt
Yeah, and you know what, that's fine. I encourage you to do so because the more money you spend at our concessions, the more cool projects we can do.

Awesome, and that's what we're looking for.

And then there are massive projects that are coming. Yes, yeah. So, we've recently announced and we're getting embarked on our capital program known as SMF Forward.

In total, it's about $1.3 billion, and it's really designed to make your favorite airport even better. And so there are seven distinct projects that are components of this, all totaling that 1.3 billion.

So, the first kind of chronologically is gonna be a new pedestrian walkway that connects Terminal B to Concourse B. And when I say pedestrian walkway, I think a lot of folks imagine a sidewalk. This is not a sidewalk.

This is two bridges basically suspended in midair that will go parallel to where the existing automated people mover or the train is now. And they'll be in the center of those two bridges is going to be a vertical circulation hub that will facilitate the about 30 foot drop that people need to do to get from the third floor of Terminal B where they'll enter the walkway and the concourse B where they'll leave.

The next project chronologically is a new parking.

Anybody who's tried to park at SMF recently is well aware that sometimes we've got a bit of a parking constraint. It can be kind of tough to find parking sometimes.

 And so originally when Terminal B was built, a parking garage west of the Terminal building was envisioned. And there was even a bridge and a walkway put up so that people could go from that parking garage that was envisioned to the Terminal. As a result of the Great Recession and some budget cuts that happened during kind of the big build.

The parking garage plan was scrapped, but we're resurrecting it. So we're gonna have as many as 5,500 new parking spaces west of Terminal B, which is gonna be really exciting. In addition to that, we've also got a plan to add between six and eight gates to the west side of Concourse B. That'll help us add new air service and potentially look at some new airlines. It'll also allow us to add some concession space, which is gonna be great. We've been growing pretty prodigiously for several years, obviously with a brief pause during the pandemic, but we're back into growth mode.

And so we've got to add some of the infrastructure that's required for an airport that's growing and that includes new gates. And then in addition to that, we're looking to expand the building size for Terminal A to make some improvements to the baggage handling system. And ultimately the expansions to Terminal A and the new parking garage for Terminal B are going to change the way our ground transportation system works here, because anybody who's caught an Uber or Lyft or a shuttle at our airport knows that both Terminals have their own special area for that. We're going to change that. We're going to build a consolidated ground transportation center that's going to go right through the center between kind of the Terminal A parking garage and Terminal B. And that'll be where you catch all the Ubers and Lyfts. You catch your shuttles, your taxis, all of those kinds of things.

And that's also going to help us reroute traffic in a way that we need to for the final kind of the PSA resistance of the of the SMF forward capital plan, which is the construction of a new consolidated rental car facility. It'll be walkable or existing rental car facility. You've got to take a shuttle to get there. It's not an ideal situation. The facility itself is dated. It was very innovative when it was built, but that was a long time ago. It's time for a new one.

And so that's the final piece of the SMF Forward Plan, is the new consolidated rental car facility.

Chris Marshall
Well, it has to mean that there are going to be some more flights.

Chris Wimsatt
Yes. Yes, our Air Service Development Team and our Commercial Development Team are always working overtime to try and bring in some new flights. And so just recently, we've added some additional flights to Florida. We've increased frequency on some Southwest routes, really all over the country, certainly enter California.

 But there was also the Greater Sacramento Economic Council recently led kind of a mission trip to Germany to talk about some of the trade that exists between our region and that country. And so, you know, there's a chance at some point in the next few years, we could be looking at transcontinental direct service right into Europe. So some of our commercial development team went on that trade mission and, you know, that was part of their pitch.

Chris Marshall
Super exciting. And, you know, as we talk about growth at the airport, you know, I have to ask about the most immediately recognizable piece of the last expansion, our friend, the red rabbit.

Chris Wimsatt
Yeah, I can always tell when my friends are getting home from vacation when I see the rabbit pop up on their Instagram stories.

Chris Marshall
But how did that installation come to be? I mean, does it have a name? What can you tell me about it? Yeah, sure. So, for for those listeners who aren't aware, Chris is referring to an enormous sculpture of a red rabbit that's suspended in the ticket hall of Terminal B.

Chris Wimsatt
So, the rabbit does have a name. His name is Leap. And we love the sculpture. And we're really humbled to be kind of the custodians of a piece of art that has become really ingrained into local Sacramento culture. We think that's just really great. So, the rabbit was originally built as a part of the Big Build Capital program that took place from 2007 to 2011.

That program gave us not only Terminal B and Concourse B, but also some of the unforgettable art installations that you see around the campus. The artist intended to give the impression that the rabbit was leaping from outside of the airport in. And I think he nailed it. And really the thrust of most of that art program that was done during the big build was to try to capitalize on some of the really, breathtaking scenery that we've got around here and the wildlife and to try to bring the outside in.

So, there are several pieces of art that fit that bill. And so, you know, just about Leap itself, the sculpture is 56 feet tall and weighs more than 10,000 pounds. So, you know, it's huge and it's iconic and we love it.

Actually, when I go to airport conferences, if anybody knows anything about Sacramento, that's the thing they know and I love that.

Chris Marshall
When I see it, I know that that's an important piece to any airport. Portland has their carpet. We have the rabbit. I mean, what are the plans for the expansion in terms of art?

Chris Wimsatt
Yeah, sure. So we know that our airport has some really iconic art. We've seen the power that public art has to create community anchor points for people and to build a shared sense of culture. So as part of our SMF forward efforts, we've put together what I think is probably the most ambitious art program in our airport's history. And that's going to include an investment of over $11 million in the art program.

And that'll be about $8 million for new art. And then we're going to take $3 million and put it into an art conservation endowment. And what that's going to do is hopefully generate some return that we can use to pay for maintenance of the art. And if there's any surplus, we could even do temporary exhibits with those funds as well.

The first art maintenance endowment was established as part of the big build. And so we're, you know, we're reinvesting in that. We're gonna grow that pile, that capital stack, so to speak, so that we can do even more things with it. Well, and why is it important to have things that are recognizable like that and to add art to what is fundamentally just a functional space? Sure, sure. Well, you know, the airport is kind of the front door for the community.

 It's the front door for the Capital Region. California takes a lot of pride in its Capital Region and the Capital Region takes a lot of pride in its airport. So we have got some incredible artists in this community. We've got a really great community with a lot of really great people in it who've got a lot of talents. And we want to make sure that we showcase those things because oftentimes the first impression is the most. And so we want to create a first impression using this public art that gives people a sense of who we are as a community.

Chris Marshall
Well, and obviously, like you said, there's a lot of pride in the area for people that live here and are from here. And the airport has been committed to the community and showcasing the things that are unique.

Big news recently is that there are going to be a bunch of new restaurants opening at the airport. that have local brands. And I'm particularly excited about Magpie and Nick's Taco, but what went into the process for choosing these local restaurants to represent the region?

Chris Wimsatt
Sure, thanks for asking about that. We're really excited about how this has gone. So our concessions program, first of all, has always been a point of pride at Sacramento International. We're a foodie city and we wanna make sure that the airport represents that to the best of our ability.

Some of your listeners have probably seen the news that you're referring to that we've got some new concessions concepts coming. You mentioned Magpie and Nextaka. We've also got Cafe Bernardo, Temple Coffee, Midtown Spirits, Bawk, and a host of other new concepts on the way. And so this is really the culmination of a process that I'm gonna characterize as the most public, most comprehensive, and most inclusive of its kind. So 38% of the new vendors that are coming in in this round of

in this round of new concessions concepts are what are classified as ACDBE or an airport concessions disadvantaged business enterprise. And 44% are small businesses. That's an incredible accomplishment for our concessions team to be able to bring in folks from the community who really know this community best, who represent this community best and bring those concepts into the airport, into the front door of the region, like I said

Ahead of the solicitation, our concessions team met with literally hundreds of local businesses to first of all build an understanding of what we can offer, what it's like to do business at an airport. I mentioned 13 million total passengers in calendar year 2023. That's 13 million passengers that could potentially be walking by your restaurant or your store.

We also wanted to be able to connect folks that were interested in bidding with resources that could help them put together a competitive package. And obviously we were successful. The results speak to the success that we had.

So, you know, I wanna think of this and I want the listeners to take away that this really, this concessions news is just the first salvo and what we hope will be really a transformation of the entire food landscape at SMF. I'm certainly looking forward to that. And it gives me comfort to have something that I recognize and that I know is going to be good before I get on my flight.

Chris Marshall
And I wanna talk about some of the stats for the airport. What does the service area look like? Who are our competitors? How many flights are there? How many people does it take to run an airport on an average day? And what are the metrics that you're using for success? I mean, how do you track success as such a massive enterprise?

Chris Wimsatt
Sure, sure. So, you know, you mentioned our service area. Our service area contains more than 2.6 million people. It's a pretty big service area. Geographically, it's big as well. It stretches from Redding in the north all the way south to Stanislaus County, west as far as the Bay Battleground, so to speak, and east to the state line and sometimes even beyond the state line. We're competitively positioned for tourism in business as well, being in the state capital. And so...

Oftentimes when I refer to the battleground, I'm talking about some of those competitive areas where we compete for passengers with similarly sized airports in the Bay Area, specifically San Jose and Oakland. So, you know, we've all, all three of us airports have been neck and neck in terms of passenger size for several years, but in the aftermath of the pandemic, what we've seen is that Sacramento not only recovered faster, but we entered growth phase and exited recovery phase sooner.

We do compete with the Bay Area Airport, specifically Oakland and San Jose, like I said, and to some extent, SFO. At Sacramento International, we have a total of 141 daily flights to 39 nonstop destinations. And the airport system, you know, you mentioned the employees that keep the place running. There are multiple layers to that. The airport system, we have about 370 employees.

We also have some folks from other county departments that are kind of seconded to the airport. So the Department of General Services, the Department of Technology, the Department of Personnel Services. And so they're also located and they're not counted in that 370. But in addition, we've got thousands of people that come to work here every day to SMF that work for the airlines, that work for the concessionaires.

or that work for the fixed base operators that provide services to the airlines and to some of the charter providers. And so all of those people, each and every one of those multiple thousands of people that come to work at the airport every day are a really, really important part of delivering an unforgettable customer experience for people.

 And so, you know, when we think about delivering an unforgettable customer experience and running an airport and some of the metrics that we use to determine whether we're doing a good job or we're heading in the right direction. Some of the metrics that we use, first of all, passengers per day, right?

When we think of the revenue that we collect as an airport, we've got, a lot of it is gonna be driven by passenger traffic, things like parking, concessions revenue, rental car revenue, all of those forms of revenue are gonna be really sensitive to passenger traffic. And so we know that we're providing a good experience if passengers wanna keep coming back. And so passengers per day is certainly an important metric.

Another one is, you know, our largest single source of well of non-airline revenue is parking. In calendar year 2023, we did about $73 million in parking revenue. So we do like to track some of the parking metrics as well. What are the preferred parking products, whether it be economy or the garage or the hourly lots? And what are the lengths of stay in each of those? And so we can tell from there if there are some things that we could do to incentivize different behavior in our pricing model.

And it also tells us if we need to open up some of our overflow lots in advance. Revenue per passenger is certainly an important metric. And not just overall revenue per passenger, but revenue per passenger in individual categories can tell us if we're doing a good job in our concessions program. You know, or like I said, if we have a need to maybe develop a different kind of, or a different mix of parking product. We certainly track checkpoint wait times.

and really queuing times involved all over the airport. But checkpoint wait time is a very sensitive one. People are aware when they've got to stand in line at the checkpoint for an extended period of time. And so we try to keep that to a minimum.

Chris Marshall
Well, it has to be a big metric for the stress, you know, for awards or what people, why people like coming to the airport.

Chris Wimsatt
Yes, yes. That's an important metric and it's tracked everywhere. And so, you know, we're fortunate that we've got, you know, for the amount of passengers that we have, you know, I mentioned we're one of the busier airports in the country, for the amount of passengers that we have that we're very fortunate we don't have longer wait times.

And that's really due to a partner, our excellent partnership with TSA. They do a really great job, and we have a very constructive relationship with them and they're great partners to us. And so, you know, some of the other just kind of final metrics that we look at, we look at gate utilization.

Ultimately, the utilization decisions are going to be a function of what the airlines decide to do with their operation on a day-to-day basis. But we do have a say in that. So we want to make sure that the gates are being utilized efficiently and effectively so that if we need to find more space, we've got some flexibility to do that. And we've got a lot of other metrics, but those are kind of some of the key ones that come to mind. The busiest day was sort of a surprise.

I mean, you see the, you know, all the news and people driving on the freeway in LA and Thanksgiving, but I was surprised. Yeah. And Columbus Day or Indigenous People's Day is our busiest day of the year, and it's not what you'd expect, right? It also coincides with some big community events, you know, the Aftershock Music Festival, happens around that time. And I think, you know, that brings in hundreds of thousands of people to the region. And that's probably got something to do with it. It's also generally a nice time of the year.

So yeah, it was surprising. That's our busiest day of the year. And so we've got to prep for that we go out into the media since we've got that parking constraint that I mentioned, we go to the media and we try to let people know that hey, this weekend, you know, especially a holiday weekend, we're going to be running solo on parking that if you have another way to get here, you might want to.

Chris Marshall
Fair point. I mean, it is always a good time to visit the Sacramento region. So I mean, come on down, fly through the rest of the mountain. But obviously it takes a ton of effort and coordination to make the wheels turn at a place like the airport. I mean, thousands of daily workers. And I've heard you talk about how the leadership team is able to work together to really facilitate that success. I mean, what are the attributes that make the leadership team so good?

Chris Wimsatt
This leadership team is one of the most experienced and effective that I've ever had the privilege of working with. It's an incredible team. Our senior leadership team consists of four deputy directors and a director. And so, you know, I'll say the traits that make us so effective as a leadership team are rooted really in our core values. And there are five. And so, our core values are to start with the customer, make something better today, collaborate, be transparent and own it. And so, when you think of everything in the prism of those core values, and then you add in what is a really incredible mix of experience that our leadership and executive team have, it creates a pretty good setting. And it all starts with our director, Cindy Nichol, who's done an incredible job of setting really high expectations and then managing the team to complete those.

You know, I mentioned that our leadership team moves mountains, and it's actually kind of incredible. I was going through, I wanted to have kind of an enumeration of some of the things that we've done.

When I say we're moving mountains, I want to be able to, you know, give a for example. So, since I started in August of 2021, these are just a few of the things that we've done as a leadership team. We are the first department in the county to use alternative project delivery methods. So, instead of design build. We've begun delivering projects through the construction manager at risk delivery method.

And then we're also going to be doing the county's first design build process for a parking garage, which is pretty incredible. We're also the first airport in the country to satisfy the SMS safety management system, kind of a new set of requirements promulgated by the TSA.

We have run what I have already characterized as the most open and equitable concessions bid process, which is incredibly successful, as we've already mentioned. We've also managed to work with our partners at the California Airports Council to change state law so that we can finance some of our projects the way that we want to and the way that we need to. Our commercial development team has created a regional air alliance or worked with the community to help create a regional air alliance to advocate for expanded service.

And that regional air alliance played a big part in that trip to Germany that I mentioned. And we've broken new ground and taken steps on some bold new financing strategies. I say we move mountains. Some of those things are pretty, some of those things were a tough goal, but the fact that we've made it as far as we have has been incredible. And it's a testament to this leadership team.

Chris Marshall
Yeah, that's amazing. And one of the things I always like to ask is the path to a position like CFO of the Sacramento Airport system. Your path is less traditional than you might expect for someone to have in a major finance role. So I feel like it's particularly important to have a conversation, especially for those students going through working professional or online degree programs. So I mean, can you tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are today?

Chris Wimsatt
Yeah, sure. You know, thanks, Chris. My path has been, I think, unconventional. I hail from a great city in southwest Ohio called Dayton, Ohio. Dayton is the birthplace of aviation. It's a great American city and an amazing place to grow up. So, there's my Dayton plug. But through the later part of high school, I actually worked full time. I had a full-time job.

As a result, I wasn't really able to focus on my studies to the extent that I, you know, probably could have or should have. And so for higher education after high school, my only real path was to start at a junior college. So I started at a junior college in Dayton called Sinclair Community College while I worked full time after high school. And so actually for much of the time that I took classes there, I rode public transit to class on the very first bus to run in the morning. And then I would ride home from work frequently on the very last bus to run at night.

And I would do that three or four days a week when I had classes. So, but, you know, it was a good experience. And, you know, I learned while I was at Sinclair, I figured out that I wanted to, if I was going to accomplish big things, I needed to, you know, take myself seriously and, and, and have some discipline. So, after making some headway on my gen eds, I transferred to Ohio University and I got my bachelor's degree in political science, which was fun. I was also very involved in student government at Ohio University. And so I naturally, right after OU, I got a job in the state Senate in Ohio. And my job in the state Senate, I was a legislative aide. And the gentleman who hired me, the state senator was the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

And so just by virtue of the fact that he was the chairman of the finance committee, I got to interact with a lot of public finance things. And this was at a time shortly after the privatization of the state economic development agency called Jobs Ohio. And there was this really arcane kind of crazy financial mechanism that all these people went into. It seemed like a smoke-filled room to come up with, but I thought it was so neat. I thought it was so interesting.

And I knew even just being kind of tangentially involved in that, I knew that like public finance can do incredible things. That's where I wanna be. And so I got some really great advice from a mentor at the time to, if I wanted to move up in public finance quickly, it would help to get some private sector experience.

So I did, I went to work for a kind of a medium-sized financial services company in Dayton called Westminster Financial, got some securities licenses there, learned a whole lot about the industry, and then went and worked in private banking at Morgan Stanley for a little while, and then made the lateral jump back to public service to go work in the Office of Management and Budget for the City of Dayton. And then from the Office of Management and Budget, I moved to the airport for the City of Dayton and was there just in time for COVID to hit, which was an opportunity for the airport get cozy with one another.

 And through that experience, I made a lot of connections that then brought me to Sacramento.

Chris Marshall
Great, and I got to ask a follow-up question and something that's come up in our prior conversations, but making the move, public, private, public, I mean, what are some of the challenges and lessons and things that you've learned through that process and tips that you can give anybody that's interested in progressing to a role like yours?

Chris Wimsatt
The public sector and the private sector definitely work at different speeds. And to some extent, I think it's easy to almost malign the public sector for the kind of the slow pace that they take sometimes. But I want to put a little bit of extra context there. It's important for public institutions to be very deliberative and to ensure that when they take on a task or when they do something, that they do it right and they do it the first time. There isn't an option to cut your losses and decide to get out of the trash collection business. You've got to be there to collect trash if you're a city, right? You can't decide to spin off the police department and just, you know, it didn't work out, I'm not going to do it anymore. You've got to, every decision you make has to facilitate the long-term effectiveness of your ability to govern and to provide services for people.

That's not to say I'm never frustrated with some of the difference in pace between the public and the private sector, but I think the deliberative pace that you find in the public sector is, in many cases, a representation of how seriously people take that responsibility to the public. And so, overall, for advice, what I would say to folks who are in the private sector interested in going to the public sector or looking at maybe making the jump. Largely people that are involved in public sector work do it because they love it and because they like to see the impact that they can make in the place that they live. And so it's important to keep that in mind because that kind of investment in the outcomes that aren't necessarily monetary for that person.

That kind of investment in the outcomes is really something unique to public service, in my experience.

Chris Marshall
Yeah, when you talk about outcomes and these massive projects in your career, you know, that you've worked on, some of it have really shaped the communities that you've worked in. I mean, what are some of the projects that you are most proud of and some of the challenges that you were able to overcome to, you know, push them through the through the finish line?

Sure, so I've been unbelievably lucky and I've been given the opportunity by people who believed in me to make a real difference in some big projects that I've worked on. So, you know, some of the things I've worked on include, you know, most recently, putting together a financing strategy and then executing on that financing strategy for our $1.3 billion SMF Ford program is, it's a big lift and I'm really proud of the progress we've made so far.

Chris Wimsatt
You know, one of the financing components that we're using is TIFIA, which is the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. It's basically low interest loans from the federal government expansion or the eligibility for TIFIA was expanded to airports as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. And since that happened, no airport has successfully secured a TIFIA loan for one of their airport projects.

We're going down that road anyway. And actually in January, we became one of the two first airports in the nation to enter the credit worthiness phase of the TIFIA process. And what that means is that, you know, we are, we are now at the forefront of using this tool to finance airport infrastructure. It's going to, and using TIFIA is great because it, you know, like I said, they're low interest loans, so it's going to reduce our cost of capital and for us, the total savings.

But by using TIFIA versus not using TIFIA over the life of the 30-year bonds is going to be tens of millions of dollars. So that's real. We've also had to make some changes to our customer facility charge. And we had to work with our partners at the legislature to get state law changed in order to allow us to do what we needed to do there. And so it was a heavy lift working with the legislature to get literally state law change

We could continue to collect the CFC and use it to finance a consolidated rental car facility. But our success there is actually going to be really beneficial for airports all over the state because that sets a new foundation in CFC policy for every airport in California. We also set up the county's first interim lending facility, which is, you know, it's kind of technical, but it's a cash flow facilitation tool.

And it was something the county hadn't done before. And so the fact that we've been able to do that is pretty exciting. And then we're also gearing up for a half a billion dollar bond deal later this year. So, and that's just the stuff that we're working on now.

Other projects I've been involved with in the past, when I was in the office of management and budget in the city of Dayton, Dayton has been demographically challenged and economically challenged for a number of years. It's in what they call the Rust Belt, you know, it's kind of a post-industrial city. It's undergoing an absolutely tremendous renaissance right now, but there are still some of those kind of old vestigial challenges that they've been dealing with. And so while I worked there, one of those challenges was the convention center. The Dayton Convention Center was chronically short of funds. It was running huge deficits every year that needed to be basically plugged by the general fund, which meant fewer potholes filled, fewer police officers in the streets.

So I was able to work with a really talented team and a blue ribbon commission that the mayor put together to restructure the operations and the financials of the Dayton Convention Center. We again got a change to state law there in Ohio that allowed us to create an independent governing authority that would then have the ability to levy its own lodging tax and use those proceeds to finance a revamp at the convention center.

So I'm proud to report that the convention center is, I believe they're almost done with their first phase of the redevelopment right now. And I'm really proud of that. And then, you know, another one is there was a historic reuse of a building in Dayton called the Dayton Arcade. And that's a really, really important building for folks there. It's actually a complex of like 12 buildings.

But it had sat vacant for a long time, but it's very historically significant, and culturally it was very significant to the city as well. But for a number of reasons, a lot of redevelopment efforts had failed, and so as a result the building was kind of deteriorating. But we took that renaissance that I mentioned, and were able to put together an extremely complex, very innovative package to basically redeveloped the entire arcade complex and it was a hundred plus million dollar project that involved just about every form of tax credits and clean energy financing that you can even conceive of.

And so we closed that deal and the arcade is now open. Their anchor tenant, the University of Dayton, occupies the space. There are restaurants and breweries there now and there are also apartments there now where they didn't used to be. So it was really great to, you know, I mentioned the Convention Center.

It was great to be able to breathe some life into that block of downtown Dayton and then in the arcade block to then breathe some life into that block. It was really rewarding. And so, those kinds of permanent projects, those permanent results give me a source of permanent pride. And so, and then those are just a couple of examples, but I've been very fortunate to be involved in some really, really mammoth projects huge impacts for the community. Why not particularly with the convention center and the arcade projects?

Chris Marshall
 I mean, those were personal, you know, having grown up in the area and, you know, provided an opportunity for you to be creative, to try and make those things happen. So, I mean, I think that's a great accomplishment. And I think it's something that you talked about, about working in the public sector, about being able to kind of help shape the communities and fix some of the problems that are holding cities back at certain points.

Chris Wimsatt
Yeah, absolutely. And anytime you get to give back to your hometown like that, I grew up in Dayton, so that was a very important place for me. Sacramento is now my hometown, and so being able to do some of these things at the airport are really great. But being able to give back to your hometown like that is a really fulfilling experience.

The fact that there's a career that allows me to do that, you know, using the things that I'm already, you know, reasonably good at is really incredible. Well, and I certainly, you know, appreciate that energy coming to Sacramento, which is obviously a place where people have a lot of pride in the community, that, you know, the airport system is being intentional in the way that they are representing the community for visitors, and for the growth of the airport. So I think that is really an amazing thing and you know, a testament to the uniqueness of this, this community.

Chris Marshall
Sure, absolutely. Totally. And you know, I know you had a son not that long ago. And I know he's been coaching you up on your leadership skills. But what's your approach to leadership? And what are the things that you consider when you're thinking about the legacy of a project or just legacy in general?

Chris Wimsatt
Yeah, I did have a son. He turns two in about a month. He's got opinions on everything, including and perhaps especially me. But, you know, I was I was in leadership roles before my son was born. But I can honestly say that being a parent, I think, has made me a more empathetic leader. Because watching him figure out how the world works has given me, I think, an understanding of the litany of different ways that people's brains work and that people think.

And I think it's given me a deeper understanding for the fact that not everybody is going to think the way I do all the time. So, you know, my approach to leadership is fairly simple. I know that I don't know everything. In fact, I sometimes feel like I know very little. And so in areas where I'm not an expert, I try to find places where my responsibility intersects with my team's skill set. And then I let them teach me, right? I let them lead me.

They're the experts in, you know, certainly in some things that, you know, for example, I've got responsibility for IT at the airport. I am not an IT guy. That's not really what I do. I'm a, you know, I'm a digital native. I'm a millennial, but I don't know a whole lot about that. And so I need them to tell me how those kinds of things work. I can build a financial model, you know, with the best of them, but purchasing and running a warehouse, I don't know how that works. They've got to tell me how that works.

And so in areas where I am an expert though, I really look incessantly for opportunities to give my team a chance to level up, so to speak, to gain new skills and to do things that they may not have ever done before. And I have found in general that after giving my team a chance to level up a couple of times on any topic, it's not very long before they're better at it than I am. And that's a good feeling as well. So, yeah, you know.

I try to set ambitious goals, not for the sake of ambition, but for the sake of impact, really. And so, you know, and having that extra insight from now being a parent and understanding that people's brains don't all work differently and everybody's at a different part of the path in reaching a common understanding is important. In, you know, often in leadership positions, we have to deal in abstracts, right?

And so I know what hill I'm trying to climb, and I've got a compass. But that compass doesn't necessarily tell me about all the creeks and rivers and lakes and mountains between me and my destination. And so it's important also that, as a leader, that we give our teams the autonomy that they need and empower them to the extent that they need in order to help us all get to the goal, whatever it may be. Yeah, certainly.

Chris Marshall
You know, we talked about these projects and like the lasting impact for the legacy of those projects. I know that that's something that's important to you.

Chris Wimsatt
Yeah. Yes, yeah, it is. And that's something I frequently tell my team is, you know, a lot of them have been here for a while. And so they've got they've been at the airport system for a decade or more. And so they've got some experience having an impact here and doing important things taking on projects of the scale that we're doing now, when we're talking about building a 5,500 space parking garage and a $140 million pedestrian walkway and a new consolidated rental car facility. These are things that decades from now, they will be able to look at and say, not only were they here when that happened, but because of the opportunities that they had to level up and learn new skills and the things that they were able to teach me.

They got to play an integral role in making it happen. Right, so they'll be able to, you know, hey, I was in New York when the bond deal closed to finance that parking garage or whatever it may be. Like I said, permanent projects, permanent impacts represent a source of permanent pride. And I want my team to be able to take as much pride, if not more pride in some of these things as I do. Yeah, that's great.

You know, I love the permanent projects, permanent pride. That's really neat.

Chris Marshall
And you know, another thing that I think is important, you know, we're having professional conversations about massive projects, but you know, I need to point out that CFOs are real people too, with hobbies and interests outside of a balance sheet. And you know, I know you're coming up on a pretty significant milestone in your hiking and cycling journey.

Chris Wimsatt
You're right. While I am a total finance dork, I also fancy myself a bit of an outdoorsman, as you mentioned. So I had an ACL rebuild, a knee surgery in September. So I had to sit out the 2023 hiking season, but I already have permits now for June 2024 for the Desolation Wilderness. And I intend to climb either Whitney or Shasta this year, depending on which permit I'm successful in getting.

I think I've summited seven of the 10 highest peaks in the Tahoe Basin. And one that I have not summited is Friel Peak, which I intend to get to as soon as the snow melts. And that'll be kind of in preparation for doing some bigger mountains, either Shasta or Whitney. But you know, you mentioned cycling and you're right. Cycling took me by surprise. I've never really been a cyclist, but I had to take up cycling as an energy outlet because I had a bum knee.

Right. Yeah. So I went and picked up a, you know, just like a basic bike. And, you know, I don't think I could stop now, even if I wanted to. It's like my it's like my weekend routine and, you know, a plug for a community asset that is absolutely unbelievable. The American River Parkway. Oh, I mean, it's it's absolutely incredible that you can ride a bike for 40 miles and never have to cross a street. That's it's absolutely incredible. So what an incredible community asset. I absolutely love that. I spent a lot of time on my weekends down on the parkway chugging along on my bike. Yeah, it’s wonderful and that's one of the things it's like you plug right into the community and one of the one of the best kind of cycling cycling communities and the green belts in in Davis as well. So awesome.

Chris Marshall
And you know, I got to finish with a couple of questions that I asked everybody who comes on the podcast. You know, I want to know, you know, about mentors or leaders that you've had that have had an impact on you personally, professionally, and then what's your advice for someone who is who is looking for a mentor or someone looking to get the most out of that that mentee mentor relationship?

Chris Wimsatt
Yeah, sure. So I've, I've been very fortunate. I've had incredible mentors and leaders in my career.

Chris Marshall
And I suspect most of them probably don't even realize the extent of the impact that they've had on me. But I've also benefited from several sponsors, so to speak, in my career as well. And these are people that have pushed me out of my comfort zone, like a mentor would do, and put me in a position to be impactful and to get noticed. So I try to return the favor to the extent that I can and kind of send the elevator back down, so to speak. And when I notice, you know, a member of my team that's got a real standout skill set. I try to put them in front of a room full of people so everybody can see just how awesome they are. But some of the key mentors that I've had, I had a really great mentor in the state Senate right out of college.

 I mentioned him, he's the one that gave me the advice to go try the private sector for a little bit, because when you come back to the public sector, that experience will be absolutely invaluable. And you know what, that was really good advice. He was exactly right.

My boss in the Office of Management and Budget in the city of Dayton was also an incredible mentor of mine. And she, we also really geeked out on a lot of economic topics. We would try to compete with each other to put together the most complex forecasts and things like that. But she was really great and she promoted a lot of the work that I did and put me in the positions that I was able to be in to work on the convention center and the arcade.

And also some of the senior leadership here at the airport system now, my boss Cindy is a really excellent mentor, not just for me, but for people all over the country in the airport industry. She's like a celebrity in the airport industry. And so having her credibility behind you is a really big confidence booster. When you go to talk about some of the work that you're doing, you know that because Cindy's got her name on it bthat you're absolutely at the forefront. And that's a really important confidence booster, like I said. And I think, you know, as far as finding mentors and advice that I would give, I typically would say, you know, there are a lot of different kinds of mentors, but I would try to find people who are three to five years ahead of where you're at and they're going in a direction or they've reached a series of goals that you'd like to put on your own resume.

I say three to five years because that's distant enough to have perspective, but it's not so far that the lessons they learned are out of date. And there are some timeless lessons that you can get from a mentor that's 30 years ahead of you. And that's not to say that you should exclude those kinds of mentors too, but I have found that those kinds of mentor-mentee relationships can be really valuable.

And I've also found the most meaningful mentor-mentee relationships that I've had also feature kind of a personal component that has allowed kind of a bond to form over shared interests, shared personal interests outside of work. So whether that be the, you know, for me, the history of the papacy or, you know, doing some incredibly arcane econometric forecasting or whatever it may be, you can find things that if you can find somethingOn a personal level, it makes, I think, the relationship a little bit more resilient.

Chris Marshall
Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And the last piece I have for you is, you know, what is your best advice, the best advice you've gotten about networking? And what's the best way for someone to reach out to you if they're interested in an informational interview or a chat?

Chris Wimsatt
Sure. I got some networking advice early on because I'm not very good at it and I'm naturally kind of an introvert. I play a good extrovert, but I am naturally introverted. And so the anxiety that built up around that made it hard for me to network. And so I got some good advice from a mentor one time who she told me that having a lot to say is less important than having something interesting and compelling to say, right?

And so people tend to gravitate to energy. And the things that we talk about with the most energy are things that we're passionate about. And so in a networking setting, don't necessarily try to feed people the talking points that you think they wanna hear. And certainly don't look for silences to try to inject words, any words, into the conversation. It's important to talk, not because there's an opportunity to talk, but to talk because you have something to say.

And that was, you know, once I learned that, I realized that going to a networking event and being fairly quiet wasn't the end of the world, as long as I had a couple of meaningful, worthwhile conversations.

Chris Marshall
Yeah, that's great. That is great advice. And I couldn't agree more with that. And then what's the best way for someone to find you or to approach you if they'd like to talk?

Chris Wimsatt
Yeah, you know, I've had several people approach me on LinkedIn through the LinkedIn messenger and I'm on LinkedIn as Chris Wimsatt. And that's been a really good way to get a hold of me and I've actually developed some kind of lasting mentor-mentee relationships with some folks on LinkedIn who are some young people who are just getting out of school and they want to get some advice. So that's been a really good way. I'm also always reachable by email at Wimsatt, W-I-M-S-A-T-T-C at saccounty.gov.

And either I or my assistant monitor that email almost 24 hours a day. I hope he doesn't. I do, but he certainly doesn't need to. My assistant doesn't. But yeah, so I monitor that all the time. And I'm always open to having discussions with folks who want to know more about public finance, who want to know more about airports, or who just want to talk about what their career goals are. And if I've got any thoughts or ideas about how they can maybe map out the lay of the land between where they're at and where they want to be.

Chris Marshall
 Yeah, that's wonderful. I really appreciate your willingness to spend a bunch of time with us today, share your experience and your knowledge. And it's been a real pleasure today, Chris. I really appreciate you. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. This has been a great time.

Well, thanks to all of you for listening and for being a part of the netWORKed podcast, presented by
UC Davis Graduate School of Management to learn about us, please visit gsm.ucdavis.edu. For more episodes, please be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast platform. I'm Chris Marshall, and I'll see you next time.