by Rob White
A less obvious portion of the Davis community has a need. The small business community doesn’t have access to the necessary space for growth. Some of these businesses came from good ideas at the university and they are now growing so fast that they cannot find places that will accommodate their growing space needs. Some are restaurateurs looking for places to put new dining concepts. Some are service businesses that will change the way we use our smartphones and the web. And some are collectives looking to host inventor communities that become centers for new business startups.
Let me give you some examples to illustrate.
There are several small technology companies (currently under 50 employees) that were founded in Davis and have grown so dramatically in the last 24 months that they are on track to double in size again in the next few years. That’s a potential at least a few 100 new career-track and professional jobs that could be in Davis. These are companies that create products and require supply chains for their parts – and, some of these supply companies could (would) be in Davis. These are companies that serve global markets, which leads to increased exports and the potential for more imported capital. And these are companies that will need to invest in new manufacturing equipment and facilities as they grow, which increases the land-based property taxes AND the unsecured property taxes on equipment AND the amount of workers in Davis requiring services like food, clothes, and entertainment.
I have also been approached by several restaurant entrepreneurs with some new concepts that are not currently found in Davis. Ideas that will serve residents and students alike. Dining experiences that will be a strong addition to the landscape of choices already in Davis. And they bring with them employment opportunities for our local young adults, students, and chefs at all scales. They will create new sales tax receipts, require produce from our local farms, and again encourage the supply chain to be in Davis.
And most surprisingly, we have several business concepts evolving in Davis that serve the business startup community. These are sometimes called maker-spaces, or tech shops or tinkerer labs. They are effective at building a very strong sense of community for those people that might sometimes be called the creative-class, the entrepreneurs and the innovators. These spaces fuel new ideas, teach kids hands-on manufacturing techniques, and inspire many to get involved in technology, science, engineering and the arts. And eventually, these same creators start businesses that hire employees, pay taxes, and require services and supplies.
So what is the issue?
The one constant theme I have heard since beginning in Davis 2 months ago is that there is a significant lack of space for growth. Our downtown doesn’t have a very large inventory of for-sale buildings and spaces for lease can require costly tenant improvements. There is an extreme shortage of commercial and light industrial spaces that are greater than 10,000 square feet and appropriate for technology companies. And we have very few options for companies that need to develop facilities greater than 100,000 square feet.
But I can tell you who does have these options available. West Sacramento, Woodland, Dixon and North Natomas. These cities are all within 15 miles of our community and almost every growing Davis business I have talked to has at least engaged one or more of these communities to determine their opportunities. The businesses will tell you that cost is a factor. Or that location is a factor. But the biggest factor appears to be that these other cities have empty spaces that are already built and require very little modification for move-in.
In talking to businesses I always highlight the fact that inexpensive student workforce and highly skilled labor are found most readily in Davis. And that Davis is the best home for companies that require interaction with researchers or want to be associated with a vibrant downtown and good transportation links. I also mention that Davis is one of the few places that provides a sense of community and quality of life that executives and decision-makers find attractive. These are just part of the equation and complexity in decision-making for company growth plans. And we have had some successes and kept several high profile companies in Davis.
But for every company that can’t find a home in Davis right now, whether a local startup or one trying to move in to town, there is an unintended message that gets sent to the business community – we are full. Though this is a challenge, I believe that the Davis community has proven time and again that we can meet these obstacles and turn them in to opportunities. I think there is a growing awareness of the need for more jobs, more revenue for community needs and more diversity in our business landscape. And if we can address this issue effectively, we will set ourselves on a pathway to economic vitality that will increase local employment and provide us with a robust business sector that can be heavily engaged in philanthropy and community-building activities.
If you want to be part of the dialogue on ways to address this issue, come to the next DSIDE meeting on June 13th at 8:30 am at the Davis Chamber of Commerce. Future meeting dates, times and location will be posted at www.dside.org. Or come to the net Business and Economic Development Commission meeting. Or share your thoughts with a Council member. You can also follow the efforts of business leaders and City staff and post your own successes on twitter (#DavisCA and #InnovateDavis), email Kemble Pope at the Davis Chamber of Commerce (firstname.lastname@example.org), or email me directly (email@example.com). It is our time to shine and I am convinced that as we wrestle with the needs of business in Davis that our outcomes will continue to strengthen our standing as world leaders in innovative ideas and solutions.