Economic Development in Davis – Part 1

economic-developmentBy Rob White

When I first arrived in Davis, there was a lot of discussion about economic development and how to assimilate into a single vision the many years of process and many documents developed to address the stated need. This was a pretty serious task, especially while in the background staff were working on public engagement regarding innovation park sites, the Mace easement discussions, Yolo County rail relocation, County-wide broadband, outreach to  the university, branding the City, working with regional entities, discussions with tech businesses to identify needs, assisting small businesses, hosting international visitors, establishing networks across the greater Northern California region… well, you get the idea.

And of course, we also conducted significant outreach to meet with as many community members and organizations as possible (though I know there are more to go!) so that I could become educated about the Davis community values. This is important because traditional economic development efforts will not work in Davis. We are not trying to build a retail power center, we are not working to get the latest and greatest entertainment complex and we aren’t looking to attract an auto super mall. These are the efforts many economic development professionals across the US are engaged in on a consistent basis, but these do not fit with the current Davis culture.

These efforts are often referred to as business attraction, retention, and expansion. And though Davis most certainly wants to do this with technology companies, downtown businesses, boutiques and local purveyors, most economic development professionals are not discriminating and are doing everything they can to facilitate job creation of any kind.

What I have surmised from my outreach is that in Davis there is a specific focus on being discerning. We want to build an economy that is not dependent on any one sector, builds from the robust research and development at UC Davis and embraces the concepts of sustainability and conservation. And though this is a tall order and a much more difficult vision to execute from, I think it is what makes Davis special in the Sacramento Region.

I have also spent a lot of time reading the documents from the many iterations of business park efforts, the General Plan, various specific plans, the work by the Business and Economic Development Commission from the last two decades (or more), the many fact sheets and handouts created by staff and other partner organizations, UC Davis’ plans and reports, the regional Next Economy documents, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments Blueprint Plan and guiding documents, and various other related economic development and land use plans, guidance, and proposals. I am sure I have forgotten some, but again you get the idea. And my best resource has been Sarah Worley, the City’s Economic Development Coordinator for the last 9 years, and her encyclopedic memory and vast knowledge of our efforts in Davis.

And for comparability, I have spent a lot of time reading information about other regions in the US and assessing the similarities and best practices that may be instructive to our own efforts. It is always easiest when trying to chart a pathway to be able to see if someone else has a map, or at least a compass. And not surprisingly, we have lots of knowledge to draw from and there are many cities and regions that are trying to accomplish similar outcomes.

One great example of this is California Forward (www.CAFWD.org), who has done a considerable amount of work framing the future of California prosperity in the words of triple bottom-line sustainability – economic, environmental and social. And I think these words and concepts are very much in line with the efforts in Davis. I encourage you to review the CA FWD website and see if you agree.

So what does Economic Development look like in Davis? Well, it most certainly is not rooted in the traditional economic development activities that most other jurisdictions would commit their resources towards. And though it is easy to say what it isn’t, it may be a little more challenging to state what it is. But let’s try. Though not a complete list (due to article size), I would premise that economic development activities include:

  • Working in close partnership with the university at the administrative, college, dean, faculty, researcher, staff and student level to identify shared business opportunities, including support of small and emerging technology startups.
  • Supporting technology companies through facilitating collaborative networks that increase investment capital, enhance facilities, encourage job creation and lead to additional research and development.
  • Engaging with small and local businesses in downtown and across the City to identify needs and strengthen networks between community partners to help address these needs.
  • Creating a consistent positive message about Davis’ amenities and attributes that are beneficial to business, including a high quality of life, sustainability leadership, educated workforce, abundant entry level trainees and a vibrant community.
  • Assessing and determining appropriate location(s) for technology and research business growth.
  • Identifying areas in downtown and across the City that are appropriate for reuse and densification for business and urban living, and identifying the appropriate ways to remove barriers to success that accomplish positive outcomes in line with Davis values.
  • Engaging with our elected delegations and administrative agencies at the regional, state and federal levels and more clearly communicating our efforts, successes and needs.
  • Encouraging a positive regional approach that educates our partner cities and counties about Davis’ leadership capacity and puts Davis staff and community leaders in key positions of opportunity.

Though these are just a few of the concepts that I believe encompass the efforts Davis should take to improve economic vitality, I am happy to report that City staff will be bringing a draft Economic Development Strategy to the City Council meeting on February 11th to more completely outline the actions, goals and desired outcomes for the next 24 months. The strategy will be very focused on key activities so that the limited City staff resources are directed at activities that will maximize our impact.

Above all else, in my mind we need to set the stage for success… we need to start to broadly engage each other and our partners locally and regionally so that the easy to achieve goals are realized, as well as the more long-term strategic efforts. The strategy document is meant to focus our efforts narrowly on opportunities for success and to outline our actions so that our partners will have a clear sense of what the City staff will be working on and how they can best engage and collaborate.

I will write more about this economic development strategy next week as we lead up to the City Council meeting. I look forward to seeing you there.

Please let me know your thoughts here on the Vanguard or email to me at rwhite@cityofdavis.org.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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13 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    Much appreciated summary Rob. I think this represents a conceptual framework that most of us, even those on the “slow growth” side would get behind. It will be very interesting moving forward to see these concepts fleshed out with projected numbers in terms of benefits and impacts.

  2. Davis Progressive

    “What I have surmised from my outreach is that in Davis there is a specific focus on being discerning. We want to build an economy that is not dependent on any one sector, builds from the robust research and development at UC Davis and embraces the concepts of sustainability and conservation. ”

    i think Rob White gets it. i’m not sure a lot of the other actors do on the stage and that concerns me.

        1. Matt Williams

          Interesting DP, when you say “some of the Chamber folks,” what alternative vision do you think they see?

          Frankly has clearly beaten the drum here for more peripheral retail, but he seems to be a lonely voice in that crusade. Maybe I haven’t been listening well enough, are there others here on the Vanguard besides Frankly?

          Former members of the Council . . . that I completely agree with you on.

  3. Frankly

    So what does Economic Development look like in Davis? Well, it most certainly is not rooted in the traditional economic development activities that most other jurisdictions would commit their resources towards. And though it is easy to say what it isn’t

    I worry that we think we know something that all these other communities don’t and that we are completely and utterly foolish having this opinion.

    If all the other communities are doing things a certain way then we would be well advised to consider it, as those other communities are also filled with smart and capable people… and possibly they are more practical and more evolved that Davis… a city that seems stuck in the 1960s.

    1. David Greenwald

      “I worry that we think we know something that all these other communities don’t and that we are completely and utterly foolish having this opinion.”

      I don’t get that sense. I think the worry is more about crafting a policy that people in Davis will support rather than some belief that we know something that other communities don’t.

    2. Rob White

      Frankly, the kind of economic development we can proactively work on in Davis is current thinking for academic and research communities. They are activities that are being workled on by Berkeley, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Redwood City, Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, San Francisco and San Diego. I work closely with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GO-Biz), the Sacramento region economic development groups (Metro Chamber, SACTO, SACOG, SARTA), and with the US EDA and White House. I have had success doing this with Livermore and with Sacramento County. I will assuime that we are in good league with them.

      1. realchangz

        Rob,
        Thanks for that additional basis for comparison. To my mind, many of these communities that you list have sought to leverage their brand and/or their proximity to take greatest advantage of their natural and built environments. For Davis, that brand would naturally revolve around the university and its research as well as its reputation as a uniquely charming, safe, walkable and family friendly destination. Frankly, that’s a lot to work with – don’t you agree?

      2. Frankly

        Rob,

        My points were a bit rhetorical and general. I agree with you on… these other communities are not just trying to build on their academic and research communities, most of them have quite a head start on us.

        Do these communities also tend to limit and reject business not in this somewhat narrow scope?

        I count on your experience and talents to help Davis do the same. I just hope the majority of the voters understand that there is a baseline of economic infrastructure that cities our size require.

  4. Michael Harrington

    Back in about 2002 or so, I went to a party, and listened to a member of a local very rich real estate family go on and on about how she wanted Davis to be more like SIlicon Valley, and a town of about 150,000.

    Suzie Boyd used to talk that way, if she was not up in front of the camera.

    They see UCD as much larger, and the town has to match, with the big city events and culture that goes with it.

    It’s not a bad vision, but it’s one that many of us just dont share. I like my bungalows, and compact city size, and knowing people around town.

    I think Rob has great ideas, but some of them are just made for a much larger city.

    1. Frankly

      So Mike, how do you propose we pay our bills then? I think a 2% sales tax add-on and a $600 per month supplemental parcel tax might take care of it. Is that the solution you prefer? Or do you support cutting another fire station, and some more police, and the senior centers, and pools, and summer camps for the kids?

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