by Rob White
The City of Davis and UC Davis have evolved together sharing similar sustainability goals and values, community assets and attributes. Each is now poised to take deliberate, intentional steps to secure more sustainable futures. The City is a globally recognized leader in sustainability and is now presented with the opportunity to further demonstrate leadership in innovation, business growth, education and employment balanced with environmental, social and economic sustainability goals.
Davis has demonstrated new regional leadership by working collaboratively with regional partners and creating a focus on Davis that highlights its unique culture, quality of life, and human capital. Coordination with regional, state and federal legislators has led to early recognition for Davis and has resulted in evolving roles as a leader in the advancement of innovation, economic development and technology.
And though we have seen challenges in our local economy as we exit the Great Recession – as demonstrated by local job deficits, deflated property values and slower than expected rises in sales tax revenues – some encouraging opportunities have been identified with respect to increased growth in local agricultural technology (agtech), sustainable manufacturing and biomedical companies.
Davis technology companies are receiving ongoing regional, national and global recognition as leaders of innovation and sustainability. Marrone Bio Innovations, Arcadia Biosciences, Novozymes, DMG Mori Seiki, FMC/Schilling Robotics, Blue Oak Energy and Sierra Energy are but a few examples. And because UC Davis has gained preeminence in interdisciplinary research, the City is experiencing a surge of opportunity to support the development of businesses created from this activity.
Many Davis community members form a large portion of UC Davis’ faculty, researchers, staff, & students or are affiliated with the University as alumni or family of alumni. Davis residents and UC Davis graduates fill many leadership positions locally, in the region and at the State. The intellectual capital, community values and quality of life in Davis are conducive to creating new technologies and innovations that can help solve significant global problems.
It is because of these emerging and ongoing needs that the City of Davis has created an Innovation and Economic Vitality Work Program. Activities that support the development of economic vitality include regional leadership, support of UC Davis and other associated research institutions, specific focus on development of the innovation ecosystem to create brand awareness, support for entrepreneurs, and active development and recruitment of growing businesses.
In collaboration with our local, regional and global partners, the City of Davis is working to facilitate local business success that is balanced with our desire for a high quality of life and sustainability.
It is because of this collaboration that City leadership has determined that it is time to adopt a more progressive stance in support of the University. Very few communities have the opportunity to build their economies from the resource rich base presented by a globally recognized academic and research institution. Even fewer communities have the fortune of being the host for emerging technologies in sectors that impact the world by addressing critical global issues. Because of UC Davis’ long and esteemed history in the pursuit of advancements in agriculture, veterinary science, bio-medicine and engineering, the community of Davis is now reaping the rewards of increased attention and positive branding.
The City Council is now in progress of adopting the Work Program for economic development that builds on the past studies and assessments and focuses on “Achieving the Vision” set forth by that work. To most effectively use City resources to conduct economic development activities, the City is concentrating on the following Focus Areas, noting that certain activities benefit multiple City Council Goals:
Focus Area 1 – Facilitate Technology and Business Development
- Advance the Development of an Innovation Park
- Enhance Downtown Reinvestment
- Encourage Densification
- Facilitate Development of a Hotel Conference Center
- Support Entrepreneurs and Startups
- Establish an Innovation Council
- Foster the Creative Class
- Encourage Buy Local
Focus Area 2 – Increased University Engagement
- Strengthen University/Community Partnerships
- Support Research and Development
- Increase Access to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and agriculture, and math) and Educational Opportunities
- Support UC Davis Technology Transfer Objectives
Focus Area 3 – Expand Support Network for Local Business
- Business Visitations
- Business Roundtables
- Broker and Landowner Outreach Meetings
- Support Business Service Organizations
Focus Area 4 – Strategic Branding and Marketing
- Targeted Media
- Event Participation
- Community and Regional Presentations
- Thought Leadership and Industry Articles
- Increased Social Media
Focus Area 5 – Regional Leadership
- Collaborate with Regional Organizations
- Expand Innovation Network
- Yolo Rail Realignment Partnership
- Yolo Broadband Consortium
- Policy Advocacy
- Innovation Policy Development
Each of these Focus Areas and activities is meant to enhance the City Council’s objectives with respect to quality of life and sustainability. It is also expected that these Focus Areas will result in significant recognition of Davis as a leader in building the innovation economy.
Some examples of this recognition include Davis companies and organizations that have been increasingly acknowledged in the media and by regional business organizations for their efforts in innovation. These include recognition of several local companies and their founders as businesses leaders of the year, key appointments of local leaders in positions of regional innovation and technology leadership, and substantial financial gifts to local organizations as a result of collaboration with the City.
To take advantage of Davis’s unique position and regional leadership opportunities in building the innovation economy, the City’s economic development Work Program is focused on the City’s strengths as a facilitator working in collaboration with our local and regional business partners. The municipal leadership role is likely most effective in helping to create an environment for business success by determining and removing barriers that don’t serve a purpose for the common good. In that facilitator role, local government is most likely to be additive in achieving community-based goals by creating the framework from which an innovation economy can thrive.
At the direction of City Council, staff is currently defining the activities, desired outcomes, and measures of success for the Work Program. The final program document is expected to be adopted by Council at their March 25th meeting. Council has affirmed that they want staff to work on metrics for each Focus Area to be implemented over the next 24-month period, including a regular 6-month report out to Council, which provides for constant measurement and process improvement.
City staff will continue to engage the community in the discussion of economic development, using an increasing diversity of tools and outreach methods. In support of this effort, the Council and community provided input at Tuesday’s Council meeting on the Innovation and Economic Vitality Work Program sent a very strong message that the community needs to work vigorously on economic development to fund the community amenities and quality of life that Davis has come to enjoy.
Set against the backdrop of reduced revenues and deferred maintenance on city-wide infrastructure, community discussions seem to highlight that directive and deliberate economic development activities will continue the trend of early successes we have seen in building out the innovation economy and generating substantial jobs and revenues that support Davis’ future quality of life.