“Achieving the Vision” – The Davis Economic Development Paradigm

innovation-parkby 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.

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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  1. Tia Will

    First I want to thank Rob for a very thoughtful and clear presentation of an outline for proposed innovation for our community. And I would like to use this example of “laser like focus” on business and economic development to explain why I feel that all of the aspects of our community that contribute to its well being need to be held in view at all times rather than placing one at the top.

    For those promoting rapid growth without being willing to spell out in projected numbers just what that means to them, such as Toad’s position that more growth is always desirable, or Rochelle’s position from her announcement
    “we should grow as much as we can” or Frankly’s frequent observation that Davis has been hostile to business, I would respond with a quote from this article.

    “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.” The presence of thesel companies which as”but a few examples” would imply to me that there already has been considerable growth in Davis contrary to what the rapid growth proponents would have us believe.

    I will be looking forward to more of Rob’s articles in the future to get a better idea of the specifics of this vision, and would encourage that any plans consider not only the financial but also the other two major determinants of a strong community, environment and health/wellness/safety.

    1. Frankly

      The laser-like focus on business and economic development is required because we are out of balance.

      Take Davis and all other comparable cities in California and rank our social and environmental growth and achievement to theirs. Do that and Davis ranks very high… possibly the highest.

      Now rank Davis in terms of business and economic development. We rank at the very bottom.

      But you say “I like Davis the way it is, and I don’t want it to change.” You demand specifics before you can accept any impacts… even as you admit that you are not strong in understanding business and economics, and you also cannot explain or prove what impacts will happen.

      There is a saying “lead, follow or get out of the way”. I think you might want to participate in the actual development of solutions rather than sitting back casting stones and challenges at those that are. Because we have absolute and definitive information that we don’t bring in enough revenue to the city and the city is heading toward bankruptcy. But we have zero absolute or definitive information that the developmental of one or two business parks will negatively impact your and others’ Davis lifestyle.

      I appreciate your thoughtful posts on almost everything, but man I am getting tired of repeating the statistics that clearly prove Davis is way behind on business and economic development.

      1. Tia Will


        “even as you admit that you are not strong in understanding business and economics, and you also cannot explain or prove what impacts will happen.

        So what I am casting are questions, not stones. Would you really want me to “participate in a surgery if I had not yet mastered anatomy ?

        If you are tired of repeating the same statistics….then don’t. What you have never posted, nor has anyone else to the best of my knowledge are your best projections of how much benefit we can anticipate gaining at what cost. Would you want me doing your surgery without telling you how much the procedure would cost, what benefits you could expect, how long a recovery period you would be likely to have, and what long term adverse consequences would be involved ? And yet, that is what you and Mark West, and Mr. Toad and probably others I am missing are asking me to buy into. “Just trust us, you will like the results of more growth ! ” When I ask, “What is the business plan” you respond “growth”!
        It would appear that Rob White is attempting to develop a framework for looking at proposed changes rather than just chanting grow, grow, grow. It was this framework that I was applauding. It is amazing to me that you, as someone who claims to base decisions on fact and logic are so critical of my attempts to apply the same to the future of our city.

        If you tire of reposting, you might want to drop the “lead, follow, or get out of the way”.
        As for leadership, I have advocated for a number of changes that I think would be of great benefit to the community over time. You have responded with reasons why these could not be done even though they have been successfully implemented in many other places.
        You do not seem to feel that your go to phrase applies to you. I do not blame you for advocating for your vision of change that should occur. I do object to your seriously flawed claim that I do not favor change. I favor a lot of change. It is just not change that you happen to endorse.

        1. Doby Fleeman


          Thank you for phrasing the issue so succinctly. While I am firm believer in what I would describe as the many virtues of economic development – namely more and better paying and better suited jobs befitting the home town to a world class research university, increased opportunities for work in town jobs, meaningful opportunities to help address our age old lament of sales tax leakage both through business to business sales and more employees with more discretionary income.

          Be those as they may, however, you ask about some more tangible and more quantified basis to support such claims. I’m in total agreement. Where is this information? I’ve asked, and I’ve asked. I don’t like the trust me approach any more than you do. And, then there are the potential drawbacks – more people in town, more cars.

          Staff is doing what it can, but it has been given none to very limited resources. I still don’t think the Council is hearing your question. Or, if they are, they aren’t challenging the staff to validate their assertions – in the context of Davis.

          If staff needs more resources, more grant funding, more personnel resources – they need to speak up. Times a wastin.

        2. Frankly

          Tia – A business park is a blank canvas with little ability to control what the final picture will look like. You cannot know which companies will locate here. You cannot effectively estimate what the ultimate revenue picture will be. But here is the great thing… you don’t have to. There is absolutely nothing else but business activity (transactions) that generates positive net cash flow to a city (except raising tax rates).

          Other problems exist because cities cannot publish the specific tax revenue derived from business for reasons of business competition.

          I appreciate your curiosity, but it is a useless exercise at this point to spend so much time and effort to try and model the revenue results of a resulting 200 acre business park.

          We can argue that it will not bring in net positive revenue, or that it will not bring in enough revenue; but other than this being a useless and wrong position, your ultimate problem is the lack of alternatives. There are none. You cannot pay the bills of the city without more business in town… unless you raise taxes. And our City Council just voted for a 50-cent sales tax increase that is short what we need to even balance our general fund let alone pay for all the deferred infrastructure maintenance.

          Your continued demand for specifics is like a patient demanding the doctor itemize every definitive symptom and outcomes for his life-saving heart surgery so he can decide if he will support it or not. Isn’t there a point where we just say that the patient needs heart surgery or he will die?

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