Justifying Economic Development

economic-developmentby Rob White

I have been asked by several community members over the last few weeks to give a detailed reporting on what is being done in Economic Development by the City of Davis. More specifically, I have been asked to enumerate what have been the tangible results of the work of the Chief Innovation Officer over the past year and what are the goals over the coming year.

I will start by noting that City staff are actually in the process of delivering a more detailed report on this information to City Council. The report was scheduled to be heard by Council on April 22nd, but the meeting ran long and Council asked staff to move the report to the next Council meeting (May 13th).

Though the information still needs to be heard by City Council and finalized, the proposed final Innovation and Economic Vitality Work Program and the companion Action Plan that details the specific actions, desired outcomes, and measures is available on the City website here.

A summary of the information that was cursorily presented by staff on April 22nd can be found in the presentation linked here.

And if you are interested in gaining more information about the proposed activities or providing comment to the City Council, you are invited to attend the Council meeting on May 13th at 6:30 pm in the Community Chambers (which is also broadcast on community access television and live webcast).

To focus more specifically on the proposed final Innovation and Economic Vitality Work Program, staff has asked Council to direct city efforts in to five Focus Areas. These are:

Focus Area 1 – Facilitate Technology and Business Development

Focus Area 2 – Increased University Engagement

Focus Area 3 – Expand Support Network for Local Business

Focus Area 4 – Strategic Branding and Marketing

Focus Area 5 – Leadership

Though I won’t go in to detail of each Focus Area in this article, your own review of the documents linked above will hopefully demonstrate that these five areas are specifically meant to work cohesively together. Each one is dependent on the other and is intended to create a holistic approach to developing the innovation economy in Davis. And though parts of the economy have been developing due to others efforts (such as the university and local technology companies), it is through coordinated and consistent efforts that a complete economic system will emerge for Davis.

All of the materials and the reports have been prepared by staff at City Hall. To be more specific, the work referenced above (including the proposed final Work Program and Action Plan) were not created by a consultant or other external support, but instead by staff of the Office of Innovation and Economic Vitality (which is part of the City Manager’s Office) and consists of the Chief Innovation Officer (me) and Deputy Innovation Officer (Sarah Worley).

I note this because one answer to the question of what has been going on in Economic Development over the last year is to gather information from the community, read through previous reports, assimilate the information, and then produce an effective and clear Work Program and Action Plan for the next two years (Fiscal Years 2014-2016).

Having worked for other local governments and previously as a Board member on the California Association for Local Economic Development (CALED), I can say with some confidence that this work alone typically takes a year or longer and usually involves at least a few consultants assisting staff. And though the Work Program and Action Plan are living documents and can always benefit from revision and addition over time, they represent a significant and detailed reorientation for the City as we turn traditional economic development activities in to activities that build an innovation economy and embrace our largest asset, the University of California Davis and its resultant research and development.

What you will hopefully also surmise through your review of the documents, from the weekly articles and discussions on this blog and from past interaction by staff with the community is that this is not the only work product from the last year. We have also been assisting businesses one on one, helping to build the local technology business ecosystem, working with several property owners to bring forward a proposal on an innovation center, establishing stronger links with the university, working to increase the regional brand of Davis, outreaching to potential investment and businesses in the region and globally and assisting other city departments with large projects and programs (like the hotel conference center, the Cannery housing development, open space and conservation, sustainability and budget and fiscal analysis).

Innovation and Economic Vitality staff have also facilitated and been involved in regional efforts like the Yolo Rail Realignment discussions, Yolo Broadband assessment (including preparing and now executing a Davis-centric request for expressions of interest, which was approved by City Council on April 22nd) and active support for innovation in the regional Next Economy Plan. Based on my 12 years of working in local economic development and over 20 years of experience in branding and marketing, it has been clear to me over and over that the best way to attract investment and gain interest of new companies is to support and provide leadership in the regional efforts.

Davis is most certainly one of few communities who has been blessed with a university that is vital to solving the world’s food and health issues. And as the host community, we have an opportunity to help facilitate that research and development and work to bring regional, national and global attention to our city. This translates in to investment in our quality of life, ecotourism of our cherished open space and conservation attributes and global recognition as a preeminent location for modern examples of sustainability, agriculture, arts, technology, community values and holistic systems.

In all of this discussion, one thing should recognized. Previous efforts to bring economic development forward as an important activity to the community have helped to pave the way to where we are now. The City’s efforts through the City Council, the Business and Economic Development Commission and staff; the Chamber’s efforts through their Board, Economic Development Committee and DSIDE; the Downtown Business Association’s efforts in areas like ‘shop local’, community events and parking solutions; the Yolo Convention and Visitors Bureau for their efforts in tourism and arts; and techDAVIS for supporting the City’s economic development program with a substantive public-private partnership that provides needed funding for this effort. There are of course many other groups that can be named and it is the consistent efforts of these groups and the community that have helped pave the way for the City’s current efforts to gain traction.

I trust that this gives you some insight in to our year long journey of evolving the City’s efforts. There is much more to do and many challenges along the way. And there are many people actively supporting this current effort to help us achieve success. Please join me in thanking them and I encourage you to get involved and provide your insights so that we can truly craft a community-based program that will achieve our objectives.

Thanks for considering these thoughts. I look forward to your comments and questions. My email is rwhite@cityofdavis.org if you choose to email me directly.

About The Author

Rob White is the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Davis and was selected as a 2012 White House Champion of Change for Local Innovation. He serves as an ex-officio Board Member for techDAVIS (a local tech entrepreneur industry group), as an executive Board Member for the Innovate North State iHub, and as a Board Member for Hacker Lab and the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation. He is a candidate for the Doctorate in Policy, Planning and Development from the University of Southern California and has a Masters from USC in Planning and Development and a Bachelors of Science in Geology from Chico State.

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    1. Rob White

      DP, I realize I am bending the rules, but let me stay with the 5 focus area theme and create bullets under that:

      Technology and Business Development
      • Created framework and Work Program
      • Constant input from local tech companies on needs
      • Created community forum and restarted Innovation Park Task Force- began discussion of needs and opportunities for Innovation Center
      • Coordination with techDAVIS technology CEO leadership group
      • Coordination with Capitol Corridor Ventures leading to $250k pledge to Davis Roots
      • Started internal City discussion on barriers to densification in Downtown

      University Engagement
      • Engaged with UCD, Sac State and other universities events, seminars, and meetings
      • Meeting with faculty, staff and researchers to facilitate tech transfer and support of research
      • Working with UCD and other local/regional entities on a wet lab incubator approach

      Business/Property Owner Engagement
      • Met with over 100 local companies and property owners (to date)
      • Gathered input on desired sustainability and economic development activities
      • Identified barriers and challenges to success and potential solutions

      Branding/Community Engagement
      • Weekly Vanguard articles on economic development and city functions
      • Presentations on economic development to local community groups
      • Wrote or contributed to articles & interviews in local and national media
      • Established Innovate Davis Facebook and actively use Twitter to highlight local technology and innovation in Davis
      • Working with Apptology to create a free App for City of Davis
      • Establishing an Innovation Council to provide local and regional feedback on economic development and innovation for City of Davis

      Regional Collaboration
      • Metro Chamber 2013 Cap to Cap – developed and lobbied for federal policy and funding support for local and regional economic development objectives – including Yolo Rail Realignment
      • Metro Chamber 2014 Cap to Cap Innovation Team lead
      • Active member of SARTA
      • Active member of Sac Metro Chamber
      • Innovate North State – Executive Board
      • California Network for Manufacturing Innovation (CNMI) iHub – Board member
      • Congressman Garamendi’s Advanced Manufacturing Advisory Group
      • Joined California-Chongqing Trade and Commerce Organization
      • Facilitation of local initiatives for Lawrence Livermore National Lab-UC Davis Collaboration

      1. Davis Progressive

        so – correct me if i’m wrong – it appears you did a lot of work laying the groundwork here.

        however, the tough work is ahead. you have to get a tech park application in through the door. you have to convince a bunch of out of touch aldercockers that it’s in their best interest to vote for the project. and you have to keep council from wussing out on you.

  1. hpierce

    Ok… reviewed the staff report… looks like we are seeking a private company to install great communication “trunks”… and willing to commit the city to granting “rights of way”, use of existing city infrastructure, financially supporting the installation, and not seeking any fees (including but not limited to ‘franchise fees), no “rent” (of the public infrastructure). So, net cost to city is? Where will the City’s subsidy of this private system come from? Shouldn’t we also offer to forego all our fees (including franchise fees) for PG&E, AT&T, Comcast, Crown Castle/New Path?

    Looks like a gift to the private sector, ultimately paid for by City taxpayers. Not buying in to the concept at this point, but at least the CIO and deputy will be able to put this unfunded effort on their timecards.

    1. Rob White

      HP – No deal terms have been made on any part of the Broadband discussion. We are only seeking information at this point. BUT, assume we were able to get gigabit access to EVERY parcel in the city, regardless of who the provider of services was (AT&T, Comcast, Netflix, Apple, Google or anyone else who may join the fray in the future). What if we had a system paid for and installed by someone else, and our only obligation was to allow access? And what if we also had free gigabit access to all of our public facilities – schools, libraries, civic buildings, etc – across all of Davis? To Every Parcel. That would be a HUGE improvement over the current situation. And we would have a selling point that few other communities have – including Google Fiber communities.

      I am not saying that is what we will get, but there are starting to be interesting precedents – look in to Louisville, KY and now Pacific Grove and Fullerton, CA.

      Imagine a day (in the near future) where the community has achieved the vision of a true high-speed broadband connectivity to ALL community members in Davis, residents and businesses alike.

      I appreciate the pointed comments and the skepticism. It keeps us in City Hall on our toes (and I know I could stand lose a little more girth). But let’s not forget our largest asset in town makes us a place more interesting than most… and if we can see others have started to get there in towns much less advantageous than ours, why not explore the possibilities a little. exploration is almost free (aside from a small amount of staff time). Agreed?

    2. Frankly

      hpierce – if you want some cows to milk, you need to develop a pasture and allow them to feed. If you start carving out the veal before hand, you won’t get any milk.

      Even high tax New York knows how to work it.


      I don’t think you should worry so much about the gifts to the private sector. Last time I checked it was the private sector producing ALL the milk.

      And although some Davisites might feel entitled and in an elite position to demand a premium for the privilege of locating business in and around our quirky city, there is a limit to that position as most other communities are more than willing to offer incentives to attract the tax-paying private-sector business.

  2. Frankly

    A city having to justify economic development is analogous to a human having to justify drinking water.

    Death comes to those that don’t.

    So, just do it and stop demanding it be justified.

    Just my humble opinion.

    1. Jim Frame

      A city having to justify economic development is analogous to a human having to justify drinking water. Death comes to those that don’t. So, just do it and stop demanding it be justified.

      Remember Rancho Cordova woman who participated in an on-air water-drinking contest? All she did was drink water, and it was great fun until she died from drinking too much water.

      Justifying economic development isn’t the issue; ensuring that any proposed development meets the needs of the city is.

  3. Tia Will

    Not all growth is desirable. Not all lack of growth is stagnation. Life is about balance, not exclusively about growth.
    There is a medical term for inappropriate, uncontrolled growth. It is cancer.

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