by Rob White
Last night, the Vanguard hosted a celebration for its 8th anniversary at the University Park Inn. Attended by over 70 people, the evening was marked by good conversation amongst people from across the Davis ideological landscape.
During the remarks portion of the event, David Greenwald talked about the reason for starting the Davis Vanguard. As he described it, there was a need for an alternative view in the community discussion – one that was not afraid to “pull punches” and dig deep in to the heart of the issue.
Not surprisingly, the theme last night was about community dialogue and the Vanguard’s role in helping to engage Davis in discussing issues and opportunities. And the keynote speaker was no exception, as she focused on one of Davis’ more important current topics – economic development.
The keynote speaker last night was Elizabeth “Betsy” Cantwell, who is the Director of Economic Development at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in Livermore, CA. Many of last night’s attendees were surprised to hear that the Lab had an economic development director. And as Betsy shared, the need for economic development was much less about creating funding streams for the Lab and instead about creating connectivity to the greater community – that of researchers, academics, businesses and residents.
If you are not familiar with Lawrence Livermore, it is the sister national lab to Lawrence Berkeley. Started in 1952 because the Berkeley Lab was out of space for critical experiments, its mission has always been about national security.
At about 6,500 employees, the Lab was originally run by the University of California. That changed in 2007 when the Lab management contract was awarded to an LLC that was a partnership between the UC, Bechtel, Battelle, et al. And it was shared with the attendees last night that UC Davis has a 50 year research history with the Lab and currently has a small campus consisting of a few buildings at the Lab.
The partnership between UC Davis and Lawrence Livermore has focused on many aspects of research over that 50 years, and at one point was so robust that UC Davis had many researchers working at the Lab while Lab staff taught regularly at the university. And Betsy shared with the crowd that UC Davis and UC Berkeley graduates make up a majority of the staff at the Lab.
Though many aspects of shared history between the communities of Davis and Livermore can be described in the relationship between the university and the Lab, Betsy focused much of her discussion on the role of the Lab in the development of the East Bay economy and innovation ecosystem.
And if you have read many of my articles to date, you know I am almost single-mindedly focused on the development of the Davis ecosystem. So hearing Betsy’s viewpoint about the positive role the large research institution can play in the development of the local economy shouldn’t be news either. In fact, this is a central theme in the Sacramento Region’s Next Economy plan (www.nexteconomy.org) that you have read about in my articles over the last year.
So what does all of this have to do with community dialogue or economic development? Well, taking a cue from Betsy’s talk, and framing their successes in relation to what we want to achieve in Davis, we can start to compare and contrast the economic development success and challenges in that part of the East Bay with our own.
Central to that discussion is to create meetings, events, and presentations that our community can start to catalogue our own successes and challenges. Last night was an example of how some of that dialogue can be executed by bringing those that have information to share about their own experiences to Davis. And the opportunity was not missed by the Nishi Gateway team to also lead a small walking tour of participants over to the proposed project site and give a brief overview.
Another example was on Monday night, when the Mace Innovation Park team did a presentation at City Hall on their proposal. You can watch the video here if you were unable to attend.
But these outreach events are not enough. In fact, the City has asked that for the innovation center discussion each proponent hold several community meetings over the next couple of months to share their concepts and to gather input from the community. And at least one of the teams has committed to also using opportunities like a table at the Farmer’s Market on upcoming Saturday mornings to share their ideas more informally.
Economic development is not just about innovation centers. It is about fostering an entire ecosystem of continual research, education, training, entrepreneurialism, business ventures, investment, philanthropy, social causes and sustainability that lead to community vitality. Like any biological ecosystem, you can’t have one part of the system in poor health and expect that the rest of the system won’t be in jeopardy.
Innovation and creativity are at the core of the Davis DNA. We have solved many problems and created movements that have changed the global outlook on things like sustainability and bikes. The resurgence of our economic health doesn’t need to be accomplished just like everyone else, but we do need to take advantage of our strengths and mitigate our challenges. And by looking at communities that have had similar experiences, we can learn for their best practices and hopefully avoid their mistakes. But none of this can be done without fully engaging the community and creating an environment of shared learning.
You can expect that the Davis Vanguard, the City, the Chamber and other groups will most certainly be holding forums, presentations, open-houses and conducting other community outreach events over the coming months as a way to help create dialogue and discussion about economic development in general and the innovation centers specifically. I hope that you will engage and bring others to the discussion, so that we can accomplish the greatest amount of shared learning and open dialogue, which will hopefully lead us to the best possible outcome.
Thanks for considering my thoughts. I welcome your ideas. My email is email@example.com
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