It has been only a week since the announcement that the Davis Chamber had hired Matt Yancey as its new CEO to succeed Kemble Pope, who was at the helm for three years. Mr. Yancey arrives with an extensive background in community and economic development at both local and regional levels. For the past seven years, he has served as the Director of Business and Economic Development for the Sacramento Metro Chamber.
On Friday the Vanguard sat down with Mr. Yancey to talk about the new opportunity as well as the existing environment of Davis.
Matt Yancey told the Vanguard that the reason he decided to apply and accept the offer to head up the chamber was that it was an extension of what he has been doing for the past seven years at the Sacramento Metro Chamber.
“I’ve been doing economic development at the regional level for the last seven years with the Sacramento Metro Chamber,” he said. “I’ve had an opportunity to engage with and connect with a lot of communities on the ground across the region. Prior to my work with the Metro Chamber, I worked for a consulting firm and it was the same sort of work where we’d go in and we’d work on the ground with the community where we’d strategy and implement various economic development/ community development projects.”
“I’m at a place in my life where I’m really looking to connect with an individual community,” he said. He said he’d like to “work day in and day out with that community to pursue both its quality of life and its economic objectives and be part of that.” He added, “Frankly I can’t think of a better community than Davis to do that in.”
Mr. Yancey sees Davis as both “the most engaged community” and having a lot of “very exciting, very key decisions” that it has to make in the near future. These decisions will “guide” the “economic vitality” for generations to come, he believes.
He sees his first task early on to connect with all of the key stakeholders in the community. The need is to reestablish key relationships that he already has, but in his new capacity, and then start building new relationships with people he has not encountered previously.
“My goal from day one is to interface with the (Chamber) Board of Directors and begin pursuing their goals and objectives,” he said noting that finishing the 20/20 Prosperity Plan and putting the finishing touches on that document for a fall rollout is a key early priority.
In terms of key challenges, Mr. Yancey said, “A key issue I’m sure will be – front and center, right out of the gate – is likely to be the innovation parks.” He said, “There are a lot of issues: downtown parking, several other very high profile decisions… but from an economic potential perspective, the innovation parks are pretty tremendous in terms of their potential impact. I know there are folks in the community that are very very interested in seeing those developed and there are some other folks that aren’t sure that’s the right direction for the community to go.”
Mr. Yancey said working with the community on the peripheral innovation parks is going to be one of the very top priorities on top of all of the other chamber-related duties and working on behalf of our members.
We talked about strengthening the relationship between the business community and City Hall. A lot of it, he said, is just going to be relationship building. “We’re going to be leveraging existing relationships that I’ve got and stepping back for a moment. My overall philosophy of economic development and promoting economic vitality starts at the ground level, the level of the individual business and working collaboratively across both the public and the private sectors to build relationships with those folks who are primarily your clients in economic development, the existing business owners.”
“Working collaboratively between the chamber and the city in pursuit of the retention and the growth of our existing businesses – that’s kind of the foundation of it all for me,” he stated. Economic development, he would add, cannot focus just on business retention and expansion, you also have to focus on startups, innovation being transferred out of the university and commercialized, and also attracting new business to the area. “At least from my perspective, the business retention and expansion portion – that’s at the heart of it because particularly on the attraction piece your existing business community is best your best sales force when you’re looking to attract any kind of company from outside the area.”
The first people that are called when businesses are putting together their initial list of prospect sites is not the city or the chamber, but rather contacts that they have on the ground. And if those businesses sell a good story – you’re in the running. If not – you’re off the list, most likely.
He called the Davis Downtown an incredibly vibrant downtown. He sees one of the key issues faced by the downtown as panhandling.
He said, even across the region, one of the top issues is homelessness and panhandling and the “impact that it has on businesses and their ability to operate and the perception of the experience than their customers have when there’s a high degree of panhandling.” He added, “That will be a key issue and finding the right solution for the community.”
Another key issue, he said, was downtown parking. “There are some varying ideas about how to address, whether to address (this issue),” he added. He wants to learn more before he puts out a formal statement on those two issues.
Matt Yancey also offered a perspective on Davis at this point in time from a regional point of view.
“Davis is in a really unique position because a lot of people are regionally, are starting to recognize a couple of things,” he stated. One is that Davis can have its own brand of economic development. He said that, while we need economic development, “it doesn’t have to work at cross-purposes with our vision for our community and our quality of life.”
He added, “People are starting to recognize – and have for a while – that when it comes to innovation in this region, Davis is the epicenter of innovation and economic development with the technology that is coming out and can come out of UC Davis.”
He noted the Health Zone initiative that is coming out of the UC Davis Health System, and there are discussions around the World Food Ag Center, again tied to UC Davis – so again, he said, “UC Davis is the epicenter of innovation in the region and the economic potential for the region is significantly tied to the potential of Davis and vice versa.”
The perception of Davis is changing, he said. Mr. Yancey noted, “There are interests in Davis that want to maintain a certain way of life and that I think is recognized in the region. There is still a push-pull between economic development and maintaining the way things are.”
Matt Yancey closed his thoughts by stating, “I’m excited and I’m humbled to have the opportunity to work in Davis. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be engaged with Davis. I’ve enjoyed the work that I’ve done at the regional level interfacing with Davis and I can think of no better place to be at this point in my life.”
Mr. Yancey will spend the next couple of weeks winding down his duties with the Metro Chamber and transitioning to the Davis Chamber, officially taking the helm on August 26. Kemble Pope and Matt Yancey will work together for several weeks to ensure a smooth transition.
Mr. Yancey’s first public appearance as CEO will be on Tuesday, September 2, at the Chamber’s community luncheon which will feature keynote speaker UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. Tickets for the 09/02/2014, 11:45am luncheon at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Davis, CA, sponsored by HM.CLAUSE, are available at www.davischamber.com.
—David M. Greenwald reporting