Asking the tough questions: “Why so few technology employers?” and “At what cost?”


By Doby Fleeman

This week’s column focuses on two of the cities featured in the previous comparison matrix – Palo Alto and Boulder – both of which share a number of core community values with Davis. More importantly, both of these communities feature very robust and vibrant technology employment sectors.

Given general agreement that Davis is not exactly a destination resort community, nor a geographically situated magnet hub location, and certainly not a developed retail hub destination – this week we will explore communities which are recognized education and technology employment hubs and how those related attributes can contribute to local economic prosperity.

As background, Palo Alto was previously selected as a comparison city by our former Davis Business and Economic Development Commission in their 2009 report titled “Davis Economic Health & Prosperity Report”. In their report, the commission ranked nine California communities, including four university host communities like Davis, and five neighboring communities in Sacramento Valley. Communities were compared on a series of measures designed to reflect a overall Prosperity Index for each community. Categories included: Business Health, Business Climate, City Revenues measures, Quality of Life and Population Characteristics.   This report, which was very thoughtfully developed, was intended to be issued annually as “check in” on how were doing in these important categories.   In the 2009 report, Davis was ranked 3rd, scoring 4.7, behind Palo Alto (7.5) and Irvine (5.2).


A missed opportunity in the report, however, was the failure to identify or address the major disparities – both in the quantity and the quality of local technology employment opportunities – between the four university host communities chosen for its analysis. The following table reflects such an employer comparison between Davis, Palo Alto and Boulder based on employer data contained in the Annual Reports of the respective cities and the Boulder Economic Council.


While it is not possible to isolated the specific economic benefits resulting from a robust local technology employment sector versus other economic impacts influencing the fiscal health of given community, for a city with significant challenges in funding its essential municipal services – it seems worthwhile to further explore the possibilities.

To better make the point, the following table compares General Fund Revenue and Expenditures of the three communities – Davis, Palo Alto, and Boulder – in context of local community employment numbers and associated municipal financial statistics:


The main purpose of these comparisons is to highlight the differential in employment profiles between the three communities, and to posit the question: “What is the relationship between the size and composition of the daily workforce population and the underlying fiscal health of the community?” Overly simplistic, perhaps, but it is undeniable that the fiscal condition of these three communities varies greatly – with both Palo Alto and Boulder having significantly greater revenues and associated cash reserves available for delivery of essential municipal service obligations.

More subtle, perhaps, but when it comes to a discussion of Innovation Cultures, it is hard to downplay the critical role of private sector companies in terms of: 1) fostering creative human capital and leadership skills, 2) developing physical plant, equipment and fabrication resources, 3) providing financial resources and connections to capital markets, and 4) providing access to vertical and horizontal markets, vendors and subcontractors.

I’m willing to bet that in most thriving Innovation Cultures around the World, we would find a well integrated and vibrant private sector technology employment base which has evolved in parallel with the evolution and growth of one great learning institution or another.

As we look to strategies and opportunities for Davis to play to its inherent strengths, while also leveraging its proximity to the university as a principal engine of economic growth, I would encourage further reflection upon the results found in other research university host communities.

Doby Fleeman is a co-owner of Davis Ace Hardware. This editorial originally appeared in the Davis Enterprise and was submitted to the Vanguard by its author.


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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9 thoughts on “Asking the tough questions: “Why so few technology employers?” and “At what cost?””

  1. Bill

    Thanks for putting all the data together into something easily understandable.  Taking this a bit further… if you were in the driver’s seat, what concrete, actionable recommendations would you make in response the data?  What would you see as Step 1?

  2. Doby Fleeman


    This is Davis – Step One has sub-steps.  And, that’s OK – we just need to get on with the process.  Eventually, we’ll get around to Step One which is to create a space for interested new employers to locate here in Davis.  Without the space, we can talk all we want.


    Step One – As we’ve been trying to do through this series of articles, put the data into circulation.

    Step Two – Try to generate conversation about why we should care and how it relates to our current fiscal challenges.

    Step Three – Encourage our City Council leadership to own the economic disparities and how it relates to our meager municipal budget, develop their own talking points, and try to articulate why they believe this is a relevant/essential metric for consideration by the community.

    Step Four – Commit city funding/grant funding leading to a community survey and then a community forum to discuss how present challenges can be turned into a win-win opportunity for the community – strengthening our finances, enhancing our core values/quality of life, and reducing issues we find undesirable.

    In other words, develop a process through which we can best “manage” the process of change to achieve the most desired/optimal conclusion for the community?



    1. Davis Progressive

      i’m impressed with your piece and the overall picture it paints, i’m concerned that even step four doesn’t seem to be an action steps – survey, forum, etc.

      1. Doby Fleeman


        Thanks for your comments.

        Sub-Step 4 is something I have been advocating for the past several years.  It is the process of “involving” the larger community in what I have described as a “visioning process”.   This effort made it as far as Staff Report and Recommendation to City Council under Ken Hiatt’s leadership.  At that time, City Council, City Staff, Davis Chamber, Cool Davis and UCD were all at the table, together, in discussions with the William McDonough Partners, globally acclaimed community planners and sustainability advocates, and the subject was the steps involved, timing and budget for a completed “community inventory and survey”.

        Particularly because this is Davis, I happen to believe that our best chance for an “authentic, community centered vision” will necessarily involve a thorough and highly inclusive community engagement process, managed and facilitated by a recognized, world-class community planning enterprise.

        This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t proceed full-speed ahead with proposals like the Innovation Centers.  On the contrary, we are so underemployed, there should be little doubt about the need to accommodate interested world-class companies interested in locating here.

        What this Step 4 would provide, however, is a “dialed in backdrop and context” which presumably would be a great aid to any interested developers and to help provide the framework for an intelligent community discussion of any new development proposal.

        Where everyone gets a voice, and nobody is empowered to hijack the process.

        1. Doby Fleeman


          The estimated cost to fully execute such an undertaking is somewhere in the $400,000-$450,000 based on the last estimates I had seen.

          It had been envisioned as a “shared cost” undertaking by the parties involved – City of Davis, Davis Business Owners and UCD.   I’d guess that all the proposals are still in files over at City Hall.

          Only problem I can see is the money.  Why we can’t develop the necessary documentation to successfully apply for a “Sustainable Cities” grant from some well meaning government or non-profit agency – I have no idea.

        2. Bill

          I’m not suggesting that an outside firm be hired.  I’m suggesting that a community vision process, led by community members, is a good idea.  We have the skills/expertise in our midst.  I’m not sure an outside firm is necessary.

        3. Doby Fleeman


          It’s not like I’m a big advocate for more spending, but when we can manage to spend $1MM (of a developer’s money) on a speculative, prospective project – with ALL of that money being directed to a series of 3rd party professional consulting firms to conduct CEQA studies – it sure seems appropriate that city might want to spend a reasonable amount (particularly if the cost is shared amongst a broad range of community stakeholders) seeking the “independent” advice of the “best of class/best in field” to help determine the best way forward for the entire community.

          We certainly do have a great trove very talented, globally recognized experts among our midst.  Indeed, we are blessed with an incredible range of talent within this community.

          That said, everyone has his or her notion of who is the most qualified and most expert within our community.   If we just happen to have a Bill McDonough within our midst, that would be great.  Absent, that, it seems that an internationally recognized, independent third party “subject matter expert” with a proven track record involving sustainable development is something that this conversation, and more importantly, this community deserves.

          By seeking a disinterested, honest broker, we may be able to sidestep at least some of the quasi political, interest group squabbling in which we so often mire.

          If we can’t afford it, then we can’t afford it – but I’d rather see us do it right if we are going to do it at all.

  3. Frankly

    Very well done Doby.

    We need more tables like this to compare Davis to other communities.

    As I have written before, it is fine to celebrate being “quirky”… but there is quirky-good and there is quirky-bad.   And related to economic health, we Davisites are not blessed with any greater enlightenment of how to make it strong.  These other communities are, in fact, more advanced and more sophisticated on that front.  They might be able to learn a thing or two from us for how to preserve open space around a city, but it is clear that can learn from them how to grow the local economy while still remaining a great place to live.

    Ultimately, the revenues per capita and spending per capita measures are what we should be focusing on.  They are the primary indicators of city financial health.

    Another bogie that would be interesting is the average fully-loaded labor cost per employee.  At some point the more capable cities are going to figure out how to stop the madness of gross over-compensation of their employees.  It would be good to track that metric to compare Davis.

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