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.