Last Thursday, the Vanguard hosted its Innovation Park Discussion Forum at DMG Mori in Davis. At least 50 people from the community came out to hear an early discussion on the innovation parks. The panel featured County Supervisor Jim Provenza, Louis Stewart the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (Go-Biz), Matt Yancey the new CEO of the Davis Chamber, Michael Bisch, the President of Davis Downtown and Tia Will from the Vanguard editorial board.
The forum was moderated by Chris Granger from Cool Davis and featured three questions from the moderator followed by some audience questions. The Vanguard has compiled all of the audience questions and will be breaking them out over the next weeks as points of discussion.
In his opening remarks, Supervisor Jim Provenza remarked on the strong turnout at the event. He noted that the county provides a lot of services, and needs to pay for these services. He said that because they have been good environmental stewards, “we have restricted most development to the cities. Because we’ve done that we operate on a very small tax base.”
The proposed Innovation Park is based on county land that would be annexed into the city. There are a number of issues of concern, but Mr. Provenza stated, “Our approach will be to work with the city and whatever the city decides, whether it be the Mace Innovation Park, the Davis Innovation Park out by the hospital, or the other proposal floating out there, whatever the city decides we’re nothing, we’ll help the city do that, but I don’t view it as a County decision as to whether the project goes forward or not.”
Louis Stewart explained that the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development “is in the business of trying to help business do business in California.” His role “is to foster an ecosystem throughout the state – that means helping entrepreneurs and helping innovators succeed.” He works with government-academia-industry to create an ecosystem that helps create long-term jobs. That works through the Innovation Hub program which has been around for four years.
Davis is part of the Sacramento iHub and there are 16 programs around the state. This one is focused around agriculture, clean-tech, and medical.
Matt Yancey explained that the Davis Chamber sees “the innovation parks as being very much in line with two of the key things that we are about. Which is cultivating economic prosperity and economic vitality here in the community in Davis and growing and maintaining a world class workforce. For us, pursuing this planning process for the Innovation Parks has the potential to, if developed in the manner that’s consistent with the needs and the values of the community and in keeping with the core tenants of what a university research is, hit a home run on both those things in a very very big way.”
Tia Will explained that she was not anticipating being here; she was a last minute fill in for one of the planned speakers. She explained that, while economic development is important, she has other interests. She is very supportive of a healthy environment for our city – both physical and social.
“I do not want these issues to be brushed aside as though they were not critical parts of the well-being of Davis,” she explained. “I am here to express concerns about these parks and how they might be rolled out, that might not be brought up otherwise.”
Michael Bisch noted he’s a commercial real estate broker by trade and passionate about the community sustainability.
The first question was a three part-question: What specific physical or operational features do you think should be included in an innovation park that make it substantively different than a traditional business park? What unique economic benefits are likely to accrue to our community? How can the city ensure that any innovation park will contain those desired business types and innovation activities?
Jim Provenza said he would look for sustainability in terms of energy, not adding to our carbon footprint. This makes it different than a traditional business park. At the same time, he said, he’d like to see it large enough to attract an array of different businesses.
“I’m particularly about the businesses that we have now that are looking for bigger facilities that we don’t want to lose,” he said, citing Schilling Robotics whose facility he recently visited. “I think how it’s marketed is significant. That it’s being marketed for innovative businesses, that there’s room for the various size businesses, and that it’s an environment that people would want to be in.” The companies that would move in are looking for “a nice place to live, but also a nice place to work.”
Louis Stewart stated, “If I was envisioning what an innovation park would look like in California… I think a research park in California, particularly Davis, would primarily focus on creating intentional collisions.” He talked about making “a space” where students, entrepreneurs, and businesses that want to expand “who can be in a place and go to a café and actually talk to each other.” He said in this way, “you can actually create an ecosystem where at any particular point in time, you’re running into incredibly smart, dynamic individuals that are actually here to make Davis a better place.”
He said creating that kind of environment is more important than worrying about the types of companies that one attracts. With these kinds of “collisions” you have “additional innovation that can happen at the park.” We need to look at an innovation park as a “demonstration facility.”
As far as the economic benefits, “if it’s done properly, you’ll see increased employment, higher salaries, attract more companies to the region, and additional revenues to the city.”
Matt Yancey emphasized, “A university research park, what we’re calling innovation parks within this context, a university research park is not a business park. It is not an industrial park.”
He explained that in an industrial park you would have hundreds of acres of low story buildings and crates waiting to get trucked out to the customer, “that’s not what we’re talking about here.” Instead, “We’re talking about relatively dense development where we’ve got really smart, cutting edge in their field individuals, working to solve the kinds of problems that are plaguing us today.”
They are designed with public and open spaces where these individuals bump into each and trade ideas, can share theories, and reinforce within the field.
The economic benefit from his perspective “is that you’ve got people who are making very good wages and you’ve got companies that are producing very good products. They are producing tax revenue – both property tax revenue (and) sales tax revenue over a very long term that supports the quality of life that communities are looking for these days.”
Tia Will said “it makes all of the sense in the world to me to leverage the competencies of our universities.” She said that smaller businesses and startup businesses “makes a lot of sense to me across a very large range of areas that the university has competencies.”
She said, “I am wondering if there may not be a point where the company gets to a point where they’re actually too big to fit well within the Davis community.” She thinks that perhaps a larger company might want to expand to Woodland, West Sacramento or Sacramento rather than stay in Davis. “There’s nothing that says that because we provide a space for a company now that looks attractive that they won’t outgrow that, so I think there’s some questions about what kind of – when we’re talking about a multi-year project, I think we’re talking about build outs of five to ten years – it would be nice if the community had some kind of reliability behind companies staying here as opposing to moving on.”
She said we need to look at location and what kind of impact people coming in and out of these sites would have on the residents that already here. About the Mace site, for example, she believes that the location means automobile traffic on the freeway, “this is going to have a major impact on the folks in that area.”
She noted the wording of the third part of the question, “desired business types and innovation activities,” and noted that people in the community will have different definitions of desirability. She is concerned “that we will be targeting too narrow a range.” She is concerned about the city picking “winners and losers.”
Michael Bisch stated that the answers to all of these questions are in the Studio 30 Report, commissioned by the city.
Reading from the report, he said that they identified the key attributes of an innovation park as: “A strong University partnership; An excellent location, close to downtown, housing and recreation; Accessibility to various transportation modes and major transportation hubs, well connected at global and local levels; Lifestyle amenities including a walkable, viable downtown, excellent public schools, and extensive recreation opportunities; Community support for innovative, knowledge-based businesses and activities of various types; An emphasis on green/sustainable design; opportunities for highly skilled innovators to connect, interact and share ideas; and, A strong emphasis on branding and marketing focused on the University research strengths, quality of life, innovative ideas and lifestyles.”
Michael Bisch read from Studio 30, as well, on community benefits. Studio 30 wrote, “The greatest community benefits of an Innovation Center derive from job creation.”
He read, “The relatively high caliber of firms attracted to the center; Enhanced growth in the total number of existing and new companies; The higher salaries of center employees relative to the average wage in the region; Enhanced employment growth in the community and region; Positive effect that the center has on the local tax base by providing high paying jobs and attracting other businesses; Businesses that provide services to center customers and employers generate additional revenue for the community.”
He said, “Pursuing this kind of strategy will result in the reduction in commuting and green house gas emissions because over 50 percent of our residents, according to Studio 30, drive to other communities to work. And over 50 percent of our workforce is driving from other communities to work here.” He noted on the periphery at 8 am during the work week we will see massive amounts of traffic going in all different directions.
We will have a series of these articles laying out the different responses.
—David M. Greenwald reporting