A piece written in the local paper this week got me thinking about the economic development landscape for Davis and the innovation parks. Wrapped in a nice article on Schilling Robotics was the political reality faced by the community and Davis City Council.
More than just the reality it is a dilemma. The lead paragraph however, stuck in my craw. It read, “Davis’ entire economic present and future can be symbolized by one local company: Schilling Robotics, LLC.”
The more I have thought about – the more I disagree with the comment and that is nothing against Schilling or a potential Mace Innovation Center that might be the future home of Schilling.
As I have argued previously, there were two critical moments that made this current economic development push for innovation parks possible in the Davis landscape. That is the discussion that arose twice over Mace 391 back in 2013. The other was the departure of Bayer-Agraquest, which like Schilling was a native born Davis company that needed space to leave.
The reality is this – we have many companies that are looking to grow and retain their presence in Davis. Schilling Robotics is but one example of that need. The community through a Measure R vote is ultimately going to have to weigh the risks and downsides of developing on the periphery against the need to preserve and retain these companies.
Tyler Schilling and Schilling Robotics is in fact betting on Davis. He is betting that Davis will over-come its well-earned reputation as being an unfriendly city to business. He is clearly willing to take more of a change to try to stay than other companies have in the past or would have.
In that sense, I think Schilling Robotics is less the symbol of Davis’ entire economic present and future, than one of many who will be testing to see which way the wind ultimately blows when they decide what to do.
At the same time, in the last six months, my view of the Davis economic present and future has been radically transformed.
The most conspicuous part of the economic development future will be the innovation parks. These are getting tremendous amount of attention. We are looking to potentially add 7 million square acres of potential space both at Mace and the Davis Innovation Center.
In addition, Nishi is moving forward as well and while it is a smaller property with a much smaller amount of innovation space, it is also a Measure R vote that will require the community’s support.
One of the big questions is timing. When this discussion came up a few weeks ago, he was concerned about the prospect of three projects being on the ballot at the same time and having “this massive, multi-project, free-for-all on the ballot.”
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis would add, “I think it’s problematic and I don’t think it honors the community process to do it that way.”
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs went a step further, saying, “It’s crazy actually. Not just problematic.”
While Mayor Dan Wolk was not ready to agendize a discussion on timing, in the latest article he acknowledged it was a critical issue that should not be left to the mark to decide. He told the paper, “I think it is incumbent on the City Council to lead in this area.”
But while the innovation parks and Nishi are important policy issues, the entire economic future does not rest with them.
We have been covering the startup movement in Davis. We have the ongoing efforts of Davis Roots, the newly emerging Jumpstart Davis, and now the worker space of Pollinate Davis. These are startups, they are small companies with few employees for now, but they are doing exciting and innovative things and some of these companies could relatively quickly become the next Schilling Robotics or Agraquest or any number of other native born Davis companies.
UC Davis is of course a driving force in research and tech transfer from university research to startup companies. While we have discussed some of the universities efforts behind the World Food Center, concerned that the city would miss out on a potential billion dollar plus World Food Center, the university figures to become a driving force in the region.
Chancellor Linda Katehi recently laid out her vision for the future of innovation writing, “Never before have universities held such great potential for making an impact locally, nationally and globally.”
She writes, “Universities of the 21st century will be defined by the impact they make, not only in educating our students but also in finding solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. Which is why building robust, lasting collaborations among universities, government and industry is so important.”
“To cite just one potent example, thanks to partnerships between universities such as UC Davis, government and state agricultural producers, California has become a $45 billion-a year-industry and has been the largest agricultural producer in the nation for more than five decades. And the solutions we’ve developed here have spread across the country and the world, helping to feed and nourish countless millions,” the Chancellor continues.
“The recent partnership we announced between the World Food Center at UC Davis and Mars, Incorporated to create a new Innovation Institute for Food and Health on our campus is another promising collaboration,” she writes. “Universities, government and industry working together have great potential to accomplish much more than would be possible if they only worked alone. I look forward to even stronger collaborations in the future.”
Finally, we have the innovation coming from private industry. Nearly a month ago, Panattoni announced it planned to develop between 150,000 and 225,000 square feet of new Class A office, lab and technology space on a site the lies on Chiles Blvd along I-80. The site is said to be the largest undeveloped site within the City of Davis currently approved for development.
According to a press release, “The proposed state-of-the-art campus design will focus on sustainability, technological enhancements, and a strong sense of place both indoors and outdoors.”
In short, while the Innovation Park and the retention of Schilling Robotics is important, we have many other major endeavors that will help shape the economic present and future of Davis. First we have the Davis Innovation Center. Second we have Nishi. Third, we have the emerging startup culture through Davis Roots, JumpStart Davis and Pollinate Davis. Fourth we have the ongoing efforts of UC Davis. And fifth we have private efforts such as Panattoni. Finally, while we have not mentioned it much, there is also the proposed Hotel Conference Center on Richards at the current site of the University Park Inn and Caffe Italia that figures to bring in large amounts of tax dollars to the city.
These changes mark a sea change from what was happening even two years ago when the city started to change its direction and brought in Chief Innovation Officer Rob White whose efforts have been instrumental at bringing the public along to both the needs and possibilities.
A lot of this new leadership is coming not only from City Hall but also from elements of the community. The big question of course is will the general public embrace these opportunities. That remains to be seen.
—David M. Greenwald reporting