University Host Communities Face Financial Challenges

By Doby Fleeman

Following yesterday’s article, which discussed common attributes of university host communities, this week we focus specific attention on Davis as the host community to UC Davis, and the potential for increased technology employment to bring greater economic diversity and prosperity to the community.

In that context, I would like to keep the focus on two key points that are rarely addressed in open forum:

A high-performing host community is an incredibly value proposition for the university. Whether during recruitment — staff and students alike — or in its role as the essential living community for faculty, staff and their families — a healthy, fiscally sound host community is a must.

Historically, Davis has been willing to acknowledge, but reluctant to pursue the need for long-term economic development initiatives. These initiatives could prove essential if the community is to afford the services and amenities we often take for granted.

Today’s article expands upon the immensely synergistic relationship between the university and its local host community.

As noted in Part 1, it is not surprising that most research-based university towns make concerted efforts to attract and retain applied-technology-based companies whose work directly or indirectly reflects the research efforts underway at the university. And, that is exactly what we see emerging here in Davis.

Further, I would submit that it is in this role — to serve as a technology employment hub — that Davis can contribute its greatest value to the region.

I would be remiss in not acknowledging UCD’s role as a major regional jobs creator, best exemplified by the success of its Sacramento-based UCD Medical Center. Today, the Med Center is situated on a 142-acre campus and serves as the principal employer for some 10,000 people, with countless other supporting jobs in medical offices and laboratories throughout the Sacramento area.

The history and background of Med Center’s location form an important part of the story, which space constraints unfortunately do not permit. In short, however, it’s all those resulting, additional sources of municipal revenues that make the UCD Med Center such important piece of the local Sacramento economy.

Examples of research universities with major, local university medical centers are too numerous to mention. Further emphasizing the point, it is instructive to note that Stanford moved its teaching hospital from San Francisco down to Palo Alto in 1959. Anyone familiar with the amount of economic activity that surrounds any of these medical centers will begin to get an idea of the magnitude of their impact on local employment and local revenues to their host communities.

The Med Center is not going to be moving anytime soon, but beyond the health-care field what we find in most of these other leading research university host communities is the general proliferation of technology employment opportunities — opportunities that not only bring well-paying jobs, but also contribute significantly toward the property and personal property tax base of the community.

And, more so than simply the jobs and investment, the other thing these companies bring are:

* Benefits to the university in terms of proximate applied research job opportunities, technical expertise, access to state-of-the-art equipment and increased grant funding potential;

* Benefits to the local school districts in corporate matching grants, scholarships and internships;

* Benefits to community care programs through increased tax revenues and direct personal and corporate philanthropy; and

* Benefits to regional and global initiatives through accelerated sharing of the applied research being undertaken at the university.

All of these benefits combine to enhance the financial underpinnings and quality of life within the community. So, while the city and university may have their hands tied when it comes to freely discussing their needs for revenue — or the necessity of those additional revenues to ensuring their long-term financial sustainability and success — those of us in the private sector are not so constrained.

That said, it is clearly not the job of the city and the university to connect the dots for the community. It is up to the residents of Davis to demonstrate the leadership in this conversation, to make their own assessments of the challenges and opportunities presented, and ultimately to decide if this discussion is worthy of their support, encouragement and involvement.

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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  1. Davis Progressive

    “Historically, Davis has been willing to acknowledge, but reluctant to pursue the need for long-term economic development initiatives.”

    the issue is whether that will change.  it’s interesting that you bring up the med center because a lot of people fear the world food center will end up like that for davis.

    1. Doby Fleeman


      Not sure what people would fear.  But if there are people concerned about the issue, it would be nice to hear their articulated ideas presented in a public forum.  Makes it hard when folks have issues but don’t speak up.

      It just seems like the powers that be in Sacramento recognize its clear potential in terms of economic vitality, increased visitorship and related new jobs for their resurgent Downtown.  Perhaps more important, their political leadership and development community are unified, clear and persistent in their advocacy and willingness to invest in such projects.

      Straight up – if Davis wants to play on that stage, it’s going to have to step up its game.

      1. Davis Progressive

        but i don’t really get a sense that most people here in town want to play on that stage.  that includes me.  i’d like to see us develop an innovation park because it will help our finances, but beyond that, i’m skeptical.

        1. Doby Fleeman

          How would you feel about losing a large employer – one focused on appropriate university related food research  – to a neighboring community?

          Is it really just about the city’s finances?  What if your neighbor worked for that company and now found they had to move to Roseville to be closer to work?   Alternatively, what if that employer was able to offer 100 summer internships to interested local high school students?    What if the additional taxes paid by that employer made the difference in the city’s ability to finance a new Olympic Pool at Community Park?   What if that lost employee-neighbor was a major supporter of your church, or your kids soccer club, or the Davis Blue & White Foundation?

          To me, these are very tangible examples of community level, quality of life issues going far beyond merely the issue of improving the city’s finances.




    2. Frankly

      Do you mean that a lot of people in Davis fear the change/impacts that would occur if the World Food Center were Davis located?  Or, do you mean that a lot of people in Davis fear losing the World Food Center to Sacramento like the Med Center?

        1. Tia Will

          do you mean that a lot of people in Davis fear losing the World Food Center to Sacramento like the Med Center?”

          I think that the question that is not being considered here is where is the best location for the World Food Center.

          My perspective on the “loss” of the Med Center, is that it was not a loss at all. I was sad to see the Medical School move from Davis, but that was merely nostalgia. There is no doubt in my mind that the better location for the Med Center including the Medical School is in Sacramento. This is a better solution for the patients ( most of whom live in Sacramento ), the students who do not have to travel long distances to start their clerkships ( as I had to do) and for the majority of the interns, residents, and clinical instructors who do not have to travel back and forth for lectures or clinical rounds at different locations. In short, where is the best place for a hospital ( teaching or otherwise ) ?  Where the patient’s are.

          Where would the best location be for the World Food Center. My thought is “it depends”. If the World Food Center is going to focus on agriculture, then where the food is grown would be the best answer. If it is going to focus on ( as I suspect) food technology and food products ( as suggested by the partnering with Mars) then Sacramento might be the better choice.

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