What Should the Davis Innovation Ecoystem Look Like?

Davis Innovation Center is a proposed 4 million square foot Innovation Center north of Sutter Davis.
Davis Innovation Center is a proposed 4 million square foot Innovation Center north of Sutter Davis.

In her column on Monday, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi wrote, “To continue making progress, we must also acknowledge that the University’s participation in economic development faces distinct challenges even in the best of times and the best of circumstances.”

Her clear focus here was somewhat different than we might imagine, as she writes, “Research breakthroughs can create tension in and among traditional intellectual communities. We must work to become more sophisticated and nimble when it comes to assigning precise ownership of intellectual property and in technology transfer.”

She continues, “We need to be more creative, more vigilant and more determined to rise to the challenge. Maintaining a vigorous and successful innovation ecosystem like the one America built after World War II, and again after Bayh-Dole, will require changes in how industry and academia interact. And the government must also continue to play a major role through its funding, policies and regulatory mechanisms.”

While the chancellor went that direction with her column, we can easily imagine a more locally focused look at the innovation ecosystem here in Davis. The question we should attempt to address as a community is: what should the Davis Innovation Ecosystem look like?

Back in November, Davis Chief Innovation Officer Rob White cited an article by David Lumb, who highlighted the work by Tyler Crowley, “who is widely recognized as the catalyst for startup communities in places like Los Angeles, London and now Stockholm” Mr. Lumb points out that “Crowley has devised a not-so-secret recipe for creating startup neighborhoods from scratch.”

“There are four things that need to be in place in order to build a startup scene. The first is a venue that is cheap and central, where meetups can take place. The second is a monthly event where all of the startups gather. The third is an established hashtag everyone in the community can use to share photos and event info. And finally, a coworking space that is open 24/7 so that when an outsider lands in the city, they have a place to go and meet tons of people in the scene.”

It is noteworthy that this week, Pollinate Davis will launch their coworking space and tomorrow night Jumpstart Davis will hold its first meetup at that location.

Davis has, of course, launched its innovation ecosystem on a number of fronts. Back in May 2014, Rob White noted the years of work that culminated in the need for innovation park space. Two proposals are moving forward, both in the west at the Davis Innovation Center, and in the east at the Mace Ranch Innovation Center.

One of the central questions that Davis residents will be asked to address in the next year, ultimately at the voting place,, is what the innovation culture will look in Davis. Will it be confined to a relatively small number of spaces that are currently available, plus some that are expected to open up with some infill development or will be looking at millions of square feet of space?

As some have argued, Davis is not simply looking at one innovation park or one physical space. But rather the city has proceeded along the lines of the work by Studio 30 to develop a “dispersed strategy.”

As the many contributors to the Studio 30 report indicated, “Studio 30’s research suggests that the City pursue a broad strategy to attract innovative businesses that offers a number of sites that are scalable and range in size so the community can accommodate an incubator, startups and expanding businesses. Some should be directly in contact with the University. This mix of small and large sites allows the city the flexibility to successfully attract, grow and retain innovation businesses. External sites have the potential to support the most jobs because of their size and ability to accommodate a wider variety of both size and type of businesses.”

However, a crucial finding is that “the current isolated and dispersed sites that are available and appropriately zoned are not adequate in terms of size, location, or configuration (and related constraints) to address the emerging market need of an Innovation Center.”

The study continues, “With available reasonably priced land and effective marketing to innovative high tech companies, Studio 30 estimates Davis could absorb up to 10 percent or around 100,000 square feet of the 1-1.5 million industrial/office square footage absorbed annually in the Sacramento region. Because of this Studio 30 estimates Davis needs at least 200 acres for business development and expansion over a 20 +/- year time horizon.”

They continue, “A combination of one ‘close in’ hub or incubator with one (or in some future time, two) larger, less constrained (and presumably less costly) edge site offers the right mix of University proximity and identity with the expansion capability to address job growth and rapid business expansion.”

The Studio 30 report has helped to identify the potential locations both in the west and the east that are now moving forward.

Finally, as we noted on Sunday and Chancellor Katehi reiterated on Monday, UC Davis has a bold vision for the future. It seems it would be in both sides best interest to collaborate. The city of Davis is looking at expanding its economic base while UC Davis is the region’s largest employer, responsible for $7 billion a year in economic activity and hoping to continue to expand.

The ideal partnership would be for Davis and UC Davis to work together in synergy. That would benefit the city by allowing it to take home more tax revenue, and it would benefit the university as it would ready available space to continue and increase its technology transfer.

However, if history shows itself to be true, UC Davis is not going to wait for the city to get in gear.

As we know, UC Davis is already considering Sacramento’s downtown railyard as a potential location for a third campus and a spot where the billion dollar world food center might be located.

Maybe the railyard is the best place for a billion dollar world food center, just as downtown Sacramento was perhaps the best location for the UC Davis Medical Center – perhaps not.

It would be preferable if the citizens of Davis would make these decisions rather than having the decisions decided outside the community.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    It would be preferable if the citizens of Davis would make these decisions rather than having the decisions decided outside the community.”

    I am in complete agreement with this statement. To me, this is exactly what the measure R vote is all about. It is about the citizens of Davis making decisions over those aspects of our growth which we can control. We do not have the ability to force the Chancellor to decide to locate the world food center here in Davis any more than we can control whether any individual private business will decide that we do or do not offer the optimal venue for their business as it grows. What we can control is the nature of the development in those areas subject to the measure R vote. I see the current debate as just that, the Davis community as a whole ( not developers, not the university, not the county and not the state) deciding how we want our community to develop.


    1. DurantFan

      Well stated, Tia.  It seems that many busy Davis  residents (a majority?) are being  pushed hard on these matters and feel that they are being  continually forced into a reactive posture based on an externally imposed timetable.  Not a  good approach!

      1. Davis Progressive

        but the world operates on calendars and time tables.  unfortunately the leadership in this city got bogged down for years until the point where we either move, or the region moves without us.

  2. Don Shor

    The ideal partnership would be for Davis and UC Davis to work together in synergy.”

    What do you have in mind? Once again, you are being too general. Do you advocate that the city of Davis annex and develop land for university purposes? If not, what exactly to you propose the city and the university do to “work together”?

    Also, “innovation” is now officially the most over-used word of 2015.

      1. Topcat

        I don’t know how we talk about innovation parks without using the word “innovation”

        I suggest we use the term “industrial park” which could certainly cover the high tech industries that seem to be all the rage right now.

        1. Davis Progressive

          so the city is calling them innovation centers, that’s what the industry calls it, but we don’t like the term innovation – so we’ll call it something else.

  3. Barack Palin

    Just like “accident” versus “collision” now the debate turns to “Innovation”, “Low tech”, High Tech”or “Industrial” parks.

    Just like I don’t see the big deal calling it an “accident” who gives a flying fleep what we call the parks as long as they get built?



      1. Don Shor

        We wish to build some business parks to help the city improve its budget situation and keep some homegrown businesses here. Some of those businesses will be spinoffs from UCD research. We have an opportunity to fill those business parks faster than average, perhaps, because of the numbers and types of researchers that work at UCD.
        All the other stuff — “innovation ecosystem, innovation culture, leveraging, synergy” — are buzzwords. They’re marketing. I expect them to be used to sell things. I’m a little surprised to see them adopted so readily on the Vanguard.

        1. Davis Progressive

          and i’m a little surprised to see you nitpicking terminology.  innovation parks came out of the studio 30 report and has specific definitions.

          1. Don Shor

            Yes, and, as I’ve said before, neither of the peripheral sites meets the dictionary definition of an innovation park. Nishi does.
            But others have vigorously disagreed with me.
            The peripheral business parks that have been proposed have derived from a long process of commissions assessing the need and the possible sites. The Studio 30 report indicates a need for 200 acres. I think the two business parks would provide about double that. It all really has very little to do with the university’s planning process or the chancellor’s goals. I don’t think universities traditionally do much planning (‘synergy’) with local governments. Certainly that hasn’t been the case here in Davis, and if anybody could get city officials and university officials together in one room to discuss planning issues I would hope they would spend their time discussing the housing situation.
            These articles, by Dobie and David and others, keep bringing up the World Food Center. That is irrelevant to the Davis economic development issue. It would probably be a pretty unproductive use of peripheral land here to house any UC project that provides little revenue. And it just muddies the water.
            We have two modest-size business parks that are working their way through the planning process. They’ll probably be about as much as Davis voters will be likely to go for, and the bigger people try to make them sound, the fancier the jargon, the more repeated references to Palo Alto and other such communities — the more likely the voters are to get scared off.
            Keep It Simple.

        2. Davis Progressive

          i don’t follow you.  the studio 30 report spent a long time defining innovation parks and then recommended their placement in the two spots being explored currently, so i’m really not following you there.

          1. Don Shor

            Copying and pasting from a previous discussion on this: What is an Innovation Park?

            Innovation Centers are usually within
            three miles of a major university or
            research facility.
            • University proximity is complemented
            by close political, administrative,
            or financial relationships with the
            university. These relationships are
            characterized as mutually beneficial:
            the center provides a site for
            employment, particularly in the realms
            of research and development, while
            the university provides a steady stream
            of qualified staff, collaborators, and
            consumers. The university can also
            provide access to campus amenities
            and resources for innovation center
            employees. Often the community,
            innovation centers, and universities
            work together to apply for research and
            development funding.”

            Centers are near housing and a major
            downtown area. Research suggests that
            quality of life as it relates to community
            livability and access to cultural,
            entertainment and recreational amenities
            play an important role in a center’s
            success in attracting businesses.

            Innovation centers do not focus on
            recruiting a particular business or
            industry but instead try to attract a
            wide range of businesses whose
            only similarity maybe that they are
            innovative or cutting edge. Many centers
            include incubators for new and emerging
            companies to nurture cutting edge new

            Centers have shared spaces of varying
            sizes and types in order to nurture
            creativity and innovation. Shared spaces
            that bring together center occupants,
            such meeting and conference rooms,
            shared recreation areas or cafes, are key
            components of the built environment.
            This is also why proximity to downtowns
            is valued. Innovation centers and mixed
            use innovation districts provide amenities
            and support flexible creative live-work
            and desired sustainability focused
            lifestyle choices.< ./blockquote>


            In other words, sites where employees can live and work, walk to downtown, closely interact with the university, and where businesses will interact in shared spaces. Nishi meets all those criteria.
            Most of the focus on Mace 200 has been about finding space for one particular business: Schilling. There is no housing component. Neither the Mace nor NWQ proposals has significant connectivity to the downtown or to UCD. They appear to be pretty standard-issue peripheral business parks, which I am sure will be well-designed to meet Davis standards. But they aren’t Innovation Parks. They are Business Parks.

        3. Davis Progressive

          i think the three miles in this case is more of a guide, it’s modified by “usually” and importantly, the studio 30 report noted the necessityy of proximity of transportation hubs rather than being immediately adjacent to the university.

        4. Frankly

          They’ll probably be about as much as Davis voters will be likely to go for, and the bigger people try to make them sound, the fancier the jargon, the more repeated references to Palo Alto and other such communities — the more likely the voters are to get scared off.
          Keep It Simple.

          Funny.  I don’t really disagree with this, but I think the jargon and references are ALSO meant to help prevent people from being scared off.

          I have been in a couple of innovation park meeting where the agenda was thrown off by attendees challenging the “innovation” term.   Others in the room that have been more active in the history of ongoing dialog about economic development in the city seem to bristle a bit when this happens.  In their minds the terms have been sufficiently vetted and defined and anyone challenging them has just not read enough.  They say as much.

          The problem here with economic development, innovation parks and future related Measure R ballot items is that the target audience is diverse.  We have people with deep experience and deep familiarity, and we have academics that tend to dig into the details before they will accept a change.  Then we have others that get most of what they know about these proposals skimming the first and second page of the Enterprise and read Dunning.

          My point here is that I think we need both tracks… one to keep it simple and spin it correctly with an accurate selection and use of terms.  And the other to seek and report the more in-depth definition of things.

        5. Doby Fleeman


          Regarding your hyperlink reference, I am reaching a dead end.  It appears the document you are quoting from may have been developed or published by UC Davis Extension, but I can’t be sure.  IMO, it appears the definition you have cited is very specific to what is commonly referred to as the Nishi Gateway Project.

          I strongly disagree with your concluding paragraph, and take serious exception to you efforts to describe the Innovation Center projects a merely “standard-issue peripheral business parks.”  I would add that I have been very frustrated by various attempts to conflate or confuse the Nishi Project with the peripheral Innovation Centers (as they have been more formally identified through the RFEI process).

          To make a clear distinction, I describe the Nishi project as an “Innovation Hub”, the term originally adopted by Chancellor Katehi in 2011, rather than an Innovation Center as outlined in your reference.

          UC Davis Innovation Hub
          Initiative launched in February 2011 by Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi to identify concepts to align university research goals with regional economic development strategies through the development of an innovation hub.

          Web: http://arm.ucdavis.edu/news/innovation-hub/

          Even though this link is not operational, it helps to establish the chronology of the terminology.

          The distinction is important and not without merit.  The two peripheral Innovation Centers are what would typically be described as “university-related research park developments”.  Stanford Research Park in the West, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park are probably the two most referenced examples.  One is university owned, the other is state owner, but they are both characterized by their jobs creation potential.  In contrast, during last December’s council presentation by the Nishi Gateway project proponents, they variously described the new employment potential of the project as between 1,600-1,800 at full build out.  Nothing to sneeze at, to be sure, but not exactly a major employer or jobs initiative.

          Ironically, however, even the City of Davis’ current Home Page for the Nishi Gateway Project describes the non-residential component as a “university-related research park development”.  No thanks to the City, but the issue has been completely muddied and the distinctions now appear almost without merit.

          But the actual distinctions, in point of fact, are quite profound.  Each type of Innovation “activity” offers its own unique slice of the pie.  Each “activity” is important to the success of the other.  And, based on the comments in today’s blog, I think it would be very helpful to parse this issue and clearly delineate the salient characteristics being sought by the proponents with each development.

  4. Frankly

    We are fundamentally talking about the need for economic vitality.  Economic vitality for the city.  Economic vitality for the university.  And economic vitality of individual people and families.

    And the general label for the activity that creates and sustains this economic vitality is economic development.

    Economic development has three primary needs/ingredients:

    1. People (ideas, skills, motivations, labor, leadership, vision, etc.)

    2. Money (capital and capital access)

    3. Facilities (land, buildings, utilities, etc.)

    There is a need to strike a balance with these three things.  But, if you look around the globe, the challenge that most communities have is the lack of #1 and #2.

    Davis has #1 in abundance.  And there is also a lot of #2 readily available.

    What Davis is lacking is #3.  And it is lacking #3 only for artificial reasons… our no-growth policies of the past.  Consequently we are unable to exploit the lucky benefit of having a lot of #1 and #2.  We are out of balance in this respect.

    We can call and should call it innovation and innovation parks because of the types of businesses we expect to attract, but ultimately the issue boils down to economic development and the need to be in balance for the three main ingredients… are Davis voters going to support change that improves overall economic vitality by allowing peripheral business development?

    It really should not matter what labels we use if this is understood.

    1. Miwok

      I agree Frankly, and thank you to the other comments that said what I was thinking.

      This City has no desire to make this a bigger town. The superheated real estate, over abundance of students and lack of ability for businesses to grow has been good for the landowners and people who leveraged their income to chew up rest of the possible people who live or work here to buy a home.

      The huge numbers of students rent then leave. that is what the City likes. They don’t want new people in “their town”. Campus has a dearth of buildings mostly because of State increases in numbers of students. THEY did not want to grow that fast either. The City and Campus have one thing in common: The both want money without working for it.

      When Ms Katehi mentioned the $12Mil from inventions Every Year, she failed to mention what it is used for? They take half or more, according to recent employee agreements, and the other is probably royalties to the inventors. In other words, nice press release, but revenue neutral, not growth, except for the IRS.

      Back in May 2014, Rob White noted the years of work that culminated in the need for innovation park space.

      “Years of Work” results in a “need”. Nothing built.

    2. Davis Entrepreneur

      If artificial lack of land is the problem as proposed by “Frankly”, how about this for an out of the box idea.

      Why don’t we re-route I-80 south of Davis and free up all the land that the highway consumes right in the middle of our town?

      There is about 6 miles of I-80 running through the center of town and that uses about 2 square miles of land which is about 1,200 acres of land. At $100,000 per acre of land, this is about $120 million worth of land right in the middle of our town that would be ideal for the university expansion and the business park discussed above without the need to expand the city’s boundaries.

      It costs about $12 million per mile to build an 8 lane interstate so selling the land for development in Davis could cover the costs of moving the freeway and at the same time make our town far quieter and less polluted.

      As you can imagine, these are very rough estimates.

  5. Bill

    Onto something actually actionable:

    So, we have

    Monthly event where startups can gather (JumpStart)
    Hashtag everyone in the community can use (#jumpstartdavis)
    Coworking space (Pollinate)

    Do we have “a venue that is cheap and central, where meetups can take place”?  If not, does anyone have a suggestion for this one?

    1. DT Businessman

      Yes, Bill.  We have any number of venues that are cheap and central located.  Pollinate, Davis Roots, any number of downtown bars, restaurants, coffee shops, etc.  So while bloggers are busy arguing the definition of “innovation park”, we can continue to build our “innovation ecosystem” and “start-up community”.  Oh, wait, no…those are only “buzzwords”.  We better stop.


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