Last week the Vanguard reported that the report by John Meyer on City Hall called for “doubling down” on economic development efforts. The report stated, “I believe the City should ‘double-down’ on its investment in economic development activities.”
“The City is developing a reputation of supporting business development,” he said. “A number of major businesses have chosen to locate in Davis. Should the City now dim its focus and investment in economic development, that action will be broadcast throughout the region by your competitors.”
John Meyer elaborated on the point which is that the “City has made phenomenal progress on Economic Development.” He made a point that he doesn’t think got enough regional play – the city of Davis beat out Chicago to get Mori Seiki. “It’s on an amazing trajectory,” he said. But he warned that we “have to make sure the foot is on the accelerator. The region is very competitive.”
City Manager Dirk Brazil indicated that the city was looking at a more balanced approach to economic development putting resources not only into peripheral innovation parks but also into the downtown.
This week, the Vanguard sat down with Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis to get his sense for the state of economic development in Davis.
Robb Davis said, “Fundamentally what we’re trying to do is diversify our economic landscape – diversify the opportunities for businesses to come and stay here. Diversity the employment picture, so we don’t just have a couple of major employers, but we have a more diverse set of employers providing jobs in the future.”
He said that while “innovation” has been the main topic of conversation, the reality is that what we are trying to do is create more diversity.
Right now, “in the private sector we have this burgeoning start up culture that’s trying to find its feet. We now have some examples of mature companies that started in Davis and are giving indications of wanting to stay long term.”
Robb Davis also cited examples of companies that are moving into Davis due to the strengths we have. He cited HM Claus which is inaugurating an innovation incubator within the university – lab space.
It is no longer just the university and the state who are the massively overwhelming majority employer in the city, but there will be other types of businesses that will be part of that mix.
Robb Davis cited a council goal of resilience which he saw in part as economic, “in that we’re not over-relying on a single sector to drive the economy or to provide the resources that we need to have the city services.”
The question is how do we get there and that is where the debate lies. “There is a no one single thing that the city can or should do to nurture that,” he said.
Robb Davis highlighted several things that the city is doing. He said the first thing might seem surprising which is getting the city’s fiscal house in order. This creates “a certainty” and “a fiscally sound” city in terms of infrastructure.
“You’re seeing more and more in our budgeting process that we are building in approaches that are starting to fund our long-term liabilities for pension and retiree medical,” he said. They have long time horizons, “but we’re not kicking the can down the road anymore.”
With this budget, he said, “We’re building in more explicitly to deal with the maintenance backlogs and the replacement backlogs that we have for infrastructure.”
Second, beyond infrastructure, “we’re creating budgeting processes that are more honest in terms of the things we need to pay for.”
Third, “we appointed a subcommittee and we’re seriously looking at how we can remove barriers to redevelopment.” He wants to create more mixed-use spaces and spaces for startups. “A lot of that is just making sure that our zoning, area specific plan, and permitting processes don’t come across as barriers to people who want to redevelopment, but actually occur it.”
When the city commissioned Studio 30 to come up with a report, they laid the foundation for what they called “The Dispersed Innovation Strategy” which seeks to maximize existing space and assets but then pushes the city to development lands in the west and/ or the east as research or innovation parks.
“I think it means that as we think about the business development pathway that we’re creating and enabling an environment where businesses can thrive,” Robb Davis explained. “A lot of what is happening in the community is not and should not be driven by the city government.”
He cited Jumpstart and Davis Roots – “Those are organic things that are happening in our city and at best the city can help facilitate them, but largely needs to get out of the way and let them develop.”
He said where he sees the dispersed plan, “there are efforts underway to create spaces – social spaces, business spaces, physical so that startups, ideas floating from the university and elsewhere have a place to start.”
In addition, he said, “We need to work closely with businesses that are already here to stay, so they can stay and grow here.” He cited Cedaron Medical, Marrone Bio Innovations and Schilling Robotics as examples. He added, “I think staff is trying to figure out with people how do we grow within the constraints that we have if you want to stay here.”
Finally, he cited the hours of work that staff and consultants have put into the innovation parks “to do the required analysis, environmental impact work, but also to get community input, to meet with the developers, even to the point where it’s not just city staff, but city council members, engaging all of the stakeholders to understand what it’s going to take to get it in front of the voters.”
On some of this – such as the economic analysis the city is taking a lead role, but on other issues it is trying to stay out of the way.
Robb Davis also mentioned housing. The university is going to be growing. “In the last 6 to 10 months, that the city manager’s office with support from the council has started engaging in a much more strategic level discussions with many levels of the university.” This is not just business and start up stuff, but “how are we going to house people” and “how are we going to accommodate the growth of the university.”
“Really nuts and bolts issues that need to be dealt with as we think about this broader economic development process that we’re in,” he said. He said this is a “significant shift” in the way the community and university are discussing these issues.
This is just the overview of the economic development picture. In a future installment, the Mayor Pro Tem drills down a bit further on some of these issues.
—David M. Greenwald reporting reporting