It is easy to overstate things and we must guard against that. But I think it is important for publications like the Vanguard to add context and to push people into uncomfortable places at times, as a way of holding a mirror up to ourselves.
A year ago, the city of Davis was fresh off the glow of bringing forth two apparently viable projects that might be able to go to the voters as innovation park proposals. The startup and entrepreneurial community was energized and that energy led to things like Jumpstart Davis and Pollinate Davis as incubators of potential startups.
In August, the business community was excited to bring in a fresh CEO, Matt Yancey, who had extensive background in community and economic development at both local and regional levels. For the past seven years, he has served as the Director of Business and Economic Development for the Sacramento Metro Chamber.
These exciting opportunities came on the wings of Davis landing in 2013 a new chief innovation officer (CIO), in fact, taking him away from the city of Livermore.
Barely a year later, the sky may not yet be falling, but the picture is decidedly more grim. The CIO is gone. One of the two innovation park proposals has dropped off the scene, at least for the immediate future. The other is in the middle of the Measure R process, but has not had the best of weeks.
This weekend came the news that just over a year into his job, Matt Yancey is leaving to take a post with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), in their Economic Development Department. In this new role, the release says that he will be working on regional innovation and economic development public policy, as well as entrepreneurship support programs.
Those were the things that we were hoping he would be doing here. Again, it is easy to overstate the impact of such a move. However, I view it as a blow.
For those who believe that Mr. Yancey was looking for bigger opportunities – perhaps. But it is worth noting that, when he was hired, he had spent seven years at the Sacramento Metro Chamber. He clearly regarded the Davis Chamber as an opportunity at the time. And while he likely would have moved on to something new at some point, had he spent seven years here as he had the Metro Chamber, it might have been worth it.
After all, when was the last time someone lasted seven years in that kind of position in Davis?
The Vanguard has not spoken to Matt Yancey since his decision. His predecessor Kemble Pope told the Vanguard, “I wish Matt the best in his future endeavors. He did a great job bringing SBDC resources for local small business owners into the Davis Chamber offices downtown. The Davis Chamber has an incredibly strong, talented and engaged volunteer Board of Directors that will certainly recruit a high quality CEO to continue the organization’s long history of community improvement.”
He added, “In the meantime, the dedicated Chamber Staff and volunteer Ambassadors will do a great job keeping the Davis Chamber focused on improving the economic vitality of its members and the community at large.”
Again, the sky is not going to fall on the chamber or the Davis hopes for economic development because of this loss, but it is no doubt a serious blow coming on a string of serious blows.
There are still a lot of exciting things happening in our community on this front. We will likely never know the full story of why Matt Yancey left. Perhaps it is simply that he had an opportunity he could not turn down.
But I have my concerns. They are rooted in the question as to what Davis should be. I view Davis as a place with immense but largely untapped potential. It is one reason that I have chosen to stay here as long as I have and build the Vanguard up from scratch, piece by piece.
We have the promise of the university, which has not always lived up to its vast potential. But we stand at the forefront of an opportunity to see UC Davis go from a good public university to a great one. And Davis, standing alongside it and partnering with it on key endeavors, stands to benefit.
What I love about Davis is the high quality of the community, the care and thoughtfulness of many of its citizens. While Davis is a small town, I have often said that it does not have a small town feel at times. Issues take on huge importance. People dig into the battles because those battles matter to them.
I don’t know that an entity like the Vanguard could survive in a community that does not take itself as seriously as Davis does.
But with that care and concern comes a price. There is a very base element in Davis. At its core these battles are bitter and divisive. They are not for the weak at heart. Many people who come to this community from the outside do not have the stake that those who have lived here for years have. They easily get frustrated at having to bash their heads against the wall to make progress or get dragged through the muck when they try to implement small changes.
Some people view this as Davis having an overdeveloped ego or sense of self. Davis believing it is at the center of the proverbial universe. But I don’t agree. This is our home, why would we not try to make it better?
Those who view those who stand in the way of change need to understand that the “obstructionists” simply have a different vision of Davis. And those who view those trying to make changes as the enemy, need to understand that there is more than one way to keep and maintain this great community.
In the last few years, time and again, I have called on this community to decide who we are, what we want to be and where we are going to go. By laying out a vision – we may be able to find common goals and common ground that was missing.
We have tremendous assets to do great things, but often get caught up in small fights over small things. And those small fights get in the way of that greatness. We have hired a lot of great people in the time I have been running the Vanguard, and too often we have lost those great people due to the worst aspects of the community – which get in the way of the best ones.
It is not too late to right the ship, but it is time to seek out our own better nature.
—David M. Greenwald reporting