Economic Development Series: Economic Development That Is Right For Davis

Innovation-Park-exampleBy Rob White

The Davis Vanguard has asked people in the community to weigh in on the comment (essentially), “no more innovation parks… what’s next for economic development?” I have decided for this article to take some of my past writing on this subject and restate it here.

I have chosen to spend my time on the importance of recognizing that economic development has a very specific meaning and that not every activity being discussed is actually economic development. Some of the activities and concepts being discussed by people in Davis are actually community development, some are sustainability goals and some are just good community building with focus on place-making. But they are not economic development (or at least not by definition).

The International Economic Development Council, the leading professional organization for economic development, defines the subject like this:

In the broadest sense, economic development encompasses three major areas:

  • Policies that government undertakes to meet broad economic objectives including inflation control, high employment, and sustainable growth.
  • Policies and programs to provide services including building highways, managing parks, and providing medical access to the disadvantaged.
  • Policies and programs explicitly directed at improving the business climate through specific efforts, business finance, marketing, neighborhood development, business retention and expansion, technology transfer, real estate development and others.

The main goal of economic development is improving the economic well-being of a community through efforts that entail job creation, job retention, tax base enhancements and quality of life. As there is no single definition for economic development, there is no single strategy, policy, or program for achieving successful economic development. Communities differ in their geographic and political strengths and weaknesses. Each community, therefore, will have a unique set of challenges for economic development.

Source: International Economic Development Council, http://www.iedconline.org/clientuploads/Downloads/IEDC_ED_Reference_Guide.pdf

I realize that this is semantics more than anything, but it seems important to make sure that a dialogue on this subject has clarity so that those charged with the execution of the activities understand their roles, maximizing their efforts.

To that end, I would highlight two documents specific to the City of Davis that are meant to address this subject of economic development in Davis. Both of these documents have been worked on by staff and approved as work plans/road maps by a 5-0 city council vote.

The first is the City of Davis’ “Innovation and Economic Vitality Work Program”, approved by Council at the May 13, 2015 meeting. The work plan lists specific focus areas that the City Council directed staff to devote time to over the period July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016, which means it is still relevant.

Innovation and Economic Vitality 2014-16 Work Program

Those focus areas include:

Focus Area 1 – Facilitate Technology and Business Development

Focus Area 2 – Increased University Engagement

Focus Area 3 – Expand Support Network for Local Business

Focus Area 4 – Strategic Branding and Marketing

Focus Area 5 – Leadership

The second document is the Council Goals, in which the economic development area (primarily Goal #2) is built on this work plan.

City Council Goals 2014-2016

Both of these documents also reflect that not everything in the area of economic development can be worked on by any single organization, and that there is need for collaboration and partnership from organizations like: the Davis Chamber of Commerce; Downtown Davis; Yolo County Visitor’s Bureau; Davis Roots; Area 52; Pollinate Davis; the UC Davis Childs Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and the UC Davis Office of Research Venture Catalyst.

There has been significant work by all of these organizations, and other community groups, to create new company starts, increased job opportunities, and a robust economy. And we have a road map that has been memorialized by the City, with community input and approval by city council.

Now that we are faced with only a single proposal of the three ‘innovation centers’ (or research parks, or whatever you like to call more space for research, development, and tech companies) left on the table, let’s go back to the plans and goals and see what the city has been trying to achieve. Let’s not be distracted by the hand-waving that can happen based on emotion, but instead look at the well-vetted process that arrived at specific conclusions and actions.

Most certainly, the Nishi Gateway proposal is the best next step that Davis can make to provide a place for companies coming from or supporting the university. Companies that are pre-wired to promote the Davis community goals of sustainability, protections for agriculture, and engineering solutions to create a better living environment for all.

These companies include those working in food security, new energy sources, advanced manufacturing, and medical devices. They are full of young researchers and faculty advisors and desire deeply to be in the community they have come to love once they are launched. By supporting research areas in close proximity to the university, we build on Davis’ unique perspective of the world and help create a place where there is critical mass for companies that could discover or promote the next solution to so many global issues.

That is economic development that supports our core values, creating urban infill and walkability that creates jobs and opportunity… and that is the Davis way.

Rob White is the former Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Davis and current serves as Chief Strategist for Sierra Energy.


Editor’s note: following the decision by Mace Ranch Innovation Center to put its pending project on hold, the Vanguard decided to re-start a community discussion on the future of economic development in Davis.  As such, we are reaching out to a very diverse group of people and starting May 1 we are hoping to publish one op-ed a day on this subject.  We are pleased to announce that so far we have over 40 commitments and counting. Beginning today, we will publish one article per day for the month of May into June.  If you would like to add your voice – please submit your piece on the future of economic development in Davis (800 to 1000 words).

May 1: Robb Davis

May 2: Elaine Roberts Musser

May 3: Dan Carson

May 4: Matt Williams

May 6: Peter Bell

May 7: Bob Fung

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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35 Comments

  1. Matt Williams

    In this article Rob White has focused on what he sees as the Vision for economic development in Davis, andas I said in my article in this series last week, that Vision based on a strategy of leveraging the research programs and intellectual capital of UC Davis is solid. Rob identifies some (but not all) of those leverage points:

    These companies include those working in food security, new energy sources, advanced manufacturing, and medical devices. They are full of young researchers and faculty advisors and desire deeply to be in the community they have come to love once they are launched. By supporting research areas in close proximity to the university, we build on Davis’ unique perspective of the world and help create a place where there is critical mass for companies that could discover or promote the next solution to so many global issues.

    What Davis hasn’t successfully done is make that Vision “real” for a substantial portion of the Davis residents.  Down side risks have dominated the community discussions . . . and the recent MRIC “pause” appears to have been driven by downside risks.

     
    Our efforts to balance the community conversations with dialogue about the upside as well as the downside have not succeeded thus far. Talk about the upside has focused more on personal beliefs than on tangible evidence. The result is a stalemate, with the passions of Frankly, Mark West, Doby Fleeman, et.al. being offset by the passions of Ron, Tia Will, et.al.   We had a similar stalemate in the dialogue about Fluoridation.

    We can accept the stalemate (as we did in fluoridation), or we can try and enhance the quality of the dialogue.  To do that, I believe the City, the Innovation Center developers, and UCD need to work together to build rock solid documentation of clear examples of evidence of how other cities have leveraged close collaboration with their university’s intellectual capital and research programs to produce an environment that mitigates the downside risks and maximizes the upside potential. 

    It is not too late to be creating that kind of evidence, and making that evidence a central part of the public dialogue.  UCD and the City and the private sector need to truly collaborate in its production.  The entire distributed innovation ecosystem in Davis will benefit from that kind of collaborative effort.
     

     

    1. nameless

      To do that, I believe the City, the Innovation Center developers, and UCD need to work together to build rock solid documentation of clear examples of evidenceof how other cities have leveraged close collaboration with their university’s intellectual capital and research programs to produce an environment that mitigates the downside risks and maximizes the upside potential.

      Do you honestly believe EVIDENCE will change the minds of staunch no-growthers?  Come on!

      1. The Pugilist

        What we have to do is engage those in the middle who are neither pro-growthers nor no-growthers, but who are likely the majority but not paying sufficient attention.

      2. Matt Williams

        No nameless, I do not expect to change the minds of the staunch no-growthers.  However, I do believe well documented evidence will resonate with a substantial segment of the no-growthers like Tia who do their best to try and make an informed decision.  Even more importantly, evidence will resonate with smart-growthers.

        For me the situation is very much like what happened in the Measure P water rates kerfuffel.  The staunch no-growthers formed an alliance with (A) the people who saw CBFR as “too confusing/too hard to understand” and (B) the people who saw CBFR as “unfair” to renters.  Morphing CBFR with its robust fiscal foundation into 87-13 with the same robust fiscal foundation addressed both the “fairness” and “understandability” issues, and as a result the staunch no-growthers did not have the natural allies that they needed to continue the “no water” coalition.

        Said another way, I think the vast majority of Davis residents have roots in Missouri . . . all they are asking for is to “show me” why a decision makes sense.

        1. Tia Will

          Matt

          And here I thought that we were headed towards some kind of agreement when you said the following :

          a substantial segment of the no-growthers like Tia who do their best to try and make an informed decision.  Even more importantly, evidence will resonate with smart-growthers.”

          I honestly cannot see how a collaborative discussion can move forward when you continue to erroneously type cast some of us into roles into which we have never fit. I find it very difficult to listen to someone who insists on calling me “no growth” when I favor Nishi, opposed the Cannery, was likely to favor DIC, and was likely to oppose MRIC depending of which version prevailed ( I favored on site housing), through a process of looking at the evidence and weighing the pros and cons of each project as I saw them.

          I also find it very difficult to listen to those who use the term “smart growth” which is almost always synonymous with “agrees with my version of optimal growth”.

           

        2. Matt Williams

          Tia, you are much thinner skinned than I could possibly have imagined.  If I have “type cast” you with my comment (which I don’t think I have) then it is the very first time that I have done that in all the years we have known one another.  What descriptive term would you use to describe your beliefs about the optimal rate of growth?

          I simply responded to nameless in the vernacular that she/he used in his/her response to me.  Would you have preferred that I first redefine her terms and then assign the human examples to those redefined terms?  What is your semantic alternative to the term “smart-growth”?  Would you prefer “informed growth”? How about “due diligence growth”?  And for what it is worth, I don’t have a predetermined “version of optimal growth” for you (or anyone) to agree with.

        3. Michael Harrington

          Now Matt insults Tia? Way to get votes.

          The water rates thing was life and death for a green Davis. Matt’s CBFR rates billed 7 times more per unit of summer water than winter water. Not a small thing.

  2. Michael Harrington

    Let me see … Rob White was part of the CC decisions to throw most of their financial rescue eggs into the three exterior project baskets, mostly ignoring cost cutting city budgets and making the city government leaner and more efficient.  I read the above piece, and it just sounds like more of the same off-the-mark cheerleading, sort of boosterism generated by a marketing team with little substance.  Sorry to say ….

    That said, I am a big fan and supporter of Davis business, done the Davis way. Infill is great, done reasonably. If the CC had put into the 3-4th and E to F block project 10% of the energy they put into the Robb White style hail mary passes in the three exterior projects, we would have a wonderful retail development right in the heart of downtown, with copious of parking for all.

    1. nameless

      And just exactly how are you going to make the city gov’t leaner and more efficient?  What employees will you call to be fired?  What services will you call to be dispensed with?  How will you fund infrastructure repairs/maintenance that is currently woefully underfunded?  Talk is cheap.  The devil is in the specific details of just how you plan that the city should become “leaner and more efficient”.

    2. The Pugilist

      Mr. Harrington, couldn’t we just as easily say that your response is more of the same as well?  I still haven’t seen a viable alternative for housing or economic development.  How much do you think a replacement building will generate?  Do the math!  How are you going to replace the need 3 to 7 million square feet on a city block?

      1. Michael Harrington

        Dear Pug:  I’ve offered my help to the CC.  They ignore me, as they have been hell-bent on the exterior hail-mary passes.  Anyone who is more oriented to infill, and restricting and improving the central city budget has been left out of the process.

        I had lunch recently with a fiscal conservative, and the quiet slip of millions to extra employee comp over Thanksgiving Weekend to a consent item on Tuesday night has really pissed off many in town, including me and my political associates.  I know Mr. Brazil and the CC majority thought they were being subtle, but people saw it, and you had better believe they will remember that when it comes time to vote on new revenue sources.

         

        Mayor Wolk did little to improve the situation.

        Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis wants to do something, but his approach so far is he is the smartest guy in the room, and people are welcome to discuss, so long as there is not any disagreement with his approach.  Given the late hour, and the School Board has the November ballot for its parcel tax renewal, I think the time for Robb to actually get some fixes in, and funding sources approved, is just about past for his two years.

        And the big elephant in the room is UCD. Anyone on the CC publically talking to them, or demanding that UCD house more of these incoming students? Not that I am aware of. Why not have a special meeting and have the Chancellor and team over to our CC Chambers to discuss a joint problem and find joint solutions? Nope, nothing happening there, either. Our CC and planning staff have been too occupied with these three exterior projects for the last 3-4 years, ignoring UCD and its plans.

        1. The Pugilist

          “Anyone on the CC publically talking to them, or demanding that UCD house more of these incoming students?”

          Isn’t there a subcommittee on that?  Hasn’t Robb Davis pushed?

        2. ryankelly

          And the big elephant in the room is UCD. Anyone on the CC publically talking to them, or demanding that UCD house more of these incoming students?

          Why don’t you take this on, Mike?  You say that you’ve offered your help.  Well, why not do something to improve the situation, rather than just telling people what to do or that what they are doing is wrong.  I think you’ll find that UCD is not sitting on its laurels.  How long has it been since you’ve walked around on campus?

    3. Rob White

      You are right Mike, if is funny how neither of us was asked to continue on with the City… you by popular vote and me by management change. But, c’est la vie… that is how is goes. 🙂

      I think the relatively big difference on the points you make is that you continue to offer your opinion as fact, where it is really just your preference. There is nothing wrong with your preference, and in a direct democracy like Davis prefers, your one vote counts. But if there is a knowledge base or research that backs your opinion and demonstrates the positive policy implications that result from your perspective, please do share that.

      In my case, I am re-stating well-researched economic development principles. The work plan for the economic development efforts in Davis are also mirrored in the Davis Chamber’s plan (which I had nothing to do with) and the regional Next Economy Plan (which significantly counts on UC Davis). I recognize that some may not like these principles, but they are not just my preference, they are actually widely adopted principles. And they happen to still be the City’s stated Goals and work plan.

      I also would point out that any planner, developer, or financier can run the calcs for you on the 1 square block of redevelopment and show you the pro forma… and it is not a windfall of new revenue. In fact, the cost of upgrading infrastructure and the cost of the new garage  would pretty much eat through any new revenue. This is why we had redevelopment… it helped balance the economic equation for infill projects.

      So, if you have some studies, research, widely accepted industry principles, or something to that effect that can help us all understand the positive impacts from your policy view points, I think many of us would love to review it. Thanks in advance!

  3. Marina Kalugin

    ALLL HUGE developments do NOT work well for our town….HISTORY shows THAT…

    SMALL infill, done correctly WORKS…..over and out….heading to another meeting..

    1. Frankly

      Not only do you use unprovable absolutes, you SHOUT them.

      I live in Stonegate.

      I have employees that live in Village Homes.

      Seems those were both pretty big developments.  Do they not work well for Davis?

      Small infill might work to satiate the irrational fears of a change-averse NIMBY, but given our near zero percent rental vacancy rate and our lack of tax-revenue-generating business property, it is much more evident that small infill development is not working well enough for this city.

      1. hpierce

        You have to remember that Village Homes and Senda Nueva were developed 10-25 SF units at a time… eye-dropper… consciously, to make sure demand was high, supply small… duh… connect the dots…

    2. ryankelly

      Northstar has worked very well – expanding the North Davis greenbelt and a well-used bike path and sports fields, Julie Partansky wildlife park, etc.  I think you have miss-spoken.  Wildhorse is getting better and better with time, now that trees are maturing.

  4. Michael Harrington

    I’ll say it again, for the 1,000,000th time since 2000:  you would be surprised what exterior projects might get approved …. with the right mitigation.

    Because Nishi and MRIC hid their mitigation, they should not get the time of day from the City, let alone the love fest that the CC has bestowed on them.

    The new Measure R will require the disclosure, up front on the initial application.

  5. Tia Will

    Matt

    What descriptive term would you use to describe your beliefs about the optimal rate of growth?”

    I don’t think that there is anything “thin skinned” about not believing it is accurate to characterize me as a “no growth” advocate given my public stands on the various projects. I would not use a descriptive as I think they tend to be needlessly restrictive and are often not accurate. I would describe myself as favoring slower growth than some and more rapid growth than others. That would be an accurate representation of my views.

    There is a reason that I don’t like to use short cuts such as “smart growth” or “informed growth”. The implication is there whether or not it is intentional hat there is a “correct growth” when in reality all that really exists is people’s opinions about what is the best path forward.

    1. Matt Williams

      Tia,

      First, there was no implication whatsoever.  You may have inferred a meaning that wasn’t there.

      Second, you have inserted the word “advocate,” after the descriptive term.  That inserts a level of passion that I scrupulously try and avoid.

      Third, with the above said, how would you adjust the bolded words of my sentence (copied and pasted below) to both convey the intended meaning to nameless and at the same time respect your sensibilities?

      However, I do believe well documented evidence will resonate with a substantial segment of the no-growthers like Tia who do their best to try and make an informed decision.

      1. Tia Will

        Matt

        However, I do believe well documented evidence will resonate with a substantial segment of the no-growtherslike Tia who do their best to try and make an informed decision.”

        I think it is self evident. I would delete the words “like Tia”. Your sentence would have exactly the same meaning without the labeling.

      2. Matt Williams

        Interesting approach Tia.  In an earlier comment in this dialogue you said, “I would not use a descriptive as I think they tend to be needlessly restrictive and are often not accurate,” which means that by your rules the term “no-growthers” should not be used.  Now you are saying that reference an individual personal example should not be used.  So my question to you is, how would you, as the object of nameless’ assertion, respond to her when she said, “Do you honestly believe EVIDENCE will change the minds of staunch no-growthers?  Come on!”

      1. Tia Will

        hpierce

        Tia… meant as a non-hostile question… can you point to one project where you favored more rapid growth than others [your words]?”

        Meant as a non hostile answer. Certainly, I favor Nishi.

        I think you may have misunderstood my words. I did not mean to imply that I favor more rapid growth than any other person in Davis. I meant only that I favor more rapid growth than “some” which is what I said. Those who oppose Nishi ( and are were not in favor of DIC or MRIC) could be seen as favoring less growth than I do.

        Hope that helps.

  6. Alan Miller

    Well, at least he didn’t mention the freakin’ so-called rail relocation, a remotely possible boon for our great great grandchildren.

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