By 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.
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.
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