Economic Development Series: The Need for an Innovation Park in Davis

Innovation-Park-exampleBy Mike Hart

I have historically been critical of new housing subdivisions in Davis.  They never seem to cover the cost of the many additional burdens they impose on our local infrastructure, contribute little tax revenue, and do nothing but speed Davis down a path to becoming a commuter community for Sacramento and San Francisco.

But as critical as I’ve been of new housing, I have been a firm supporter for the development of an innovation park in Davis for over a decade now.  The Nishi project is one I can fully support. It’s ideally situated, adjacent to UC Davis and an easy walk from our downtown core. It’s also just a few hundred feet from Area 52, an incubator, makerspace and accelerator that my company is developing to give local startups access to resources they need, tools they can share, and mentorship to help them succeed.

But our Area 52 isn’t nearly enough; it’s just a start. My hope is that the Nishi project, with its much- needed 325,000 square feet of innovation space, will allow local innovators and researcher at UCD to move to the next stage: development.

Such a facility is something the University has been missing for many years, something that would allow UCD to convert some of its billion dollar annual research spending into local businesses and jobs. Converting research into development isn’t easy. It is something the University had failed to do until only recently. The time is right, we need a place for research to meet capital!

I am very familiar with the problem of trying to move university research out into the community. I have been a judge at University Big Bang! business plan competitions and a guest lecturer there for many years. My companies have also invested in, mentored, and incubated new technologies from the University at our 1st Street facility. And we are seeking to do more with Area 52. Davis lacks facilities for new companies to start and grow, forcing too many to leave town. I previously tried to convince community leaders to leave the cannery zoning as a place for an innovation park, but that was not to be. Now that our community has converted that former business space into even more housing, can we please support local business people, innovators, and researchers?

Tim Ruff and his partners are trying to improve Davis through their Nishi project, a project to which they have dedicated eight years to give our community exactly what every study has said we need: new business space to ensure that Davis maintains its separate identity and doesn’t become just another commuter city.

My longstanding belief in the importance of new local business space is why I have agreed to help develop the Nishi Gateway Innovation Center. In that role, I hope to help significantly transform the relationship between our City, tech startups, research, and our University to create a foundation that will help foster more local companies and produce more local jobs, which will in turn continue a cycle of investment in more tech startups, in our community, and ultimately in our local economy. I hope that the residents of our special town will join me in doing what we can to help ensure the future success of our City by voting “Yes” on measure A.

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

May 9: Rob White

May 16: Alan Humason

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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    1. nameless

      I get your point, but I’m not sure I agree.  Even if UCD is able to house 90% of projected new students, that does not address the housing shortage for existing students.  What am I missing?

  1. Eileen Samitz


    I am just catching up to reading Vanguard articles.  Since your Sierra Energy company produces the garbage incinerator the “Gasifier”, are you planning on locating any Gasifer’s on the Nishi Gateway project (since it will have a commercial area)? If so, how many Gasifier incinerators and where would they be located on the site?

    For anyone who is not familiar with the “Gasifier” garbage incinerator made by Sierra Energy here is some information on how it works from their website:

    “So how does it work? Sierra Energy tosses waste into the top of its onsite blast furnace (gasifier), the contents react with pure oxygen that’s being injected into the bottom of the gasifier, and a combustion reaction that reaches a scorching 4,000 degrees occurs. The process only takes about 20 minutes. The result? Synthetic gas or “syngas,” a mixture of 70% carbon monoxide and 30% hydrogen. This 70/30 ratio just so happens to be the just right measurement needed to create everything from liquid fuels to ethanol to fertilizer. Or, the hydrogen can be isolated to be used as a power supply for zero emission cars. Bet you never knew garbage could be so priceless. Click on the video to learn how Sierra Energy is redefining how we look at garbage.”

  2. HouseFlipper

    WOW. I just had to find out what a gasifier is. It uses pure oxygen (highly explosive) to turn trash in to fuel. so… now I have questions.

    *  how much pure oxygen will be on the Nishi site at one time?

    *  how much of the volatile synfuel will be stored on the Nishi site?

    *  how much synfuel will be transported through the congested Richards area or through the residential area?

    * what will be done with the inorganic slag this process creates?

    Finally I see that gasification plants in other places have had emission violations, but I haven’t been able to find good information on emissions beyond vague references that the emissions are “better.” What are the emissions and how will that impact the air in the Nishi development area?

    1. Mike Hart

      There are no plans to place a gasifier on the Nishi site- this is an innovation park to launch new companies.  We also own railroads and have no plans to build a railroad there either if that gives you some relief…

      As to the rest of your questions… if you are interested in the revolutionary FastOx gasification we would suggest you look at  There is strong support for the technology among the enivronmental community as it has the most potential to fight global warming of any renewable energy technology currently available.

  3. The Pugilist

    Here’s a question for Frankly who believes he should not be held responsible for what happened a century or two ago.

    What is the difference between what happened to Emmett Till in 1955 and what happened to Tamir Rice in 2015?

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