Economic Development Series: The University and the Future of Economic Development in Davis

biotech-labby Dushyant Pathak

It is tempting to look at economic development in Davis and the surrounding area only through the prism of specific initiatives and proposals that are either currently in process or under consideration.  These are of course important inasmuch as they represent physical infrastructure and the planning and resources required to support the types of businesses and commercial opportunities whose development and growth will contribute to economic impact in Davis and beyond.  In the context of UC Davis however, it is important to keep in mind the University’s mission as a public, land-grant academic institution.  A look through this lens leads to the recognition that the University’s focus on education, research, service, the dissemination of knowledge, and preparing the work force of the future, aligns well with the vision of a thriving economic environment in the City of Davis and the broader community that surrounds the University.

With respect to the University’s contribution to local and regional economic impact, the numbers speak for themselves.  Below are just a few:

  • UC Davis is second only to the State of California as the largest employer in the region
  • UC Davis generates a regional economic impact totaling 65,000 jobs and $6.8 billion of economic activity on an annual basis
  • UC Davis has over 33,600 students and confers approximately 9,200 degrees per year
  • UC Davis directly supports more than $420 million in spending in the local economy

Looking beyond these statistics, it is important to recognize that the University represents a fertile source of creativity, innovation and energy that represents boundless potential for vitality and growth in the region as a complement to the locally abundant attributes that are attractive for sustainable business and commercial development in and around Davis as well as the lifestyle such development supports.  It is important to recall that the greater Sacramento region is the second most popular career search location for UC Davis graduates and has the second highest concentration of UC Davis alumni in California, just behind the San Francisco Bay Area.  It is not surprising then, that the University – in keeping with its mission – has a strong incentive to engage as an effective partner in the economic development objectives of local and regional stakeholders.

It also then should not come as a surprise, that the University has taken a proactive stance in working closely with both internal and external stakeholders to develop a coordinated set of capabilities, resources and programs to support campus innovators, be they students, staff or members of our faculty.  Again, the statistics bolster the case for the University’s increasing engagement with its role in facilitating societal benefit through the translation of its research into economic impact through start-ups. Recently, the University ranked in the top 5 percent of U.S. universities in the number of new start-ups and, in the past 10 years, it has enabled the formation of 79 companies derived directly from University technology and related intellectual property.  Over 60 percent of these companies are still active, responsible for hundreds of new jobs and raising more than $160 million in investment capital.

While we would like to believe that our start-ups will all become global juggernauts one day (and many of them will), it is important to recognize that the first tentative steps of these fledgling companies, when they are at their most vulnerable, will be right here in Davis and other parts of our local economic ecosystem in which they will need to compete, survive and thrive.  So, yet again it comes as little surprise that a healthy, engaged and collegial relationship has developed between the facilitators of local and regional economic development and campus leaders and administrators with responsibility for supporting the transformation of cutting edge research and brilliant ideas by campus innovators, into new business ventures.  From a close engagement with the seminal Next Economy Capital Region Prosperity Plan, to working closely with city, county and state economic development leaders and government, UC Davis is taking an increasingly proactive role in supporting the effective creation of opportunities for economic enhancement of the region.  We engage routinely with the Davis Chamber of Commerce, Sacramento Metro Chamber, AgStart, MedStart, the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council and GoBiz, amongst other active regional economic development players.

Additionally, it is essential to effectively leverage private-public partnership in this joint mission of facilitating economic benefit for the City and the region.  One example of how we are working with the private sector is through the formation of a distributed network of local start-up incubators to help create a supportive environment within which technology start-ups can take seed and grow. In Davis this includes a collaboration with HM.CLAUSE to launch the UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center and with Area 52, an engineering-technology collaboration space and business incubator.  In Sacramento, our collaboration with HackerLab stands out as an example.

The University has invested in developing and enhancing programs focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, including new operational units, expanded programs, and strategic partnerships.  These investments create capacity for commercializing and disseminating innovation for public benefit, and translating research into businesses, jobs, and investment.  Venture Catalyst, InnovationAccess, the Office of Corporate Relations, the Child Family Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and the World Food Center with its Innovation Institute for Food and Health, are examples of focused units and activities within UC Davis and its Office of Research that are working collaboratively to facilitate these technology translation and innovation objectives.

We could debate forever – are we the chicken or are we the egg?  But it is clear that fostering a supportive entrepreneurial culture and innovation ecosystem for research-based start-ups, that crosses the boundaries of the University and the City, is essential for a holistically engaged community.  This additionally enables a robust ecosystem to support a vibrant environment that is at once attractive for businesses and the people they employ to take root, remain and grow in the region, and attractive for sophisticated investors, entrepreneurs, service providers and a creative and innovative community.  This is what will permit us to accelerate the evolution of local and regional economies in ways that reinforce the authentic strengths of UC Davis, the region and the intersection of both.  The infrastructure projects intended to support local and regional economic development that are under consideration, represent important long-term initiatives that complement the activities that UC Davis is undertaking and it can certainly be anticipated that this combination of market and community driven push and pull mechanisms will continue to have a positive impact on economic growth, prosperity and development to drive a robust future for UC Davis and the City of Davis in partnership.

Dushyant Pathak is Associate Vice Chancellor for Technology Management & Corporate Relations & Executive Director of Venture Catalyst in the Office of Research at UC Davis. He has responsibility for InnovationAccess, which manages patents, licenses and IP, the Office of Corporate Relations, which facilitates industry-university collaboration, and Venture Catalyst, which supports the formation and development of startups deriving from university technology


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

May 17: Mike Hart

May 18: Judy Corbett

May 19: Mark Braly

May 20: Susan Rainier

May 21: Tia Will

May 22: Anya McCann

May 24: Bob Poppenga

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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4 Comments

  1. Misanthrop

    This is the best piece on the topic. It captures the opportunities we have and describes  what we need to do to foster the wealth and vitality that this community can bring to itself, for the benefit of so many, if it chooses the path to a future that fosters our human potential and intellectual capital.

  2. The Pugilist

    “A look through this lens leads to the recognition that the University’s focus on education, research, service, the dissemination of knowledge, and preparing the work force of the future, aligns well with the vision of a thriving economic environment in the City of Davis and the broader community that surrounds the University.”

    This really nails it.  We have lost our way on economic development in Davis because we have turned it into a land use decision rather than a discussion about a vision that extends the mission of the university into our community which was built around the university.

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