by Rochelle Swanson
I have heard from some folks in the past few weeks the argument that we don’t need jobs in Davis.
As someone who has had to work hard to get where I am, I am disheartened by these sentiments. I most certainly don’t share the view point. I would instead say that Davis needs to increase the amount (and diversity) of jobs available to our residents so that all of those in our community that would like to live and work in the same city can do so.
We need more professional level jobs right here. Relying on campus for a large portion of the jobs has already spelled disaster… does anyone remember the last Great Recession, where the university had to conduct significant cuts to programs and staff? Remember the headline in the Davis Enterprise on February 25, 2011 that stated that UC Davis planned to lay-off 450 people? (http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/ucd-plans-calls-for-450-layoffs/)
To say that we don’t need more jobs is myopic, and seems self-serving (and maybe even self-centered). It doesn’t take into account the reality that many of our residents have to drive to Sacramento or the Bay Area for employment opportunities that match their skills. Some have to commute much further. Most do not commute by choice, but by necessity. While this certainly impacts air quality, it also impacts day to day quality of life. Not just within the immediate worker’s life, but also our greater community.
Groceries on the drive home, dinner pick up prior to hitting the local exit, school supply shopping during the lunch hour in your work day “community” – dollars not spent in Davis, events not intended, community connection strained.
When you have retired people earnestly arguing “we don’t need jobs”—something is broken. This can’t be one of those ‘I got mine’ type of arguments, can it? Please tell me we are better than that?!
While we may be a “company town”, UC Davis cannot keep our community afloat alone, nor should it. No community should be that vulnerable to the ebbs and flow of one entity. Growth in students and faculty does not automatically create a growth in jobs on campus. And relying so heavily on a single goose for golden eggs sounds like far too familiar of a fairy tale.
One example far too close to my heart is that City staff numbers are back at the level from the nineties. More people, more projects, and yet less people. Some of this can be explained due to efficiencies, which leads to a decline in the number of jobs, and is a phenomenon that has occurred across all industries.
The mentality that got us to a place where we don’t have enough revenue to hire the appropriate staff is the same one that is telling us now that we don’t need jobs. While efficiencies are certainly something to be celebrated, displaced workers need new jobs to take the place of those replaced.
This is not just about the degree holding analyst, but also the support staff, the janitorial professionals and all the hard working people in the service industry that the front line primary job (i.e. the CEO, the rocket scientist, the pulmonary physician) that supports the second the tertiary jobs.
Almost every economist, banker, financial advisor, or fund manager will tell you that diversity is the key to a successful portfolio. Even nature uses diversity to ensure survivability of the ecosystem, so why wouldn’t this also be true for our local economy?
Davis has been blessed with an emerging startup scene, with research being conducted and new businesses being developed on and off campus. Startups in areas like agriculture, engineering, arts, medicine, veterinary science, transportation, and energy are building momentum.
Current research from respected campuses like UC Berkeley have demonstrated that for every new job in the tech sector, there are at least another 3 jobs that are created to support that position. That means for every research scientist at a plant genomics company, there is also a need for professional support in the areas of administrative, legal, financial, and technicians.
This continuum of jobs for people of all educational and skills levels is right in line with what is already happening in Davis. We just need to support the opportunity for more of them to be here. And the Nishi Gateway Innovation Center is a modest amount of new space, directly across from the university, that will support the opportunity for these new ideas and startups to be able to take root here in our town.
The Innovation Parks Task Force spent a few years getting to a place where we could agree we needed a dispersed model for innovation and economic development – this model did not just mean a few parcels scattered around town, but an intelligent model along a continuum that provided and supported spaces of intellect, invention, imagination and innovation – garage to a couple large scale centers. Incubator space is exciting, but doesn’t provide revenue. Scaling and supporting those start-ups to firmly take root and blossom here benefits us all.
So, I would like to ask you to reflect on one last thought. In the immortal words of the great political mastermind Paul Tsongas, “Let’s try winning and see what it feels like. If we don’t like it, we can go back to our traditions.”