Monday Morning Thoughts: What Innovation Ideas Will the New Chancellor Bring?

From time to time, the Vanguard has pushed various ideas about possibilities of innovation centers to Davis.  We have, for instance, noted the lost chances at Nishi for conceptions similar to USC Village, which is on an area two-thirds the size of the Davis parcel.

We have also reported that early consideration for its own Innovation Center on the south end of campus has been scraped in the current LRDP (Long Range Development Plan).

Finally and most recently we have pushed for the consideration of putting the World Food Center out at the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) as a means for creating a massive anchor-tenant for that potential development.

But with the departure of former Chancellor Linda Katehi, the plans which originally had the center going into the Railyards in Sacramento – its own proposed innovation district – have been largely scaled back.  As someone pointed out, that was Chancellor Katehi’s baby and it seems to have left along with her.

The question we have is what ideas Gary May will bring with him from Georgia Tech, based in Atlanta.

It is worth noting that Atlanta has the Midtown Innovation District.  While the district in Atlanta brings together three top-level universities including Georgia Tech and Emory College, the basic concept is one worth exploring.

Naturally, Davis can’t match Atlanta in size and scope, but Davis is in the heart of the Sacramento Region.  Many would be surprised to learn that Atlanta ranks among the fastest growing high-tech centers in the nation.

The literature notes, “Midtown Atlanta is at the center of this innovation ecosystem.”  It notes, “Midtown Atlanta has an unparalleled array of innovation assets and activities, with anchor institutions bridging technology, health and the arts; a strong entrepreneur network with world class incubators and accelerators; great infrastructure and strong linkages to other innovation hubs throughout the city, the region and the world.”

The brochure notes, “And it’s all in a vibrant, walkable urban district that has become a location of choice for businesses, residents and visitors.”

The Midtown universities bring together over 24,000 students – compare that with the number of students at UC Davis which is over 30,000 and growing to nearly 40,000.

A figure of $689 million in research and development money flows through Georgia Tech and the Georgia Tech Research Institute.  “Outreach to businesses, industries, entrepreneurs and economic developers through Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.”

They have brought in more than 6000 jobs in tech or tech-related Midtown businesses.  They have brought in a number of international brands like Coca-Cola, Equifax, AT&T, Turner Broadcasting, Invesco, Google, and AGL Resources.  But they have also established a number of young businesses.  And ATDC (Advanced Technology Development Center) houses 40 startups and services 300 virtual members. One hundred fifty graduates have raised more than $28 in funding and added 5000 jobs in Georgia.

Midtown has become a young and vibrant area.  Sixty-eight percent of those age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher.  Thirty-seven percent are between 25 and 34.

They have added 12,000 condos since 2012.  There are miles of bike lanes and 300 acres of greenspace.  The area is now ranked as one of the best places to live without a car.

The area is clearly a lot larger than what we would have in Davis.  MRIC is envisioned at 218 acres and around 2 million square feet in research and development space.  Midtown has surpassed 20 million square feet, or ten times larger.

And, of course, Midtown in the heart of a major US metropolitan area.

But UC Davis has the student base and investment base to be able to move major companies and create major startups in a variety of fields like biotech, medtech, agtech, and clean technology.  They simply need the space to be able to house them.

A major innovation center on the eastern edge of town, to go with places like Area 52 and University Research Park, could go a long way toward establishing Davis as its own high-tech center – and go a long way toward solving our long-term fiscal issues.

With Gary May coming in from Georgia Tech, he will likely bring with him new ideas on issues like housing and technology transfer that will hopefully reignite the vision that was forming just a few years ago, which seems lost today.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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