Council Candidates Weekly Question: Economic Development

This is the ninth of the Vanguard’s series of 11 questions.  Every Monday until the week before election, we’ll have a new question and answers.  Answers are limited to 250 words.

Question 9: Develop an economic development plan for Davis.  Be sure to identify space requirements, industry type, discuss collaboration with the university and regional collaboration.

Dan Carson

The Davis Vanguard question-of-the-week implies a sort of Soviet-style centralized planning of the Davis economy, in which city officials specify the space requirements and the types of industries we would pursue.  But centralized planning didn’t work for the now-defunct Soviet Union and won’t work for the People’s Republic of Davis, either.

A much better approach is to create the business-friendly conditions necessary for the private sector to thrive.  The planned update of the city’s General Plan gives us a chance to take a fresh look at our zoning and density rules and what it would take to declare Davis open for business.

For example, we will be more likely to add the jobs and business-generated tax revenue our city needs if we can encourage the development of the additional commercial space critically needed for new or expanded commercial ventures.

The amount is for investors to determine, but could easily equal the 3 million square feet of space the original versions of the Nishi and Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) would have provided.  Our downtown, South Davis, the Second Street Corridor, and the MRIC land are all potential sites.

Any projects the city approves must be sound and sustainable, meet our environmental standards, and be fiscally net positive.  Of course, it makes sense to partner UC Davis’ cutting-edge researchers and take advantage of our innovative agricultural technology braintrust. We should work with regional economic development agencies. But ultimately the marketplace will tell us what strategies and projects will work best.

Linda Deos

UC Davis is integral to any kind of economic development in Davis. It is our number one employer and it is the reason so many agricultural (e.g. seed) and biotechnical companies have a presence here. That is why we must continue to focus our efforts on growing and attracting these industries.

Interland-University Research Park is under new ownership and talks are continuing as to how that land can be best utilized for tech start-ups and entrepreneur space.  We can collaborate with UCD, specifically its College of Engineering’s Technology Incubator, and Mark Friedman, the new owner of Interland, over how to best use this land to promote new technologies and business.

The roll-out of cannabis dispensaries, manufacturing, and research facilities promises to bring with it increased city revenues.  There are studies showing that the presence of cannabis businesses creates an economic boost for other non-cannabis businesses in the area.

We need to enhance the already vibrant downtown. Ideas for how to do this are being discussed now, and one of those ideas is to house more people downtown.  The presence of new people living downtown, people with higher disposable incomes than students, will attract businesses wishing to cater to these folks.

We should not go at this alone. It’s essential that we work together with nearby communities to market our region to companies looking to be located near a world-class research university.

Mark West

Economic development is the approach cities use to create opportunities for residents to improve their quality of life through the development of new businesses and private sector jobs. Done well, economic development is market driven, creating incentives and space for new businesses to start and for existing businesses to expand and thrive. The University provides us with an almost limitless source of new business opportunities so our approach should simply focus on providing the space and support for those new business, easing the process and reducing the costs associated with business formation and development.  A well thought out approach to economic development will allow the market to determine which businesses succeed, and how much space they will require, and is simply focused on the end result of expanded economic activity and job creation.

A prescriptive plan, as requested by this question, is a recipe for failure as we have no way of determining in advance which businesses will be successful or how much space they will require for growth. This ‘top down’ approach to economic development  should be rejected as an irrational, command/control attempt at picking winners and loser.

Larry Guenther

Communicate and cooperate with the local business community to create a culture that is amenable to starting, keeping, and growing a business in Davis.  First and foremost we need to communicate with the existing business community in Davis to determine what the City is doing to help business and what it is doing to impede business.  This information will allow us to re-assess our policies to enable businesses to start, stay, and grow.

Communicate with the University and University researchers to promote research-to-business transitions.  All businesses start with a good idea.  Taking an idea from the success in the lab to a marketable product has unique challenges.  I believe the City should have the expertise on hand to assist this process.

Simplify zoning.  I feel that use-based zoning has reached the end of it’s useful life.  Buildings should be zoned according to their form and businesses should be zoned according to their impact on their surroundings.

Ensure our licensing policies and processes are succeeding.  Licensing fees and processes that keep businesses out of our city, also keep revenue out of our treasury.

Space at all scales.  Innovation parks produce big gains for the City, but so can small start-ups that grow into large businesses.  Identify large, medium, and small business sites.  Promote ‘Maker’s-space’ and ‘3rd-Space’ style places for small-scale innovation.

Set goals and benchmarks for success.  A plan without a timetable and verifiable benchmarks is just a dream to be accomplished someday.

Mary Jo Bryan

Develop an economic development plan for Davis.  Be sure to identify space requirements, industry type, discuss collaboration with the university and regional collaboration.

I am committed to developing an economic plan for Davis.  However, this is a process that takes community involvement and collaboration. Over the course of the campaign, I have pointed out that I am a person that is committed to using my years of community involvement, and experience to help plan and implement policy for the future of Davis. I strongly support a process, which brings together community members to evaluate and develop an economic plan for the future of Davis.

The direction I would take involves following a collaborative path. I would recruit interested citizens. I would start with current city commissioners and also tap into the rich amount of intellectual capital at UC Davis for their ideas and recommendations.  When a plan is developed, I would form a focus group of citizens to get their ideas and comments. I would engage the greater community in order to assure that we had their understanding and commitment before adopting the policy and implementing the plan.

Forging a strong and permanent partnership with the university, one built on trust and transparency should be the starting point and the foundation of an economic development plan for the future of City of Davis.

Ezra Beeman

Ezra’s Abbreviated Economic Development Plan for Davis

Making Davis a leader in housing, water, waste, energy, transportation, etc. will make it an attractive place to invest. I am running to support this agenda.

Sales Tax Revenue Development

Undertake professional market research to identify gaps in Davis’ existing business product and service mix vs. community spending, and then attract establishment of these businesses within the Davis city limits to maximize Davis’ sale tax take.

The focus would be on attracting uniquely Davis businesses, rather than big box stores or national chains, as the latter would undermine the Davis ‘brand’.

Commercial Property Tax Revenue Development

Engage with UCD and patent search databases to identify professors, students and organizations generating patents at UCD, or patents in areas where UCD holds a dominant position, and then reach out to these individuals and organizations to market Davis as a place to locate their businesses.

The main high technology areas that UCD is well known for, which I expect would be best targeted for developing gown-to-town relationships include:

  • Biotechnology
  • Agriculture technology
  • Medicine / drug technology
  • Energy technology (leveraging Valley Clean Energy Alliance)

Once the target industries, organizations and people are identified, the next step would be to develop the R&D and commercialization infrastructure necessary to successfully move ideas to viable businesses in Davis.

Business incubator infrastructure is as much about a network of skills and knowledge and resources, as it is about financial resources, and specialist tools and equipment.

Eric Gudz

What Davis needs is space for risk. The same factors that bring artists to a community ultimately bring entrepreneurs, and we have decades of success stories to draw from in Davis. Without reducing the cost of living in this town, however, the creative folks in this community who build robots in their garages (Schilling) will continue to flee Davis for less expensive communities.

The future of the economy is in high-tech services: hardware and software for all kinds of applications from cutting-edge medical nanotechnology to simple everyday household uses. Regardless of the business plan, they all require some element of risk and, as it stands, Davis is not the kind of place for taking risk unless you can afford to live without working for a while. Essentially there are more ideas than people in Davis, and we’re losing out to other communities simply because we lack affordable office space and living space. It’s been impossible to find an adequate location when starting my businesses or while assisting Third Space Art Collective in their search for a new home, and many companies face similar issues, forced to build their own facilities. As we develop our 2020 General Plan, we need to listen to what employers and creatives need to be successful in this community. No one person or group is going to be able to tell us what’s best for business in Davis.

All regional and UC Davis collaboration requires is a honest broker willing to put in the work and facilitate a mutually beneficial ecosystem. We saw some success with Davis Roots and were able to launch a few companies here in town, but we need to be more ambitious with our vision: workforce training, partnerships with existing incubators in the region, and support for less-privileged leaders.

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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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  1. Jim Hoch

    Somewhat disappointed Mark West did not double down on hotels/conferences. To me this is the low hanging fruit and would provide benefits including TOT and bringing new money to downtown.



  2. Don Shor

    Dan Carson. Good enough answer. Update the General Plan, work on the existing sites. Probably meant “Fifth Street Corridor” not “Second Street Corridor.”

    Linda Deos: cannabis dispensaries aren’t really part of an economic development plan, except insofar as the city facilitates or gets in the way of them. More people living downtown: yes, good idea in principle but can be hard to implement. A little lightweight answer.
    Mark West: Bingo. Right on as usual.
    Larry Guenther: “communicate with the business community” is vague but, FYI, the Chamber has already done that at times (i.e., surveying members, walking door to door, etc.). 2 x 2’s exist with council and business groups. No need to reinvent the wheel. Simplifying zoning is definitely a sound idea, though likely to prove controversial in implementation. Identifying business sites has already been done. Larry’s just coming a little late to the discussion here.
    Mary Jo Bryan: make a commission? Focus groups? Um, given the track record of how those get used, that might prove to be a pointless exercise (see parking committee plan….). But updating the General Plan would involve those things, so perhaps it could be an offshoot of that process. Lightweight answer overall.
    Ezra Beeman: Kudos for a well-organized answer. Not sure how the city itself goes about attracting specific types of business without acting to compete with existing businesses. Market research may be a good idea. Actually finding retailers to come here has proven challenging over the last several decades because we don’t have the types of space they want. “Develop the R&D and commercialization infrastructure” would involve implementing the recommendations of the peripheral/business park task force, so we really need to know which of the peripheral sites he is on board with. Otherwise there’s not much else to work with.
    Eric Gudz: clearly understands the problems, but doesn’t answer the questions of where and how. So a little light on the answer here. If Eric loses, I look forward to his participation on various local commissions.
    Gloria and Luis AWOL….
  3. Jeff M

    Beeman & Guenther answers with a plan to do more talking and studying which is always a clear sign of opposition.

    Agree that Mark West was on point and that Dan Carson was good enough.

  4. David Greenwald

    I do want to address Mark’s point because my question was not aimed at a prescriptive plan:

    ”A prescriptive plan, as requested by this question, is a recipe for failure as we have no way of determining in advance which businesses will be successful or how much space they will require for growth. This ‘top down’ approach to economic development  should be rejected as an irrational, command/control attempt at picking winners and loser.”

    For example, one possibility would have been to say, we need to continue to pursue the dispersed economic strategy where we have an innovation center (small) near the heart of town and a peripheral innovation park on the edge of down.  Or perhaps we need to re-think that approach.

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