Commentary: Economic Development Needs to Work with Community Strengths and Values

When the idea of innovation centers first came forward in Davis, I was at best lukewarm on the concept.  I was always leery of the commercialization of Davis, valuing our avoidance of a peripheral retail center and wishing to avoid peripheral development as much as possible.

However, the concept of an innovation center, as opposed to a business park, was a foreign concept to me as it was – and indeed is – to many in this community.  However, taking a trip to the PayPal campus for a seminar about four years ago or so opened me up to the possibilities that such economic development could bring to Davis.

The campus of PayPal could have, quite frankly, been pulled from the UC Davis campus.  It was a moment of twofold realization – first that we could have economic development which fits hand in glove with our existing community values, and second that what we are talking about is taking the concept of university research, finding its practical and market-based applications, and then transferring that research into technology that could then be marketed in the private sector.

Who could find such a concept objectionable?  I know far too much to seriously entertain that question, but the pushback to the article on Barry Broome’s talk made me recognize the value here has re-situated the talk of economic development.  This is not a development that will be the “Chamber way” of doing things (whatever that might mean).

Rather, the key phrase that we ought to take away from Barry Broome’s talk on Tuesday is not about innovation starting 200 yards from campus – though an important point is to recognize the importance of Davis in this chain.  Instead, we should focus on this one: that what we need to do “is empower ideas that match the values of the residents of Davis.”

That gets back to the PayPal experience – what we are doing here is not recreating Sacramento-style economic development or even that of Madison or the Research Triangle.  Instead, it is about finding our path forward that reflects our values.

Here Barry Broome was able to focus on growth potential that matches Davis values.  For him, Davis 2050 was about solving the world’s food security issues, about AgTech, biotech and medical technology and addressing the world’s climate change problems.

A big focus of his right now is the Next Gen Automotive.  “There is a lot of interest in California in next generation automotive technologies because our state has a great reputation for being early adopters,” he explained.  He noted that the regulatory authority of CARB “is a powerhouse (that) has basically built Tesla.”

If you think in those terms, here is a powerhouse industry that is building cars that are helping to greatly reduce GHG emissions and thus fight climate change.  He said, “There’s a lot of opportunities in electric vehicles for jobs.”

He also noted there is a push for clean technology in transportation.  He noted a company named Pem, that has just created a joint venture with SMUD, and “they have designed most of the clean technology for mobility in Europe…  They are very interested in mobility, as you know, Dan Sperling at UC Davis is one of the reigning experts in the world in transportation mobility.  They are very interested in working with UC Davis on the expertise of mobility and how these shared services and electric vehicles will work.”

The area is also a leader in agricultural technology.  He noted that one of the largest food and ag venture funds in America will operate out of Davis.

The year 2050, he explained, is extremely important, as we need to figure out ways to make food and agriculture more efficient.  We need to catch up our efficiency with the growing need to feed the world.

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to be 9.1 billion.  Food production, therefore, needs to increase by 70 percent between 2005 and 2050 to keep up.  He said that changes in temperature and precipitation threaten agricultural productivity and the capacity to feed the world’s population.

Davis has the ability to help solve the world’s food security, farming and climate change problems.

To me this is the key – this is fitting in with Davis values to create hi tech solutions to the world’s problems, while at the same time capturing the research and work already taking place at this university.

This is not just a “Chamber vision” for the future of Davis – this is a vision that takes the work done at the university and then applies it to real world problems and creates real world solutions.

Part of his point that he makes in the “200 yard” comment is that Davis is positioned to capture much of it.

From my perspective it was important for Barry Broome to be able to come into Davis and articulate where Davis fits in this future scenario.  For him, Aggie Square is not a competitor to Davis.  He sees that as a place near the medical school that can capture some of the biomedical innovations, but the bigger areas for Davis will be things like AgTech, food security and climate change/clean technology, all of which he believes is best captured in Davis.

Importantly, he notes that while Woodland is developing its own innovation center, Davis is needed to provide a vital link in the chain.  This demonstrates that, despite our slow pace and our missteps in the last five years, Davis still has a place in this ecosystem if we take advantage of it.

Third, he sees this as needing to clearly be driven by Davis.  But, at the same time, he understands that Davis is a community that resists rapid growth and Davis is not a place that is going to look at huge amounts of commercial retail expansion.

He recognizes that putting a Walmart in Davis is not a good fit, but, at the same time, taking UC Davis research on mobility, clean technology or food security is.

In short, we need to focus on the point that he makes that economic development needs to “match the values of the residents of Davis.”  This is not a “Chamber vision” for Davis – rather it is taking advantage of our own existing competitive advantages most particularly our world class university in our backyard and our social justice ideals of helping to solve the world’s problems.

If we do that we can develop economically while still maintaining our uniquely Davis world view and values.

That is really a win-win for all involved and a key reason why Barry Broome came to the Davis City Council to make a presentation this week.

—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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  1. Jim Hoch

    I am completely in favor of an innovation center. I work with hundreds of people in R&D and they are often dynamic and interesting people. From my perspective they make great neighbors.

  2. John D


    Thank your for this very important follow-up to your previous article.
    In light of some misinformation posted on the previous thread, I would also like to take this opportunity to provide a different view of GSEC and its critically important role In our region and our community.

    I have had the opportunity and privilege to know several of the founding members during the course of my tenure here in Davis.   The members I have met and observed are accomplished leaders and have built many of the most successful organizations in the region if not the state.   Whether their experience is from private sector on in the leadership of non-profits, they have demonstrated consistent success on behalf of their companies, their employees and for their communities.  

    Whether in deed or action, whether we are talking about job creation, support of academic advances or philanthropy, you would have to look very hard to find another group with similar records of accomplishment and commitment to their communities.

    In my limited view, GSEC was created to satisfy a need, similar to the Bay Area Council, in San Francisco.   My take is these founders were frustrated by the loss of important industries in the Sacramento area and the limited success of previous recruitment efforts.   Certainly these leaders didn’t have to devote their personal energies and financial resources to the formation of this group.  This was an entirely voluntary effort to jump start efforts aimed to establishing Sacramento as a highly desirable destination for world class employers seeking the advantages of our location and access to our highly educated workforce.   That the group would encourage Mr. Broome to support efforts of Davis to take on a higher profile role in this effort should be viewed as high praise and as a win-win opportunity for our community and its leaders.

    1. Rik Keller

      I think we ought to examine at the track record of a similar group that Broome headed in the Phoenix area. What they talk about and what they end up supporting are two very different things.

      1. John D

        All I can tell you about is my experience and observation of the individuals involved with establishment of GSEC.  It’s a stand up group.  I think it goes without saying, they would not have selected a leader who did not match their principles and aspirations.

        I can’t address what may have happened in some city in in Arizona or Florida or anywhere else.   I do know that such decisions, whatever the program or project might be, are generally made by duly elected members of each community.  The decision and the consequences are the responsibility of the community leadership.

        There are no guarantees, but personally, I have sufficient confidence in the leadership of the Davis community that they are not likely to be drawn down into some lame brained boondoggle.   By the same token, however, there are real world consequences to in-action at every turn.  Standing still is really not a viable option.

        The current environment in Davis, concerning discussion of economic development, is stifling of robust debate.  We deserve better.  If you have certain goals you would like addressed in the process, there should be every opportunity for you to share them.  You never know, you might find some exciting new opportunities and partnerships to realize your goals and aspirations.

        In the meantime, I would encourage you to adopt an open mind with respect the conversation before us.

      2. Rik Keller

        John D.: fair enough, and I like your positive outlook. I think it is important to look at things with a critical eye too. And much of the time what these types of organizations run by large corporate interests end up proposing is exactly what you’d expect: tax subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare.

  3. Richard McCann

    There is a good location for an initial innovation park, but unfortunately it’s on the UCD campus in Solano County, so it does Davis little good in producing tax revenues. The South Campus, at the Old Davis exit on I-80 has sufficient space and of course great transportation access to the Bay Area. That said, I would prefer to see something on the Yolo side of the campus.

    1. John D


      Whatever your preference for location, your point is particularly illuminating.   The the tax issue is of critical importance to communities in the region – and the county just a much as our cities.  But the tax issues, in this case involving both sales taxes and property taxes, are most often absent from reports issued by our consultants – as they are not identified as an “impactful” elements to the CEQA framework of analysis.  And if not for consultants raising the issues, none of our electeds or agency staffers really wants to wade into this hornet’s nest when the tradeoffs involve taking from one and giving to the other.  As the result, the conflicts remain unrecognized – continuing to grow and fester.

      In looking at the situation, it’s important to keep in mind that both the allocation of sales taxes and the rules government certain elements of property tax distributions are governed by laws enacted and overseen by the legislature at the state level.   In a similar sense, aspects of university policy, operations and funding fall within the purview of state oversight and budget considerations.

      If we are to have an open and constructive dialogue about the competing funding needs for our university host communities, host counties and the university it is essential that all the cards be on the table.

      There are clear tradeoffs – particularly as they impact the income stream of neighboring cities and counties – that are the direct result of existing laws governing taxation and distribution.    There are clear impacts to university centric cities hosting major UC campus operations.    Most of the impacts are highly desirable, but not necessarily fiscally sustainable over the long term – specifically as the result of rules governing allocation of California sales and property tax distributions.

      Keep in mind, for example, that local property taxes in California weren’t didn’t exist in any meaningful way until the mid-1960s, and accordingly weren’t a consideration in City revenue calculations at the time the university campus was established in 1906.

      Likewise, there are easily identifiable and highly predictable demographic impacts – particularly affecting housing availability – and low income housing in particular – resulting from university operations and associated enrollment goals.   Point being, goals established by the state for our university system can and do impose very real impacts on their host communities.

      It’s well past time for the legislature to own up to its role in the local impacts and conflicts resulting from the intersection or convergence of its antiquated taxation models and its mandate to deliver quality education for our future leaders of tomorrow.    It’s time to begin thinking about making the equation more taxation revenue neutral for impacted communities, think about new formulas for distribution of the state/regional share of sales and property taxes (particularly as campuses expand with models offering on-campus and internet retail sales).

      It’s well past time to recognize the challenges for what they are, remove obstacles that inhibit fully collaborative policy development and foster new partnerships to benefit all parties concerned.

      This is a big part of what it means to have a full and comprehensive discussion of core issues affecting municipal operating revenues.

    1. Matt Williams

      Alan’s trademark colorful language aside, he makes a very cogent and insightful point.  All of the discussion has been by proxy.  That doesn’t label the proxies either good or bad.  It simply recognizes them for what they are … a thin veneer that obscures the underlying core components.

      Alan, is actually saying much the same thing as John D says in his 11:20am comment below.  Alan just says it with an economy of words.

      For the record, I am an individual member of the Chamber and its Government Relations Committee. I’m not sure wheteher than makes me INfamous or a spokeshole or not. I do know that it is one small attempt on my part to follow the advice in John D’s final paragraph, Let the conversation begin…………but let’s start with clearly defining/illuminating the problem. It’s really not that difficult.

  4. Matt Williams

    David Greenwald said . . . Here Barry Broome was able to focus on growth potential that matches Davis values. […]  If we do that we can develop economically while still maintaining our uniquely Davis world view and values.

    David, if you conducted a survey of the 65,000 Davis residents and asked two questions within that survey, first, What constitutes “Davis’ values”?  and second, Does Davis have a “unique world view”?  I suspect you would find that the survey would receive a wide range of heterogeneous answers to both those questions.

    Bottom-line, you are focusing on a solution without clearly defining/illuminating the problem.  That does not display good Critical Thinking.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Bottom-line, you are focusing on a solution without clearly defining/illuminating the problem. That does not display good Critical Thinking.”

      I’ll ignore the unnecessary last sentence, and focus on the first sentence, as I have already made this case a number of times over the years. I see a whole host of problems that economic development addresses, I think the purpose of your comment is to remind of the need to at least mention it for the purposes of newer readers and that’s a good reminder.

      1. Matt Williams

        David, your answer does not answer either of the two questions I posed.  Those two questions were:

        What constitutes “Davis’ values”?  and

        Does Davis have a “unique world view”? 

        As I said in my comment, I suspect you would find that any survey of the Davis community would receive a wide range of heterogeneous answers to both those questions.   Shouldn’t any weighing of the pros and cons of your statement “I see a whole host of problems that economic development addresses” at least establish what the measuring stick is for assessing your belief?  Without establishing the parameters of that community measuring stick, I personally believe we will simply be shooting in the dark … and shooting in the dark typically is not good critical thinking.

        1. David Greenwald

          I suspect you are correct on the wide range of answers to both those questions. On the other, I think Davis very consistently heavily tilts to the left overall and in particular on issues of the environment. Davis also has a reputation as highly educated, heavily employed at UC Davis, with a strong focus on education. Therefore when I think in terms of Davis values, I think of higher education and environmental technology as natural outlets for economic development. To be honest, other than articulated such a vision and put it to a Measure R vote, I’m not sure how much control we’ll have over the types of businesses that would move to an innovation center.

        2. Matt Williams

          David Greenwald said . . . I’m not sure how much control we’ll have over the types of businesses that would move to an innovation center.

          Again, you are leaping forward to consideration of a solution without even attempting to discern what the nature of the problem is.

          With that said, is “Davis also has a reputation as highly educated, heavily employed at UC Davis, with a strong focus on education” a problem or a strength?  I suspect that there is a substantial proportion of the Davis community will say that the reputation is well deserved, the reputation is indeed a strength, but that Davis has become so single-threaded around that reputation/strength, that the strength has become a problem because too large an amount of a beneficial or useful thing or activity can be harmful or excessive.  

  5. John D

    Bottom-line, you are focusing on a solution without clearly defining/illuminating the problem.


    Couldn’t agree more.  This has been the crux of our problems for years – an unwillingness to discuss the challenges in their many forms.    They are not all “problems”, but certainly with our plethora of cultural and planning objectives there are many goals that are in direct conflict with other, equally meritworthy objectives.   And, that’s just talking about issues facing the community.   When you blend in goals and needs of the university and the county – both programatic and budgetary – the calculus becomes decidedly more complex.

    Nonetheless, without the will to take an honest inventory of the issues and address how we go about prioritizing competing goals – people can imagine and propose all manner of the wonderful ideas but never develop the critical mass of support necessary to mobilize for action.

    It has already been demonstrated that moving ahead to a discussion of potential solutions, no matter how exciting they may be, is a certain recipe for failure – if for no other reason than multifacted problems require multifacted solutions and anyone who argues they have the magic bullet is likely to be proven wrong in very short order.


    Let the conversation begin…………but let’s start with clearly defining/illuminating the problem.  It’s really not that difficult.

      1. Rik Keller

        David: you mean like the kind of swipes that, for example, characterize a 60-year fair housing group as not a “real organization”? That the kind of behavior you are modeling for this forum.

        1. Rik Keller

          David: as usual you are trying to evade responsibility for your own noxious behavior. This forum you have created is a direct reflection of your well-known reputation for dirty play.

          It’s also very telling that you see yourself as a member of various campaigns, rather than as an independent journalist.

        2. Ron

          David:  “Since you didn’t get the message, the campaign is over: Let it go.”

          The Vanguard’s campaigns are never “over”.  It started again, the day after WDAAC was decided.  (Actually, prior to that, as well.)

          It is dirty, on here. An initial veneer of civility which quickly disappears, day-after-day. It is not a forum for honest discussion. It’s a forum for development campaigns.

        3. Rik Keller

          Ron: I think you have nailed it. As one the Facebook reviews of the DV page says “the author is increasingly biased…” [Come to think of it, that would be an accurate tagline to use in the upcoming DV website redesign to replace the phrase “The People’s Vanguard of Davis” which is clearly not operative anymore.]

          And I would add that if David followed established ethical journalistic practices and procedures, he wouldn’t have to deal with examples like his attempted smears of long-standing fair housing organizations and then attempting to quietly scrub those from the record without publishing proper restrictions or corrections. But he doesn’t and so it’s fair game.

          As a side note, we can see the inverse of this dynamic recently when he called  Greater Sacramento  “the region’s economic development agency,” (my emphasis) which is nowhere near the truth. It’s not even one of the region’s economic development agencies; it is a corporate lobbying group.

        4. Rik Keller

          Re: “Let it Go”. Seems that a lot of people misinterpret the actual message of the song. Here’s a good breakdown

          “In the film, Let It Go is a moment of dark irony. Elsa’s liberation doesn’t just mean lifelong solitude but eternal winter for everybody else – although she doesn’t yet know it. Even before she realises the damage she’s done, her excitement is gleefully irresponsible: “No right, no wrong, no rules for me.” In one popular YouTube parody Elsa sings “[censored] it all,” which is pretty much the gist of it. The viewer knows she’s wrong but gets carried away anyway.

          I think this is why the song is so addictive for girls a few years away from puberty, already chafing a little at the parental reins.”

          The message ultimately is to not let things go and instead have civic responsibility.

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