Commentary: Davis, Sacramento Region Poised to Take Advantage of Economic Development Opportunity

The cost of living in the Bay Area is creating opportunity for other areas to take advantage of this.  Davis has long seen a need for a more diverse economy – something that could take advantage of its standing as the host city of an emerging world class university.  At the same time, it has been held back by its own growth control policies and, perhaps more than that, by simple fear.

While those concerned with growth in Davis have some legitimate concerns, they are also missing something else – we can do this without altering the fundamental nature of our community.

The opportunity to make this happen is right now.  Even more so than in 2013, when we first took up this conversation following the Great Recession – the fiscal hardships afflicting the town, groups like DSIDE, the Innovation Park Task Force and the Studio 30 Report.

The forces are lining up to assist – but only if we take advantage of the moment.

In July, The Guardian ran an article: “How an exodus of ‘Bay Area refugees’ is shaking up Sacramento.”

As the article notes, “In recent years, the climbing cost of living amid the influx of tech wealth has forced an exodus of longtime Bay Area residents that has irrevocably changed the surrounding cities as well.”

“Our city has been on the up and up over the last few years,” said Cornelious Burke, who sits on the city planning commission. “I think we’re starting to finally recognize that Sacramento is a hidden gem. Housing is affordable. It’s a great place to raise a family. Crime is low here. It’s kind of like a quirky Portland of California.”

In June, we learned of Sacramento’s surprising rank on the list of best cities for startup companies.  It is at 11.  Still behind San Francisco which is No.5, but not bad.

Writes the Bee: “The ranking suggests a recent push by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and business leaders to link the city to the Bay Area as a super-regional tech and startup incubator is paying dividends.”

“The once sleepy government town is ripe for new tech companies to take shape here and feed the early-stage startup scene,” analysts at CommercialCafe wrote.

Sacramento has has seen a 45 percent increase during five recent years in the number of computer, engineering and science jobs.  The region also has seen an influx of young, educated workers.

But if Sacramento is the hidden gem, pushing forward with the Railyards and now Aggie Square, Davis represents untapped potential.

That’s how Barry Broome from Greater Sacramento put it last fall.

“When you lay out Davis to a venture capitalist, you get a much different reaction than if you were to say Sacramento,” Mr. Broome explained.  “Sacramento is viewed as a government town in Silicon Valley, but Davis and UC Davis is viewed as an untapped resource.

“I like to refer to Davis as the front door to the Silicon Valley for the region,” he said.  Davis, he explained, as it helps to pull other communities along in the minds of Silicon Valley investors.

Economic development, he explained, is “if you do it right, it’s a profitable proposition.”

The year 2050 is key.  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.  Mr. Broome 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.

Mr. Broome noted that UC Davis has been planning a research park since 1994.  There are 174 universities that have research parks and UC Davis is still not one of them.

“It’s a bit of a frustration that we haven’t been able to figure out how to take this research park forward between the city and between the university,” he said.

Frustration.  That’s the problem.

What is holding us back right now is us.  We’re not talking about fundamentally changing the nature of Davis.  We’re talking about taking Davis’ competitive advantage and building on it.

Once again: we can do this without altering the fundamental nature of our community.

A dispersed innovation strategy builds on the building blocks that we already have and adds an innovation center on the edge of town that should provide us with ample space for the next half century.

Far from a rapid growth model, this is simply a limited growth model and ARC (Aggie Research Campus) has the added advantage of being basically already surrounded by other development and contained to the east by a conservation easement.

What we have seen is that Davis is a good place to locate facilities – if we have the space. The access to a world class university combined with land costs that, while high, are less than the Silicon Valley could mean that UC Davis and Davis are well-positioned to take advantage of the new economy.

Without really a lot of effort we have seen major new investments by Nugget, by ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), by Mars, by some hotels and now by Sutter Health. Those are jobs. Those are revenue. Those are good companies to bring in to Davis.

On Wednesday, Danielle Casey from Greater Sacramento will come to speak and help us understand where Davis fits in this new innovation economy.

But there are naysayers. Those who argue that there isn’t the demand for commercial development in Davis. Those who point out that other communities are competing for resources.

The truth is the latter point is true, but the former point misunderstands the nature of commercial development – and neither point really understands the untapped potential of either Davis or UC Davis.

There are of course those who question Barry Broome and whether Greater Sacramento can have that type of impact – but the reality is that they are missing the advances that Sacramento has made in the last five years.

We are already seeing a big change from a region that seemed to underperform.

As the Bee put it: “The Greater Sacramento Economic Council, a regional business recruitment group, has been part of the push to position the Sacramento region as a startup hub.”

What we have seen in recent years with key additions is that Davis is positioned to take advantage of the shift in the tech business focus from the Bay Area to the Valley, and all we need is some space to make that happen.  Not a lot of space, not enough to change the nature of this community, just enough to shift the trajectory a little bit.

Join us tonight at 6 pm at Congregation Bet Haverim for a full discussion and to see Danielle Casey speak from Greater Sacramento.  Free tickets and more details here.

—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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