Right now the city of Davis is a community that really sits on the edge. On the one hand is a community of immense promise and potential, sitting on the goldmine of a world class university with a high standard of living and active and engaged citizens.
On the hand, the city in many ways is struggling. It lacks the tax base. It lacks the ability to fund basic infrastructure needs. And the community is constantly looking at creative ways to persevere through a series of economic hardships, even in relatively prosperous times.
Such struggles coming out of the great recession compelled leaders to come together and create a plan that could utilize the city’s position as the host city of a world class university while maintaining the community’s core identity.
Out of those efforts came the idea of a researched based space that could host growing high tech businesses and start ups.
In 2013, after the city of Davis hired Rob White, there was a ton of activity pushing the community toward discussions and ultimately actions on Economic Development. We had just had D-SIDE and the Innovation Park Task Force as well as the Studio 30 Report. We saw organizations like Davis Roots spring up. We had Jumpstart Davis.
Ultimately that led to the city putting out RFEI’s and getting applications for two innovation centers in addition to Nishi.
Most of our longer-term readers know the history from there – the momentum fizzled. Davis Innovation Center ended up going on pause and then to Woodland. MRIC was paused. Nishi with it’s 300,000 square feet lost narrowly at the polls. Rob White one way or another lost his job. Davis Roots has come and gone.
But while the momentum died. The need didn’t. In fact, we could argue that the need is greater now than it was in 2010 or 2013.
The most recent budget shows continued long-term fiscal challenges. And while the city has added the potential for revenue through cannabis and hotels – the core problem remains – how does Davis grow its revenue without an increased tax burden given the decline in retail?
That is behind the renewed push for what is now the Aggie Research Campus sees a very different landscape than we saw in 2014.
You can look at this in two ways – what happened 2013-14 was not sufficient to get an innovation center at the time. Or you can see that we have lost a lot of momentum.
In the city, we still see investments by Sierra Energy and Fulcrum into creating innovation spaces. But as the analysis shows from January, the city lacks large, open spaces for even medium-sized companies to move to or upgrade.
Meanwhile, while Davis was ahead of the curve in 2013-14, we are now behind. UC Davis is partnering with Sacramento on Aggie Square. And we see innovation efforts in places like Woodland, West Sacramento, and Dixon.
On the other hand, Davis is still Davis. As Barry Broome from Greater Sacramento put it last fall, 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.
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.
“Innovation has to be within 200 yards,” he said. “If you look at these successful research parks… the exchange between industry, commercial technology and important solutions like how do we feed the world in 2050, that is a point-blank range relationship between the industries that are trying to solve the problems, the faculty that are developing contemporary research and the students that are being trained to go into the industry and solve that problem.”
There are questions of course. And there should be questions. Can Davis support the commercial development needed to develop the type of high tech economic development that places like Aggie Research Campus seek to bring to town?
What we have seen in recent months is that Davis is a place that such companies want to come. Even a place as local as Nugget, had the choice of keeping its headquarters in Woodland or moving to Davis – they chose to move.
Larger companies like ADM and Mars have chosen to locate new research facilities in Davis.
Companies like Fulcrum and Sierra have chosen to invest tens of millions into economic development in Davis.
And of course we have the pending discussion of the Aggie Research Campus.
With the good, comes the bad. The bad as we laid out last January is the utter lack of vacant commercially zoned space – especially anything larger than 10 acres. That’s a problem. It is a big problem when we have locally grown companies like Bayer/ Agraquest and now likely Shilling Robotics that have left or will leave due to lack of space.
What does Davis need to thrive? How can Davis push itself from the small college town to a place where these companies want to come to grow and thrive? And how can it do so, and maintain its core identity.
Next Wednesday, we are hoping to continue that discussion as Danielle Casey from Greater Sacramento comes to town. She will be joined by the past and present on the city council as Rochelle Swanson is joined by Dan Carson.
The event will be held on August 28 at 6 pm at the Community Room of Congregation Bet Haverim.
The event features the following speakers:
Danielle Casey, Executive Vice President for the Greater Sacramento Economic Council
Dan Carson, Davis City Councilmember
Rochelle Swanson, Former Davis City Councilmember
Jason Taormino, Former Davis Chamber President
The event is free and open to the public – limited seating – please reserve.
To reserve your space: click here
—David M. Greenwald reporting