Commentary: We Need to Have a Discussion on Economic Development

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

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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. Matt Williams

    Should we be looking at Economic Development from the perspective of districts?  Does Economic Development look different in different geographic portions of Davis.

    NOTE: working with others the 2010 Census data at the individual person level has been loaded into a geographic information system to model the makeup of possible districts.  The map below shows one of the many different possibilities for Davis districts.  I share the map to provide context for the questions I pose above.

    1. David Greenwald

      I think thinking in terms of districts makes no sense.  There are locations of economic development: (1) West Olive/ Area 52, (2) University Research Park off of Research Park Drive, (3) Downtown, (4) the Second Street Corridor and a potential fifth at University Research Campus

      The reason that thinking in terms of district doesn’t make sense is that (A) revenue is city wide, (B) jobs are dispersed both inside and outside of the city and there are no district- specific benefits.  The only issue which you could argue is specific to the district are land use impacts.

    2. Alan Miller

      Yep, looks like L.F. will be representing Old East and Old North.  Peaches.

      And I’m sure that those East of 113 will be thrilled to be in the West Davis district.

      And the Gentrification Zone, oh — jeez — I’m SO SO sorry — “Opportunity Zone #orwellian-nightmare#” will be split into three pieces, rendering impossible the ability to challenge the steamrollers.


        1. Bill Marshall

          Except, perhaps, at the margins… there will likely be ‘angst’, no matter what, but I see no apparent ‘gerrymandering’ and would be very vocal if that shows up…

          One constraint (that Matt acknowledged) is residence boundaries, and having residents being in ~ equalize districts, as to population… no one should expect “perfection” in districting… particularly as residents is not = voters… if a certain group doesn’t vote, they should not expect representation… except, perhaps, out of ‘charity’… and even then (charity), are their assumptions of what they want/need valid?

          Alan M kinda’ nailed it with his ‘yoga analogy’…

          There is only so much anyone can do for another… choices by folk are key… something about ‘leading a horse to water’…

    1. Bill Marshall

      We need to have a discussion in which the author [name redacted] stops repeating the same tired platitudes.

      That is true of a number of posters, here.

  2. Rik Keller

    Barry Broome’s record in Phoenix was one of massive underperformance compared to the national economy. And now he has brought that underperforming approach here.

  3. Mark West

    I think we need to have a five-year-long discussion on the benefits of economic development ending with a consensus plan for moving forward, then follow that up with a five-year period where we work to scuttle that plan before it is implemented. That ten-year cycle of exploration and lack of implementation has worked well over the last five or six decades so why change?

      1. Mark West

        Rik – your expertise best fits the second half of that 10 year cycle and since we are only now getting started in the process, I’m sure we will all look forward to hearing from you again in four or five years… in the mean time, have a great weekend (or two)!



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