At last week’s forum I asked a question of Danielle Casey that seemed straightforward but at the same time turned out to be fairly sobering.
How does the region view Davis from the standpoint of economic development? What do you hear from commercial entities looking to locate in this region?
Her answer was worse than I thought it would be.
“When we work with firms that are looking at coming into the region, they’re looking at expanding, it has already been said in terms of certainty… We have innovative companies that are looking at connecting with Greater Sacramento. I’d say, for the most part, Davis isn’t even considered because they’re going to do a look at a requirement in terms of commercial space availability and they’re just not finding it,” she said.
“They don’t even see it all,” Danielle Casey said. “So you’re not even getting a look to begin with.”
More broadly, Danielle Casey noted that, for a long time, the Sacramento region wasn’t even on the map.
“The scary thing,” she said, when she lived elsewhere, “I never heard anything about the Sacramento region. Which is another issue and concern and something we’re really looking to drive forward.”
UC Davis is a huge selling point, and she said, in terms of the region and the assets of this region, “That’s completely different.”
Echoing Barry Broome, she said that “they see it as an untapped resource but also as the gateway to Silicon Valley.”
She noted, “The perception (of UC Davis) is very high.”
The quality of the community is seen as being at a very high level but “it’s also seen as hard to tap into. Hard to access. Some of that is also the perception of the university itself. It’s a challenge.”
She told the audience on Wednesday that the challenge with small firms is “how do I connect with the university” and “how do I get in there?”
From the perspective of the city, this gets back to the data that Danielle Casey presented in the first part of her presentation. The lack of office and industrial space in Davis. The lack of the commercially zoned land for the city overall.
We currently see both the upside and the downside of this. The upside is that when the space needs are small and there is space available, we are seeing some positive movement.
Consider Mars or Archer Daniels Midland Co. coming to Davis, or Nugget moving its headquarters here or Sutter Davis expanding. We also know that Sierra Energy has tapped millions to expand its research center. Fulcrum spent tens of millions to purchase Interland and now expand that facility.
So clearly there is a demand and companies and developers with resources are looking at Davis as a market to tap into.
But there is a downside here. We first saw it in 2013 when Bayer/AgraQuest, which had been founded in Davis as a small company by Pam Marrone, left. It went to West Sacramento and is now in the process of creating its own innovation center.
There are probably two more companies native to Davis that are likely to move out of Davis in the next few months, most notably Shilling Robotics.
We know that bigger companies like Genentech bypassed Davis for regional markets.
That is the reality that we face. And I think that Danielle Casey summed it up rather perfectly. Companies looking to locate in the Sacramento region are not looking at Davis because they have no place to go in Davis.
A key question that I think the residents of Davis need to ask themselves is whether that matters to them. It may not. There are people reading this column saying, we have what we need here, this is a nice community, I want to keep it small, keep these tech companies out of here.
I don’t happen to agree with that view, but I think it is a legitimate view and why I continue to support community choice in the form of Measure R.
But I also think we need to lay the numbers on the table. If Davis continues to add commercial development at the rate they have for the last two decades, then we really don’t need to add commercially zoned land.
We have to understand that that means we lose AgraQuest, we lose Shilling, we lose other medium-sized companies that cannot find space for their current and future plans, and it also means we do not get looks from other mid-sized companies.
On the other hand, if we want to do more, then we need some space. I have argued in the past that we need about 200 acres. That would be large enough to allow current companies to grow while attracting new companies, and that would help increase our revenue – making our city coffers more stable and allowing us to avoid more tax increases in the future.
But really, the future of this community is up for the residents to decide.
—David M. Greenwald reporting