By Zohd Khan
DAVIS — Speakers at Tuesday’s Davis Economic Development Webinar highlighted the dire circumstances facing small businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the underwhelming economic development in Davis due to obsolete infrastructure and the inability of Davis’ downtown to combat climate change.
The meeting began with Greater Sacramento Economic Council Leader Barry Broome outlining a brief summary of the economic standings for Davis. Broome reported that, among our region, the Sacramento MSA has ranked 84th in “Inclusion,” 71st in “Prosperity” and 67th in “Growth.”
In addition, Broome addressed the troubles among social minorities within our region, detailing how about 47 percent of African Americans and 42 percent of Latinos are struggling financially. Broome indicated that these concerning statistics were the ramifications of “the curse of the anti-growth/slow growth mindset that we’ve suffered under.”
Broome continued by reassuring that the economy is not an obstacle exclusive to Davis, as he attributed the nationwide social unrest to the “50 percent [of Americans] living paycheck to paycheck” and the fact that “we’ve eradicated the middle class.”
In contrast to the disappointing data Broome shared, he also highlighted the nine percent unemployment rate in the region, which is below the state unemployment rate of 11.5 percent. Broome further explained how our region’s unemployment rate in 2012 of 12 percent served as another positive takeaway, as we have dropped substantially since that year.
Broome also acknowledged “the new moonshot” of our nation during climate change, referring to its plausible solution as a “technology strategy.” For example, Broome praised Governor Gavin Newsom’s new order for banning all new combustible engines by 2035 as a step in the right direction. Broome mentioned that this order helps create new economic opportunities through the increased reliance on electric vehicles.
In an effort to echo policies similar to Newsom’s order, Broome introduced the concept of “Davis 2050,” an idea that UC Davis’ technologies are the key to fostering a positive environmental impact as we strive to increase food production by 70 percent.
This idea coincided with the aspiration that Aggie Square will eventually become a “world-renown[ed]” sensation, rivaling the prominence of the “Golden Gate Bridge” and “Seattle Space Needle.” Additionally, Broome emphasized the need for action in the private sector, with public-private partnerships serving as the “standard practice to solve these problems.”
One specific implementation to help decrease the town’s carbon footprint will be the addition of a 50,000 square feet lab in Davis, which will be provided by DISC (Davis Innovation Sustainability Campus, if the voters approve it in November), which will serve as an effective means in developing the technologies to address climate change, solar energy, and electric vehicles.
Broome concluded his presentation by covering the traffic problems in our region. He explained how 30 percent of all our jobs are in a handful of communities, which creates a traffic dilemma where many people are forced to drive around our region, thereby increasing the carbon footprint.
Broome then proposed that if we build more real estate within our communities, more workers can travel by foot, which will not only improve the environment, but also generate more jobs in Davis and improve tax income in the city.
The next speaker in the webinar was Joe Dinunzio of the Davis Chamber, who emphasized the struggle among local businesses to adapt to the burdensome effects of the pandemic.
Dinunzio began by pointing out how the absence of many of UC Davis’ staff and students has had a detrimental impact on the businesses’ income. He reported that 70 percent of businesses have noted reduced income, with two-thirds of that being significant. Among the worst hits in this regard have been nonprofits.
Furthermore, over one-third of local businesses have either temporarily or permanently laid off staff. As a result of these shortcomings, 75 percent of these businesses have applied for some sort of federal/state aid, although any of those successful in receiving such funds are witnessing their own aid diminish now.
Dinunzio also mentioned new local business grants of 236,000 dollars being open for applications.
Dinunzio commended city officials for finding methods to enable outdoor dining and modifying rules to allow owners to adapt to the environment. Nevertheless, some businesses cannot afford to adapt due to the nature of their operations and procedures.
Another speaker, Jim Gray of Commercial Real Estate, passionately described the incompatibility of Davis’ downtown infrastructure, as he tried to “bring a moment’s worth of reality to the myth that we’re going to have lots of opportunities in Downtown.”
Gray explained how many of the buildings don’t comply with the Title 24 California requirement to reduce the carbon footprint, and that those buildings are far too small to attract startup companies. This includes biotech companies who could work to address climate change in our area.
Gray then pleaded that “we need to think about modern office facilities that serve the workforce that can be dynamic and serve the community.”
Dinunzio added to Gray’s concerns, stating that “our downtown just wasn’t built for that” and proceeded to compare Davis to Madison, Wisconsin, where the research area is surrounded by serviceable roads, internet, and even water. However, Dinunzio maintained a positive mindset, stating that we can improve infrastructure if we prioritize the issue and work together to redevelop downtown.
The meeting concluded with the participants agreeing that they should not allow political differences or emotions to obstruct their economic goals, and that methods must be data-centric, with the ultimate goal to be “guiding future successes” rather than “picking winners and losers.”
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