Monday Morning Thoughts: Apparently an Economic Development Plan Is Coming

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – For some time, local citizens have been complaining about a lack of progress on economic development—which in light of what has transpired over the last ten years, I think is a fair criticism.

Nevertheless, it seems that help could be soon underway.  The city has been attempting to hire an Economic Development director for some time, and sources indicate that an announcement for that could be imminent.

Moreover, their first major task will be the development of an Economic Development Strategic Plan.

Indeed, just because the council chose to focus the General Plan on the core required elements does not mean that Economic Development is falling by the wayside.

If we look at the staff report from February 20 on the General Plan, it notes, “As the City is in the process of hiring an Economic Development Director, it will be critical to identify to what extent the General Plan update will incorporate Economic Development as a key subject area vs. looking to the creation of a separate Economic Development Strategic Plan.”

It continues: “At a minimum, the Land Use Element of the General Plan should consider business space/land needs in alignment with desired economic development strategies and outcomes.”

As I have said before, there is plenty of blame to go around on this issue.

The city spent several years through D-SIDE, the Innovation Park Task Force, the Studio 30 Report and through hiring a Chief Innovation Officer in developing a plan a decade ago.

The plan led to the city seeking applications for innovation centers and it landed several, in addition, Nishi—following recommendations in the Studio 30 report contained an R&D portion.

That plan slowly fell apart.  Push back from neighbors in the Binning Tract led developers to pull one of the innovation projects in 2014 and they moved the proposal up to Woodland.

In 2016, voters narrowly defeated Nishi with an innovation center and, two years later, the project that was passed contained no commercial portion.

The innovation center at Mace went through several derivations; ultimately it got pulled, then it came back in 2020 as DISC, was narrowly defeated and then two years later, a smaller version was handily defeated.

By that point, with a couple of recent infill developments, the city has pretty much completely exhausted its internal land—although the city has been robust enough to hold onto several major companies recently.

Clearly the time has come to revise the decade-old model for economic development—though pretty much any expansion is going to take land.  And pretty much any land of reasonable size will require either a Measure J vote or some type of general plan amendment that would also require a vote to set aside land.

But any plan is going to need community buy-in, which even the robust planning of a decade ago really failed to obtain.

In short, I would recommend the city figure out what it’s going to do about Measure J and let the voters weigh in before going too far down this road.

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. Tim Keller

    Economic development needs to be a comprehensive strategy, including programs, funding, network building, provision of strategic resources etc… not just a land development/ city expansion issue which I think was the problem in the previous efforts – they went directly to “lets build an innovation park” and focused on real estate, when in reality, there is an entire pipeline you need to fill up before you need to be worried about something like an innovation park.

    I approached the city in the summer of ’22 with a list of priorities and things I wanted to do to get the ball rolling on economic development.   We have been waiting for this post to be filled ever since.

    It cant happen fast enough.

    That said, the biggest thing that the general plan process can do to help with economic development – is provide workforce HOUSING.

    Davis’ critical strategic advantage is our PEOPLE, and right now, we cant house our workforce.   More than an innovation center, the creation of a significant amount of housing should be the number one economic development priority.

    Wonder why I have been talking for a year now about creating a whole string of medium density affordable housing connecting the university on one end to the DiSC site at the other?  THAT is why.

    You cant have an economic development plan without a robust housing plan.   Its like farming without water.

    That said… I am SO SO SO ready to get started on an economic development again.. there is a LOT we can get started on while we figure out the housing thing in parallel.


    1. Matt Williams

      I’ll say the same thing as Tim has, but with fewer words.  If this is a 100,000 foot flyover, then it is a waste of time.  It needs to identify target markets to go after, what the economic size of those markets is, what are the top 50 prospects in each market, what the competitive communities are for those prospects, and why those target prospects would value Davis over other those competitive communities.


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