Commentary: For Economic Development to Succeed, We Need Leadership Lacking on ARC to Step Up

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

"UC Davis has been planning a research park since 1994.  There are 174 universities that have research parks and UC Davis is still not one of them."

Measure B, DISC Davis Will Boost Economic Development

By: David Greenwald | February 18, 2020 | The Davis Vanguard

In 2010 a combination of political and business leaders came together through DSIDE (Designing a Sustainable & Innovative Davis Economy) to push for economic development in Davis.  Among the outcomes of that was the Innovation Park Task Force and the Studio 30 report, which put forward the notion of the dispersed innovation model, including the development of a large, peripheral innovation center.

Coupled with the 2013 hiring of Rob White as Chief Innovation Officer, the city was able to get several proposals the next year for Innovation Centers, including MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center). But the business and political leadership at that time was clearly ahead of the public, and so the proposals lingered and ultimately faded out.

The need for economic development has not diminished in the intervening years.  If anything, with a lingering budget shortfall, it has gotten more acute.  Moreover, the public passed two housing projects in 2018, and polling shows they are much more amenable to new development than they were five to ten years ago.

What seems to be lacking at this point is the political and business leadership.  Contrary to what happened a decade ago, there is no DSIDE, no Innovation Park Task Force, and, indeed, the political leadership seems to, for the most part, be sitting passively on the side.

That leadership at this point could make a huge difference in a lot of ways.  The public needs to have a better understanding of why we need an innovation center, what the process will look like, and what the prospects are for success.

Over the weekend in the weekly column “My View,” I raised the point, for example, that none of the three candidates for County Supervisor have expressed support for the Aggie Research Campus.  Jim Provenza may well support it, but his view was, “This is something that’s going to come before us later – so I can’t take a position right now.”

I see this as a lost opportunity for, frankly, the city, county, and university.

For instance, Jim Provenza talked at one of the forums about the 2 by 2 by 2 on the issue of student housing, and he said, “We were running up against a problem where the university was simply not building enough housing and that puts pressure on the Davis housing market because every time Davis builds more housing, more students come in and the university wasn’t keeping up.”

After the meeting, Supervisor Provenza said that “this resulted in negotiations and the establishment of a 2 by 2 by 2 and, as a result, we now have an enforceable agreement that the university will house 100 percent of its increased enrollment and that will do a tremendous amount to take the pressure off the Davis housing market so when we build in Davis, we can build for everyone else as well as the students.”

Imagine if they took a similar approach to the issue of economic development with the three entities coming together to hammer out agreements and take the need for economic development to the public.

I think we need to re-conceptualize this entire process.  In 2010, we saw a community-based effort.  In fact, there were no developers involved in the process at that point.  It was a discussion based on community need. The city, county, and university are not viewing this as a mutual benefit project.  This is a project that benefits all three entities.The city needs revenue and needs to create jobs to help balance the jobs-housing imbalance.

The county is in desperate need of revenue and can use the tax sharing agreement to convert 200 acres of county land into productive innovation space. And the university needs to transfer their millions in research dollars into technology transfer—that is why they are pushing into Sacramento with Aggie Square.  But Aggie Square figures to be relatively small and focused on medical technology—which will leave the Aggie Research Center to focus on things like Agricultural Technology and Green Technology.

This is the point that Barry Broome from the Greater Sacramento Economic Council made when he spoke to the city council in October 2018. As Barry Broome noted a little over a year ago: “Davis and UC Davis is viewed as an untapped resource.” Mr. Broome noted that UC Davis has been planning a research park since 1994.  There are 174 universities that have research parks and UC Davis is still not one of them.

“It’s a bit of a frustration that we haven’t been able to figure out how to take this research park forward between the city and between the university,” he said.  He noted that, even though Woodland is doing their own park, “they’re not going to really capture innovation—that’s eight miles away.”As Mr. Broome put it: “UC Davis has the opportunity to be among the most impactful universities on climate change, farming, food security.”

This is an opportunity for all three.  So why don’t they all get together and hammer out an early agreement and then put their weight behind this proposal and go all out?

No one wants to do that.  The city has its process for sure, but it could do more to make the point about why we need this—now.

The university, having been burned on development before, is understandably gun shy, but as people have pointed out they waited on the sidelines too long on Nishi 1.0 which would have helped with R&D as well as student housing.  That was a mistake.  They got Nishi 2.0 but they don’t have that 300 thousand square feet of R&D space across the street now.

And the county perhaps needs this more than either the city or the university in some respects.  The county lacks a lot of revenue mechanisms, but the revenue sharing agreement here would be mutually beneficial to the county as well as the city.

This is a major project and for it to succeed and flourish, we need all our local government entities to get together—they did it for student housing, now they need to do it for economic development.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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