Friday, August 29, 2014

Building a foundation for Davis economic development

By Rob White

I have been asked by several community members over the past few weeks to give a detailed reporting on what is being done in economic development by the city of Davis. More specifically, I have been asked to enumerate what have been the tangible results of the work of the chief innovation officer over the past year and what are the goals over the coming year.

Though the information still needs to be heard by the City Council and finalized, the proposed final Innovation and Economic Vitality Work Program and the companion Action Plan that details the specific actions, desired outcomes and measures are available on the city website, Click on “City Council Meeting Agendas” under City Quick Links on the right, and then select the April 22 meeting agenda. The information can be found under Item 9. (The report was postponed from April 22 to the May 13 council meeting.)

And if you’re interested in gaining more information about the proposed activities or providing comment to the City Council, you’re invited to attend the May 13 meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Chambers at City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd. The meeting also is broadcast on City Government Channel 16 and via live webstreaming.

To focus more specifically on the proposed final Innovation and Economic Vitality Work Program, staff has asked the council to direct city efforts to five focus areas:

* Facilitate technology and business development;

* Increase university engagement;

* Expand the support network for local business;

* Strategic branding and marketing; and

* Leadership.

These five areas are specifically meant to work cohesively. Each is dependent on the other and is intended to create a holistic approach to developing the innovation economy in Davis. And though parts of the economy have been developing due to others’ efforts — such as the university and local technology companies — it is through coordinated and consistent efforts that a complete economic system will emerge for Davis.

All of the materials and the reports have been prepared by staff at City Hall, not by a consultant. This work typically takes a year or longer and usually involves at least a few consultants assisting staff. And though the Work Program and Action Plan are living documents and can always benefit from revision and addition over time, they represent a significant and detailed reorientation for the city of Davis as we turn traditional economic development activities into activities that build an innovation economy and embrace our largest asset, UC Davis and its resultant research and development.

This is not the only work product from the past year. We also have been assisting businesses one on one, helping to build the local technology business ecosystem, working with several property owners to bring forward a proposal on an innovation center, establishing stronger links with the university, working to increase the regional brand of Davis, reaching out to potential investment and businesses in the region and globally, and assisting other city departments with large projects and programs. These include the proposed hotel-conference center, The Cannery housing development, open space and conservation, sustainability and budget and fiscal analysis.

Staff in the city’s Office of Innovation and Economic Vitality also have facilitated and been involved in regional efforts like the Yolo rail realignment discussions, Yolo broadband assessment and active support for innovation in the regional Next Economy Plan.

Based on my 12 years of working in local economic development and more than 20 years of experience in branding and marketing, it has been clear to me that the best way to attract investment and gain interest of new companies is to support and provide leadership in the regional efforts.

Davis is one of few communities that have been blessed with a university that is vital to solving the world’s food and health issues. And as the host community, we have an opportunity to help facilitate that research and development and work to bring regional, national and global attention to our city.

This translates into investment in our quality of life, ecotourism of our cherished open space and conservation attributes and global recognition as a pre-eminent location for modern examples of sustainability, agriculture, arts, technology, community values and holistic systems.

In all of this discussion, one thing should be recognized. Previous efforts to bring economic development forward as an important activity to the community have helped pave the way to where we are now. These include the city’s efforts through the City Council, the Business and Economic Development Commission and staff; the Chamber of Commerce’s efforts through its board, Economic Development Committee and DSIDE; Davis Downtown’s efforts in areas like “shop local,” community events and parking solutions; the Yolo Convention and Visitors Bureau’s in promoting tourism and arts; and techDAVIS’ support of the city’s economic development program with needed funding.

There are, of course, many other groups that can be named and it is the consistent efforts of these groups and the community that have helped the city’s current efforts gain traction.

There is much more to do and many challenges along the way. And there are many people actively supporting this current effort to help us achieve success. I encourage you to get involved and provide your insights so that we can truly craft a community-based program that will achieve our objectives.

— Rob White is the city of Davis’ chief innovation officer. Reach him at



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