Heavy competition to be UC Davis research hub
By Steve Marschke
At his “State of the City” speech on April 14, Mayor Christopher Cabaldon lauded West Sacramento’s potential to partner with UC Davis to create an “innovation hub” that builds a link between academic research and the private sector. The project could involve fields such as food science, he said.
“We want to the Silicon Valley of food,” Cabaldon commented.
The city was one of over 40 applicants that responded to broad request from UC Davis for ideas about creating an innovation hub, said Karl Mohr, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Administrative and Resource Management at UCD. The school’s chancellor, Linda Katehi, wants to leverage the university’s expertise into new public-private relationships.
“At the highest level, the decision was made to better connect basic university research with commercial enterprise,” Mohr explained.
The request from UC Davis asked for ideas that would accomplish this, and “accelerate the transfer of campus discoveries into commercial products in alignment with local and regional economic development efforts,” said a campus spokesperson.
The answering proposal from West Sacramento was – like the original request – just a broad outline. It stressed the city’s proximity to both UC Davis and the capitol, its location along major highways and waterways, and its place as home to “global industry leaders in the food, biotech, and clean energy sectors,” including Farmers Rice, Agrium (a fertilizer company), Nor-Cal Beverage, Tony’s Fine Foods, Tethys Biosciences and the soon-to-be-open Nippon Shokken, a maker of Asian food products. The proposal also emphasized the “can do” attitude and experience of local government and business leaders.
A thousand acres in southern Southport are available for “farming and test labs,” the city told UCD. Research and office space is available in other parts of West Sacramento for the project, said Toby Ross, West Sacramento’s city manager.
“We promoted the actual implementation capacity of West Sacramento to undertake some of the suggested ideas,” Ross told the News-Ledger. “The areas we’re talking about (for research and office space) are the Bridge District and the port areas.”
UCD’s Mohr said competing proposals came from throughout the region.
“There were responses from Dixon, Elk Grove, Oroville and a couple areas in the foothills,” said Mohr. A number of these proposals stressed their physical proximity to UCD. The City of Davis itself turned in a proposal. But:
“There were a number of proposals suggesting a ‘virtual’ approach (using the Internet), without even a physical location” for the hub,” said Mohr. “There may be multiple threads coming out of this, and this may not turn out to be a single initiative.”
UCD’s staff may decide to pursue, for example, a “virtual” hub as well as a physical one – or to create several different hubs connecting business to different fields of UC Davis science.
“Food science is an obvious one, but they could be in biotechnology or in the connection between human and animal health because of our expertise in veterinary sciences, or in other areas of expertise,” said Mohr. “A lot of the proposals talked about real estate. It’s not clear that real estate is a problem – UC Davis has plenty of that.”
Mohr said the school is now sifting through the proposals. Sometime – probably this spring – UCD will narrow down its broad request and put out a more narrowly-channeled call for “iHub” proposals in detail.
(Editor’s note: after publishing this article, the News-Ledger learned that the City of West Sacramento is also participating in a second, joint application with a private party to be a research and business hub with UC Davis. We expect to report more on that in the future.)