New UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May said establishing a center of innovation, technology and business in the Sacramento region will be among his goals during his tenure at the university.
May, 53, spoke about those plans during a media meet-and-greet on Tuesday as part of his first day on the job, taking the leadership reins from Linda P.B. Katehi, who resigned last year after an investigation found she had violated university policies.
May, who most recently was dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering, told the Business Journal he envisions a location similar to Atlanta’s Technology Square, a 1.4 million-square-foot, mixed-use development that’s home to startups, technology companies, researchers and a variety of innovation industries.
“I am envisioning something like that here. Maybe not a complete duplication because we have different situations and cultures, but I think that could be a real beneficial situation for UC Davis and Sacramento,” May said.
In June, May joined Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other civic and business leaders from the Sacramento area to go to Atlanta and tour Technology Square. May, who spent three decades at Georgia Tech, said he played a role in planning the Technology Square project in 2001.
May explained Georgia Tech’s initial motivation was expanding for more space, but then the potential economic development and technology benefits became apparent. “It took a fairly run-down, depressed area of the city and transformed it into a highly vibrant live, learn, work and play environment for not only the campus, but the entire community,” May said. “Now it’s a destination.”
More than 20 companies have landed near the campus, where they engage with faculty and students. “One of the benefits we didn’t envision initially that has happened is many of the companies are customers, clients, and collaborators with each other. The whole ecosystem has kind of evolved around that activity,” he said.
May said that as dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering he also played an active role in providing a trained workforce that’s improved the success of companies, particularly in integrated circuit manufacturing.
He also mentioned drawing business partners and entrepreneurs to engage with Georgia Tech as one of his accomplishments, and he’d like to do the same at UC Davis.
“I think certainly for a public university, economic development has to be part of the mission.” May said. “That’s not my saying it’s the only or key part of the mission, but it’s certainly part of the equation. To the extent that we can show value to the surrounding community and to the state, that enhances our own ability to pursue resources and to seek other partnerships and benefits not just from the state but from our stakeholders in general.”
May’s ideas for a regional technology hub drew positive comments from many in the business community.
Sanjay Varshney, business professor at California State University Sacramento, said establishing a tech industrial park or location in Sacramento similar to Atlanta’s Technology Square “would be key” to raise the profile of the region’s technology sector. “I think that is clearly one way to go,” Varshney said.
Varshney said cities like Reno and Austin have benefited greatly by establishing similar technology-related hubs and business parks in their regions.
Getting such a location could be an struggle, however, said Varshney, given business-unfriendly regulatory hurdles that it would have to overcome. “This is not a Nevada market and this is not a Georgia market,” Varshney said.
Barry Broome, CEO of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, joined May and Steinberg during the tour of Technology Square in June. “We’re getting a lot more than a chancellor. We’re getting someone who has the ability to be a special leader in the community,” Broome told the Business Journal.
Broome said he’s hopeful May will set a tone at the university of being committed to industry relationships, economic development and jobs.
“There’s 174 university research parks in the United States. For us to have a university doing a billion dollars in research and not have a research park? It’s beyond a missed opportunity, it really is negligent,” Broome said. “UC Davis is the missing link in this region turning a corner, because it has so much to offer.”
In his position as chancellor, May will receive an annual salary of $420,000, plus $75,000 in non-state funds as an endowed chair from the University of California Davis Foundation, according to a UC Davis spokesperson.