DAVIS QUIETLY EMERGING AS BIOTECH CENTER - LOWER COSTS THAN BAY AREA, LINKS TO UC ATTRACTING FIRMS
Four biotech companies, employing more than 240 people, call Davis home. And industry officials said more companies will set up operations there.
In fact, city officials say, several companies are now considering moves to Davis.
"We're working on three additional companies in confidence," said Kelly Montgomery, deputy city manager. Montgomery said two of the companies could employ nearly 100 people each.
No one believes Davis will attract nearly as many biotech companies as the Bay Area, which is the national center of the fast-growing industry.
But the Davis biotech companies - Calgene Inc., Zoogen Inc., Novo Nordisk Entotech Inc. and Novo Nordisk Biotech Inc. - said the city has a lot to offer.
Officials of those companies cite the city's proximity to UC Davis and the Bay Area, the relatively inexpensive cost of operation, the quality of life and the greater attention from investors that smaller companies receive when they are in Davis.
In addition to those benefits, Montgomery said, is the close working relationship between companies and the city. When a biotech company looks at locating in Davis, key city officials are brought together to clarify regulations and city requirements, giving both parties a chance to isolate and solve problems.
"Its a good marriage," Montgomery said of the arrival of biotech companies. "These are the type of jobs that foster economic health for the community."
She said biotech employees are well paid, which pumps money into the local economy.
In 1980, Calgene became the first biotech laboratory to set up shop in Davis. In 1989, the company acquired Plant Genetics Inc., which started shortly after Calgene in a nearby facility.
Calgene, which specializes in genetically engineering plants, now employs 145 people in the city and has three more sites in Illinois and Mississippi.
Ten years after Calgene's arrival, the city successfully lured Novo Nordisk Entotech, which had considered moving to more established biotech locations like the Research Triangle area near Raleigh, N.C.
Entotech President Pam Marrone said access to UC Davis' professors and researchers is the area's main attraction.
The company specializes in making safe pesticides by using bacteria, which usually attacks the stomach of a young larvae. Though not as effective as chemical products, the pesticides developed by Entotech pose no danger to the environment.
Marrone said the nearby agriculture fields make Davis an ideal location for testing the company's products.
She also cited the large pool of employee candidates as an advantage, with one-third of the 55 employees being UC Davis graduates. In addition, industry officials say, many Bay Area professionals are willing to move to Davis because of its quality of life.
Quiet neighborhoods, excellent schools and low prices relative to the Bay Area add to Davis' appeal to companies considering relocation.
"The quality of life is a tangible benefit," said Zoogen Inc. President Joy Halverson.
Relatively low property costs made it possible for Halverson in 1989 to start an admittedly unusual venture: checking the sex of birds by isolating DNA.
This specialized market generates more than $700,000 in sales per year. Biotech officials say being in Davis allows them to avoid some of the costs and headaches of the Bay Area while still being close enough to tap into that area's venture capital sources and large talent pool.
"The overriding reason (for coming to Davis) is to be close to the Bay Area," said Glenn Nedwin, president of Novo Nordisk Biotech, which has the same parent company as Entotech.
Unlike Entotech, Biotech specializes in developing industrial enzymes used in detergents and the textile industry.
Nedwin said though UC Davis does provide prospective employees, the company also recruits from UC Berkeley, UC San Franciso and Stanford University.
Nedwin said his employees are happy in Davis.
"It's nice for families," he said.