Comstock's magazine 1117 - November 2017 - Page 46

n AGRICULTURE been restored to splendor and now offers modern-day ame- nities like luxury recliner seats, reserved seating and a bar in the lobby. On the south end of town along Interstate 5, residents have the offerings of a major suburban city — Costco, Tar- get, Best Buy, Michaels, In-N-Out Burger and Starbucks. The Hoblit Chrysler Jeep Dodge RAM SRT is the sixth-larg- est RAM truck dealer (by sales) in the country. Such amenities, as well as lifestyle affordability, are key draws for major corporations that want to settle here, city and business officials say. The real estate website Zillow lists the median home price in Woodland as $399,000 com- pared to $795,000 in the San Francisco metro area. “I’m able to recruit employees from the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Seattle,” says Englehardt, of Boundary Bend. “I can bring upper management who want to live here now, whereas four years ago, that would have been a stretch.”   VISION FOR THE FUTURE After a nearly four-year process, the City of Woodland this spring adopted an updated general plan that proclaims the city as “the region’s center of agricultural technol ogy and food production, and is recognized globally as a leader in sustainable agriculture.” Among city leaders’ goals are to continue to develop Woodland into a premier food and agriculture industry cluster, as well as grow its small technology sector by le- veraging research expertise at UC Davis, according to the plan. To that end, the general plan includes a 351-acre re- search and technology park south of town. While many of the large agricultural companies already in Woodland have developed and implemented their own technologies, investment in agtech is small in the Sacramento Valley re- gion compared to the Silicon Valley, investors say. Research park backers say the mixed-use planned for this area — with both commercial and residential devel- opment — is modeled after other successful tech park developments near major research universities in Califor- nia, such as in Palo Alto, San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay Area. “Not only do we have the land and the opportunity to develop this, but an outstanding university nearby,” says Lon Hatamiya, president and CEO of the Hatamiya Group, one of the groups involved in the Woodland Research Park. “And there’s a talented workforce and a lower cost of living.” Such a technology space would be an asset to UC Davis, which lacks facilities nearby to translate their research to development, says Gabriel Youtsey, chief innovation officer 46 | November 2017 for Agriculture and Natural Resources across the Univer- sity of California system. The city also wants to encourage smaller companies and startups to locate in incubator spaces  downtown. There’s already a nonprofit in town that has helped more than a dozen entrepreneurs. In 2015, Ag Start, a program operated by the nonprofit AgTech Innovation Alliance, opened offic- es in Woodland to work with tech-driven startups in food and agriculture, seeking to take advantage of the growing global investment in agtech. Rather than providing invest- ment funding, however, the nonprofit provides innovators with space and a point of connection in the community. “Our incubator provides advice and mentorship and connections,” says John Selep, a business consultant, in- vestor and technology executive who serves on the board. Tech investors say AgStart’s resources and contacts have been invaluable. When businessman Ron Hadar, who is originally from Israel, wanted advice about the Cali- fornia rice industry, he sought out Selep and the team at AgStart. They connected Hadar with Woodland-based Pacific International Rice Mills so he could develop a pro- totype for a specialized rice analyzer. His company, Vibe Imaging Analytics, created a high-tech product that can measure the size of each rice kernel, its color and any dam- age to the grain — a high-tech way to grade the rice and ensure a quality product. That connection and ability to work directly with a future client is key, Hadar says, because the margins in ag- tech are much lower than other technology ventures. “When you sit in a lab and develop a product, you have limited access to people,” Hadar says. “AgStart provided me with contacts and helped me understand the people and we were able to improve the product.” Grant, the former CEO of the Northern California World Trade Center (and a member of the Comstock's editorial board), says Woodland is smart to go after a piece of the $3.2 billion international agtech sector, even if it’s just a small slice, because California boasts a strong economy in both agriculture and technology. “They have a culture and a market positioning that is going to continue to deliver and entice more companies to come here,” Grant says.” n Samantha Young is a veteran journalist who has covered local, state and national politics from Arkansas to Washington D.C. and California. She is a former reporter for the Associated Press. On Twitter @youngsamantha.