Kevin Valine

City courts UC Merced with hopes of bringing ‘venture lab’ downtown

UC Merced officials took a walking tour of downtown streets with Modesto officials.
UC Merced officials took a walking tour of downtown streets with Modesto officials. Modesto Bee file

City leaders took University of California, Merced, officials on a walking tour of downtown Modesto on Monday as the UC campus looks to expand its influence in the region.

UC Merced announced two weeks ago that it had received $2.2 million from Assembly Bill 2664 – the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Expansion – that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. Each of the UC system’s 10 campuses received $2.2 million.

UC Merced said in a Jan. 17 news release that its plans for the money include expanding its UC Merced Venture Lab to Atwater and Modesto. The lab helps “entrepreneurs and start-up companies build and grow their businesses,” according to its website.

Modesto Mayor Ted Brandvold and Councilman Mani Grewal said the tour included discussions about bringing the lab to Modesto, as well as other ways for UC Merced to have a bigger presence here.

“We are obviously trying to sell them on more,” Brandvold said. “They were pretty impressed with our city. We walked most of downtown.”

Modesto city officials hope that “more” one day includes a satellite campus in downtown.

Besides Brandvold and Grewal, the Modesto leaders who took part in the tour included City Manager Jim Holgersson, Community and Economic Development Director Cindy Birdsill, Councilman Bill Zoslocki, Chief Information Officer John Dickey and Deputy City Manager Joe Lopez.

Grewal said the UC Merced officials included Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Tom Peterson, Vice Chancellor for Research & Economic Development Sam Traina and Kyle Hoffman, the vice chancellor for development and alumni relations.

Modesto and UC Merced officials declined to provide details other than to say their discussions are in the early stages and the next step is to continue their conversation.

University spokesman James Leonard said in an email, “UC Merced officials visited with Modesto city officials Monday for a broad conversation about ways in which the university and city can begin working together to improve education and provide opportunities for professional growth and development for people throughout our region.”

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316