Federal Role in Revitalizing Distressed Cities: Interagency Collaboration and Local Partnerships. 2.1.5 Jumpstarting an Agriculture-Based Technology Cluster in Fresno

08/25/2014

In Fresno, a collaborative effort of USDA, DOE, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the city of Fresno’s CIO was able to advance the mayor’s vision of connecting the regional agriculture sector to economic development through the creation of an ag-tech cluster. This focus emerged over the course of SC2 and could not have been predicted from the start. The interagency collaboration that advanced this work arose from unexpected connections between two federal staff members from different agencies (USDA and DOE) who knew each other only as a result of SC2.

Initially, Fresno’s chief information officer (CIO) contacted the DOE OCIO team member in an effort to find resources for rural broadband. Based on this request, the DOE OCIO connected the Fresno CIO first with the USDA regional team member he had met through the SC2 pilot, and then later with research scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley. The collaboration between DOE and USDA also encouraged individuals within at least two different USDA departments, USDA California Rural Development and the USDA Agriculture Research Service Pacific West, to coordinate their efforts and work effectively across departments in a new way.

Federal staff members played different roles in moving this work forward. The DOE team member made the initial connection between the city’s CIO and the USDA team member, made additional connections to scientists and researchers at distinguished labs in California, and held monthly meetings by phone with those engaged in this effort. Establishing these connections catalyzed this work, while monthly meetings held parties accountable and kept the work moving forward. After these initial connections were made, the USDA team member worked full-time on this effort in tandem with the Fresno CIO who was working on the ground to develop relationships with various key stakeholders, share the vision and gain buy-in, and put together an agricultural technology showcase. A team member from OSTP was engaged on monthly calls, giving gravitas to the project and leading to more interest among partners.

Interagency collaborative efforts drove this work forward, and it all stemmed from the connections made between two team members from agencies that would not be seen as obvious partner agencies. As one team member stated, “But for SC2, none of the agencies or departments would have been talking to each other—particularly with the Department of Energy. The DOE OCIO is in headquarters in DC and rural USDA is in California—a 3,000 mile separation—they wouldn’t have otherwise interacted.”

The collaboration led to the city’s first annual agricultural technology showcase at Fresno City Hall. During this showcase, researchers presented the technology-based agricultural products they had developed to venture capitalists and farmers. The federal team members and the Fresno CIO also worked to make broadband available in the downtown area so that ag-tech firms would have the necessary technological infrastructure to locate there once they obtained investor backing.

Federal agencies found this cross-agency collaboration so valuable and successful that USDA Rural Development, USDA Agriculture Research Service Pacific West, and the DOE OCIO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to formalize collaborative efforts beyond the length of SC2.

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