As UC Merced continues to churn out Merced’s most educated workforce ever, by all accounts the city has yet to figure out how to persuade those bright minds to stay.
While Merced is not traditionally thought of as a great place to find a technology job, Michael Urner, a 2014 graduate of the university, believes it is a good place to start a business.
“In the Bay Area, it’s easier to get investment dollars, but, on the flip side, it’s cheaper here,” the 26-year-old said. “I think a lot of people just overlook the possibilities, like I said, with the cost of living being so much cheaper down here.”
With a nonprofit and a startup under his belt, the UC Merced molecular biology and material science engineering graduate tried Monday to help other entrepreneurs avoid the pitfalls of starting a company in Merced.
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He’s teaching a monthly class from inside the UC Merced Venture Lab, a shared office space where entrepreneurs rub elbows and try to turn their ideas into money.
I think a lot of people just overlook the possibilities, like I said, with the cost of living being so much cheaper down here.
Michael Urner, 2014 graduate of UC Merced and entrepreneur
Urner, who originally is from Clovis, said when he finished school, he had two job options – either find a technology job outside the central San Joaquin Valley, or create his own job.
Merced is not on the list of the top 100 cities with the most advanced industry jobs, which includes about 50 industries in the science, technology, engineering and math sectors, according to numbers from the Brookings Institution. San Francisco and San Jose are 8 and 10, respectively, on that list.
The Venture Lab is used regularly by about 35 budding entrepreneurs on 17 startup companies, according to Cara Baird, the lab’s coach and organizer. Of those, she said, three or four are in a position to start making money.
Chris Medina, 19, in his second year at UC Merced, is working for another blossoming business called Marcom Strategies, a marketing organization for the social-media generation.
He said he sees economic growth as a cure for many of Merced’s ills, such as poverty and crime. The key is attracting technology jobs to Merced, the San Diego native said, and the state high-speed-rail stop will go a long way toward that.
“(The rail) represents the expansion and diffusion of the Silicon Valley and some of the brightest minds of California, the nation and the world,” he said. “Just having a more synonymous, close relationship with the Central Valley.”
(The high-speed rail) represents the expansion and diffusion of the Silicon Valley and some of the brightest minds of California, the nation and the world.
Chris Medina, 19, in second year at UC Merced
Merced’s stop is supposed to open in 2025.
Whether people work or live in Merced and use the train to travel to the Silicon Valley to clock in or go home, the train should be a driving force to add technology jobs here, according to Frank Quintero, the director of economic development in Merced.
The city can help add those technology jobs with the proper infrastructure to support the amount of digital information companies would handle in a day, he said.
The city’s Economic Development Department occasionally sees UC Merced graduates who want to open a new business in town. Quintero said his department can best help the business developers with finding the right kind of building.
Merced is working on a new action plan to keep more of the university’s best and brightest in the area, Quintero said.
“We need to be able to draw and expand a network ... of investors to the community,” he said. “Many of these startups are going to need money and they aren’t going to be your traditional type of bank loans, so that’s when they turn to angel investors or capital venture investors.”