Goodbye Salinas mayor, hello economic developmentSALINAS, Calif. – As he ended his six-year run as mayor of Salinas, Dennis Donohue unveiled an economic development initiative for sustainable agriculture in the region.

Donohue, who’s also a radicchio grower and president of Royal Rose LLC, made a farewell speech to community leaders at Maya Cinemas in Salinas Dec. 14, just days before Joe Gunter succeeded him as mayor. He did not seek reelection.

“I leave office with one central message,” he said. “The vision still has its time. Our time is now to turn the corner and move toward peace, but peace only flourishes with prosperity and opportunity.”

Donohue praised the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace and other groups for their efforts to combat Salinas’ longstanding gang problem. The economic need, as he sees it, is to link the valley’s agricultural industry to technological and investment resources in nearby San Jose.

The new initiative, the Steinbeck Innovation Cluster, is the creation of Donohue and John Hartnett, an entrepreneur and investor with San Jose-based SVG Partners. It will back youth training, business startups and research.

“The world’s innovation experts have been focused on smart cities,” Hartnett said in a news release. “We’re shifting that focus to smart farms. We see a future for precision agriculture, viticulture and aquaculture in which our farms and watersheds will become centers for innovation that will change the way we address the world’s water, energy, waste and labor challenges.”

The cluster has a memorandum of understanding with California State University, Monterey Bay and a partnership with Hartnell College to develop research programs.

The city of Salinas and a task force of public and private partners, the 20-member Steinbeck Committee, began working with Hartnett and Donohue on the initiative in May. In January the cluster will start the area’s first Kauffman Foundation entrepreneurship program.

The group’s board includes seats for the city manager of Salinas and local business representatives. Donohue will represent the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California on the board.