As a member of the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board, I was invited to a conference today entitled “Manufacturing, Exports and Job Creation in the New Economy”. It was put on by the U.S. Department of Commerce. While it technically was about manufacturing in general, the topic was largely how to generate manufacturing jobs to replace those that had been lost by the closing of NUMMI.
The main host was Ro Khanna, a lawyer from Fremont who now works in the Obama administration as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Domestic Operations. Ro noted that the President himself is very concerned about manufacturing. Indeed, much of the stimulus funding has been focused on this. Congresswoman Barbara Lee spoke and noted how generating exports via increased manufacturing are critical to a healthy economic recovery. She also stressed that the NUMMI site should be kept for manufacturing. I couldn’t agree more.
The first panel gave a strong sense of optimism. Five different business leaders talked about how their businesses are creating manufacturing jobs here in the Bay Area. The fact that these businesses are all doing something different showed that there are many opportunities for increasing manufacturing. These businesses are:
- Solazyme is a company that makes synthetic oil from algae. They recently received a grant of $22 million from the Department of Energy which has allowed them to create 90 new jobs.
- Infinera makes optical switching equipment that forms the backbone of the Internet. They are a very successful company with over 1,000 employees. They do all of their manufacturing locally in Sunnyvale.
- Amgen, the bio-tech giant, has a facility in Fremont which manufactures a drug to combat cancer. They do no overseas manufacturing.
- Abaxis makes a portable product that analyzes blood samples. They also do no overseas manufacturing.
- Serious Materials develops and manufactures green building materials that improve energy efficiency. He noted there are potentially 10,000 jobs in the clean tech industry here in the Bay Area.
Interestingly, one of the questions to this panel was what can local agencies do to help this. The panelists were notably slow to come up with any answers. One eventually noted that the fast-tracking of the business approval process was very important. I’m proud to say that I had put this as the first item on my campaign web site’s home page.
The second panel featured a variety of speakers. It was noted that manufacturing has decreased significantly in the US over the last 10 years. However, the U.S. still remains the worlds’ largest manufacturer. Our high consumption rate means that we don’t export as much as some other countries. Again, increasing exports, helping the economy on the largest scale, depends on America restoring much of the manufacturing that we’ve lost. A recent article in The Economist summed up this sentiment well with the title “Export or Die”.
The head of the East Bay Green Corridor spoke about the number of green tech jobs that are being created. Fremont could have done something similar to help foster green tech jobs. Our proximity to Silicon Valley could have tied together two growing industries. San Leandro has maintained 97% of their manufacturing land. As a result, they’re being considered for numerous possibilities.
One dichotomy I noticed was that Ro Khanna spoke emphatically about the possibility of Fremont becoming a strong manufacturing center. I haven’t seen our mayor take anything like that tone. The City’s only proposal to date on the site contains a baseball stadium with office space and retail. In his presentation Mayor Wasserman talked vaguely about needing to keep all possibilities open. There was no commitment to manufacturing.
Near the end of the meeting the City was given a check for $333,000 to study the NUMMI site. It’s worth noting that the City has spent almost half of this amount on the possibility of bringing the A’s to Fremont, despite the fact that Lew Wolff has said he does not want to return to Fremont. I wonder if the City will use this money to continue studying the stadium idea if Major League Baseball asks us to do more on this.
The main point I took from conference is that there are numerous manufacturing possibilities that the City could be pursuing. I don’t see this happening.