Mayors on Why Manufacturing Matters in the Modern Economy

Cathalijne Adams Intern, Alliance for American Manufacturing

San Francisco once was one of America’s great manufacturing cities, home to factories that made everything from Levi’s jeans to consumer electronics.

But like many cities, San Francisco offshored much of its manufacturing beginning in the 1970s and 1980s. While there are still about 600 manufacturing businesses in San Francisco, there’s no doubt that the landscape has changed as focus has shifted to supporting Silicon Valley over businesses that make stuff.

It’s a different story across the bay in Oakland.

Despite the increasing pressure to abandon industrial land, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told a Washington audience on Wednesday that she is committed to sustaining the manufacturing and trade industries in her city.

Schaaf appeared alongside Nashville Mayor Megan Barry during a panel discussion held at the Wilson Center that focused on economic development in American cities. Both stressed the importance of promoting local goods and services and developing an educated workforce prepared to enter a variety of fields, including advanced manufacturing, as critical to developing economically successful and diverse cities.

Contrasting San Francisco’s decision to abandon the city’s manufacturing and trade sectors in favor of more housing, Schaaf said that she is committed to sustaining Oakland’s manufacturing legacy as a means of providing access to a wealth of employment opportunities in these industries.

“In the Bay area, land has gotten very valuable. San Francisco used to have a port. Now they have a real estate business. Literally, the Port of San Francisco is a real estate company, and that is because they chose to really get out of the trade and logistics business, and there’s now a lovely baseball park,” she said.

“There’s a lot of condos. There are things other than cranes and ships and boxes,” Schaaf added. “In Oakland, I want to keep the cranes and the ships and the boxes. These are great jobs. They are, again, career and family-sustaining jobs.”

In addition to preserving industrial land, Schaaf has also installed Fab Labs, design spaces with equipment such as 3-D printers and laser cutters, in Oakland’s high schools to reinvigorate vocational education. She intends for these Fab Labs to introduce students to advanced manufacturing skills and inspire them to pursue skilled trade careers, she said.

“Manufacturing is requiring a higher level of education then it used to. I mean, we call it advanced manufacturing, but we are seeing that coming back into Oakland,” Schaaf said. “We have a lot of advanced manufacturing that is growing like gangbusters. So, by putting those Fab Labs into our high schools, it is going to get kids excited about it.”

For Barry, stimulating the development of small local businesses is a means of advancing her mission to promote equity and opportunity — and ensure that Nashville benefits from a vital economy for years to come. 

“Eighty percent of our small businesses are started by folks who not from Nashville and mostly new American, and that is the backbone of what will become our bigger businesses,” Barry said. “Most businesses start small before they get big, so being able to have that pipeline of our future is really critical for us.”

Both mayors said that their cities are experiencing considerable interest from companies outside of Nashville and the United States because of their cities’ flourishing economies. But Schaaf and Barry agreed that they can only continue to see this growth if they continue to support their cities’ local goods and services, including in manufacturing.


Reposted from AAM