Alameda and Contra Costa counties have 36% of the Bay Area’s population and one-third of its jobs, but it is interdependent with other counties as would be expected. It has notable strengths that it should continue to build on as it evolves in the post-Covid-19 times.
Those were among the findings in the East Bay Forward report that the East Bay Economic Alliance for Business released last month in a virtual meeting. The event and the findings had a distinct North Alameda County leaning—limited mentions of the Tri-Valley, Contra Costa and even southern Alameda County that boasts key assets for the area. The partnership group was formed in the 1980s to bring various perspectives: government, business, labor and non-profits to the same table to help drive economic development.
Dr. Manuel Pastor, a professor at the University of Southern California, delivered the keynote address. He laid out challenges and opportunities from a distinct left-wing viewpoint arguing for living wages, and contending that equity was critical for economic growth. He cited the Federal Reserve and International Monetary Fund as sources. Notably missing in his discussion was how wages and opportunity for minority groups soared pre-pandemic under the economic policies of former President Donald Trump. Wage gains and job gains for poorer minorities out-paced those of other income levels.
Pastor pointed out that the East Bay was expected to gain about 300,000 high-wage jobs that would be supported by 650,000 low wage jobs. He called for an aggressive increase in the minimum wage, more low-income housing (I agree but would expand that to all housing) and supporting clean tech and high-end manufacturing.
He noted that the East Bay EDA is noted for its collaboration and challenged it saying collaboration, in his view, is sitting around the table with people who do not agree with you and tackling thorny issues respectfully.
After his presentation, Derek Braun of the Strategic Economic Team (the consultants on the East Bay Forward report) dove into it. Working with a steering committee, they established six guiding principles: the East Bay is connected; policies needed to be equitable, measurable, transformational, resilient and regenerative supporting the transition to a different economy.
The East Bay has strong legacy resources such as industrial land, the ports of Oakland and Richmond, rail and freeway transportation hubs, and higher education institutions and national laboratories. Industrial jobs grew strongly over the last 10 years.
The report noted that venture capital investment into East Bay companies is much more diverse than in other areas. The biomedical investment is well-known, but food innovation also is an East Bay strength.
It then identifies priorities in 12 focus areas such as infrastructure, education, work force development, business climate and the health and well-being of area residents. Braun like many others is pondering just what business and society will look like post-pandemic with remote work common and the reduced need for office space, major changes in retail and the explosion in e-commerce. it’s a time to be nimble and figure out how to address challenges that were highlighted in the lockdown such as the digital divide.
Pastor, incidentally, did not think remote work at the cost of downtown centers was a long-term trend, arguing that people who had decamped from San Francisco to elsewhere in California and Northern Nevada could return to the City
Transforming the lower income inner East Bay communities starts with education and empowering parents to free their kids of color trapped in mis-managed and under-performing school districts such as Oakland. Expanding charter schools and closing the tiny public schools to better utilize resources would be good first steps in my view (didn’t come up in the discussion).
The full report can be viewed at the East Bay EDA website: Report