Welcome to Shifting Gears

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rmWelcome to Shifting Gears, a new project from The California Report. Over the course of the next year, we'll be airing stories on public radio stations across the state and keeping this blog as we explore how California's manufacturing industry -- and the people in it -- are adapting to a changing industry and economy.

On this blog I'll share more details about the stories that air on the radio. I'll  share with you the interesting things I find on the web as I report for this series. And I'll be having a conversation with you -- I want to hear what's on your mind, so don't be shy about leaving comments or dropping me an email. From time to time, you'll be hearing from my fellow reporters, and I'll also be asking folks from the manufacturing community to be contributing as well.

So, welcome. Make yourself at home. Now, let me tell you a bit more about exactly what we're doing here.

We tend to picture the Rust Belt when we think of manufacturing: old, slow- culturally and economically irrelevant.

Which is why it may surprise you to learn California has more manufacturing jobs than any other state in the country, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's not even a close call between us and #2, Texas. How can that be?  Well, for one thing, manufacturing includes oil and food processing, (and, honestly, most of us don't think of those when we think of manufacturing).  For another thing, California is big.  We have several economic regions, each of which is a nation-leading monster of productivity. Los Angeles County is the nation's largest manufacturing center.

And then there's our trademark penchant for innovation, which is directly tied to what and how we manufacture.  While most US production jobs shifted to low-cost countries like China during the last two decades, California carved out a clever niche for itself. We design goods. We produce prototypes, and fast-turn-around items.  We specialize in high fashion, food, cutting edge sports equipment, toys, aerospace, med tech, bio tech, Hollywood tech, and perhaps most fashionably of late, "green" tech. (This is not a comprehensive list! What would you add? Tell me in the comments.)

Increasingly though, as developing markets like China and India mature, design operations move out of California. We find ourselves having to reinvent the way we manufacture - and develop new markets with new products - again and again. Markets are dynamic. At any given time, new jobs are born while others die. These days, more jobs are disappearing, for all sorts of reasons, ranging from currency fluctuations to the laws we have on the books to protect people and the environment.

Nobody likes to be caught in the tail wind of global market trends.  One soon-to-be-former NUMMI worker told me he’s developing a shortlist of future careers that includes water treatment, garbage collection and barbering.   Worried about the future? Yes. Collapsing into a fetal position? No way.

The California Manufacturers & Technology Association will tell you California doesn’t make it easy to do business. Real estate costs are high. Electricity costs are high. We have a huge population and we’re highly sensitive to our collective impact on the environment. It can be hard to find a suitable site to build a plant, even harder to build it. The state’s regulatory climate is complex and constantly shifting.  California voters and legislators like to experiment.  But resilient, creative outfits that can respond to the call for change can get ahead of the curve, and expand production when other states - and countries - follow our lead.

Are there regulatory policies the state can adopt - or trade policies the nation can adopt - to cultivate manufacturing in the 21st century?  On a national scale, everybody is talking about jobs, jobs, jobs.  They talk and they talk and they talk, and we rarely really see where money/policy makes things happen.

This series will talk about how you get the rubber to meet the road in California. Join us as we explore how jobs are manufactured.

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About Rachael Myrow

From KQED’s Bureau in San Jose, Rachael Myrow covers politics, economics, technology, food and culture in a vast region extending from Burlingame to Edenvale to Fremont. This follows more than seven years waking at 3 am to host the daily version of KQED's California Report, broadcast on NPR affiliates throughout the state during NPR's Morning Edition. She still guest hosts for The California Report and Forum, blogs for Bay Area Bites, and files for NPR and PRI’s The World. Before KQED, she worked for Marketplace and KPCC in Los Angeles. Follow @rachaelmyrow

Comments (4)

  1. Shawn says:

    I found this blog via NPR.org. I think this is great and I look forward to reading more. As a mechanical engineer working in the L.A. area this is a topic this is near and dear to the heart and something I think about everyday. Afterall, we are in this economy together!

  2. livegreen says:

    Is this about Mfg in CA or about NUMMI? If both, then looking at your blog, I might think there’s only 1 manufacturer in CA. Or was.

    It would be nice to read some stories of others, esp if CA does have the most manufacturers in the U.S. Certainly not reflected by the stories covered here (at least so far…).

  3. Thanks for the comment, livegreen! We are heavily focused on NUMMI right now, but it is huge and it is closing right now. That said, I’m happy to share with you that we do have other radio features in development, (not all from me). Also, if you poke around this blog, you’ll see I’ve written a fair number of posts on electric automobile manufacture, green tech, and employment trends. There is a lot more to talk about, though. We welcome your ideas. Let us know if there’s something in particular you want us to dig into.

  4. Tim Trevithick says:

    are ‘electric’cars the answer for the future ? yes and no ..what often gets overlooked is the actual source of power that moves the vehicle and the cost (both environmental and actual cost in $) of that power ..storage of electricity via batteries is an expensive proposition and is not wonderfully efficient ..batteries add the challenge of disposal/recycling and remain highly toxic..so a number of hidden costs in environmental and actual measurable outlay make it less than straightforward to calculate .. current and propsed electric vehicles are expensive to build and the depreciation cost remains another unknown… in warm, sunny climates there is a viability for electric powered vehicles for commutes or relatively short journeys ( 50-60 miles) and this could be made significantly viable with solar charging stations in both company and public car parks..this makes for an ecologically viable power source…away form fossil fuels ,which is our biggest nut to crack ..solar panels can also be included in roofs and hoods of cars thereby extending battery charge ..these can also be utilsed in big rigs, whose trailers have large flat area’s to help add power towards the refrigation of loads etc.. by far the most thermally efficient engines currently available are diesel’s..some 70% of new cars sold in Europe are diesel powered .. the average MPG being about 45mpg accross the pond.. 85mpg cars have been on sale for a decade in europe ..bio diesel (or partial bio content) is also a very viable option, unlike ethanol which is NOT ( especially from subsidised corn etc.. its is gross stupidity) france legislated a 2% bio fuel content in its road diesel fuel more than a decade ago (mainly to clean up emmissions..nox from the sulpher was a problem ) there are many obsacles to overcome before fuel efficiency is a reality in the USA ..there are many counter productive issues.. not least the huge power of oil companies who’s bottom line is dependant on volume sales ..and can and will subvert honest attempts to lower consumption via the legislative process.. in many ways the corporate structure existing in the USA has become an enemy in more ways than are obvious .. so to summarise:- electric cars with storage batteries are viable for commutes and short journeys..the viablity can be increased by solar charging stations .. diesel power remains the most efficient in terms of converting the energy in the oil to energy at the wheels.. and our maufacturing/fuel distribution set up is in place for this to be viable.. hybrids are also viable but expensive and complicated .. currently the method of measuring emmissions is less than honest .(its designed for ‘buisness as usual’). it measures PERCENTAGES of various compounds …not the TOTALS emmitted .. a tiered system as in europe would help…cars are taxed system according to CO2 amount produced per KM… this is a simple and honest approach ..