Welcome 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.