Are You Willing to Pay to Keep Manufacturing Here?

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Cuter than a VW Beetle? The Triac, in UC Santa Cruz colors. (Credit: Green Vehicles)

Jeff Weir is economic development director for the city of Salinas. When he first arrived in Salinas three years ago, the first thing he did was review the past.

"Salinas used to have large numbers of manufacturing jobs: baggage handling systems, the processing of all kinds of spices, and jellies and jams. And then most of those disappeared. They went someplace else for a variety of different reasons: consolidation, lower costs, whatever. We’re going to rebuild that."

Easier said than done. Take, for instance, the old Firestone Tire & Rubber plant. A 43-acre former tire manufacturing plant sits on a 256-acre parcel of land that used to be a Super Fund site. More than a dozen companies share the Firestone space now, but it's all relatively small stuff: warehousing, distribution, light manufacturing, and so on. The space is there, but not necessarily the industry to fill it.

Salinas looks for the key to drive EVs into the future. (Credit: KQED/Myrow)

"We’re never going to have the traditional manufacturing come back to California," Weir says. "The environmental requirements are so stringent. But what can occur are electric vehicles. Because that’s a contained, very clean product."

"We once had a very vigorous automotive industry in California," says John O' Dell of GreenCarAdvisor.com. "We've still got a Toyota plant in Long Beach. And now Tesla's doing some limited manufacturing at NUMMI. There’s also a very large after market industry in this state. So there’s a heap of talent here. If these green companies can get some traction, it will in the long run will be a good thing."

But a thing so good it deserves taxpayer support to get going?

"The name of the game for the next five years plus is going to be subsidies," he continues. "It’s very expensive to develop an all-new power train. It’s very expensive to train people to do the manufacturing. It's very, very expensive to market the thing." He adds that when Asian companies set up shop in the American south, they did so with generous assistance from state and local governments."

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About Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow hosts the California Report for KQED. Over 17 years in public radio, she's worked for Marketplace and KPCC, filed for NPR and The World, and developed a sizable tea collection that's become the envy of the KQED newsroom. She specializes in politics, economics and history in California - but for emotional balance, she also covers food and its relationship to health and happiness.

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