State of the Valley 2015: Civic Engagement, Clean Energy Economy, Workforce Strategies
What happens when you combine 39 cities throughout Silicon Valley to engage in a thought-provoking analysis of our region’s strengths and weaknesses? Speaking on behalf of Fremont and the businesses sitting at our tables, you have conflicting feelings of optimism, caution, and a resounding sense of focus on several key issues that will shape our future.
Fremont City Manager, and Joint Venture Public Sector Co-Chair Fred Diaz introduces Russell Hancock
This year’s State of the Valley Conference delivered the 2015 “Index” covering various indicators of our region’s health. Job growth is still a standout with a 3.5 percent increase in the nine-county region, higher than anywhere else in the country. Joint Venture Silicon Valley CEO Russ Hancock has good reason to dub Silicon Valley with the new nickname of “Innovation Valley” given our outsized share of patents, VC funding, and IPO’s compared to the rest of the nation. That performance is all the more stellar if you add San Francisco into the mix, and Hancock makes a compelling pitch for its inclusion. “Silicon Valley is not a place, but a phenomenon.”
Trouble spots continue to be the dwindling middle class, housing affordability, and “creaking infrastructure.” With public transportation being an important driver for job development, the audience was stunned by the statistic that of the 12 million square feet of commercial space built last year, only 3 million square feet were constructed near transit alternatives. This gives credence to strategies like the Fremont Innovation District which will increase employment options near BART.
Benjamin Barbour, author of “If Mayors Ruled the World,” believes that our local and national trouble spots will ultimately be tackled by cities — the most pragmatic of all government entities. Since cities produce 80 percent of the nation’s GDP, and also create 80 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions, they have both the need — and the wherewithal — to solve this and many other problems.
World Energy Innovation Forum Chairman Ira Ehrenpreis addressed the state of “Energy Innovation” and the role of Silicon Valley. Ehrenpreis counters “doubters” with overwhelming evidence of opportunity in the energy sector. Technological innovation has contributed to drastically lower costs for Solar PVs, and solar jobs now outnumber those in the coal industry. The field is attracting some of the best and brightest innovators — people like Bill Watkins of Fremont’s Imergy Power Systems, and Lyndon Rive of SolarCity, who recently bought Fremont-based solar manufacturer Silevo. And most exciting of all, the industry is generating significant jobs, with Fremont’s Tesla Motors at the top of the list.
Global Economist and Time Columnist Rana Foroohar had great insights on what she calls “stakeholder capitalism” — where community vision can inform corporate strategy. As anexample, she talked about Starbuck’s partnership with Arizona State University to provide an employee education program — something that will not only boost graduation rates, but can also contribute to employee retention. Foroohar also talked about “local-nomics” in places like Columbus, Ohio, where a shared prosperity plan allows more local control of how taxes are spent, focusing on areas of highest priority including downtown renovation, transportation, education, and retraining programs.
Finally, a “fireside chat” with Stanford President John Hennessey revealed several strategies for helping Silicon Valley to stay on top of the Innovation Game. Hennessey sees Stanford playing a role in both teacher training (with a strong entrepreneurship angle), and in research to quantify what’s working best in education. He is a strong advocate for universal preschool — “we owe it to every single kid” and to higher compensation for teachers working in the most challenging school districts. And while applied research is garnering more attention these days, Hennessy says that Stanford will remain committed to liberal arts, noting that Innovation often comes from working on basic things.