Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oakland Is Dying

Is too much tolerance pushing out talent from Berkeley? The uneven economic geography of the Bay Area has to be explained. Here is one version:

"There's a brain drain running from the East Bay to San Francisco and the South Bay," said Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's School of Information.

Wadhwa said the famously liberal city of Berkeley has created an atmosphere so toxic to business that graduates move away after finishing school. The area's "economic survival is at stake," he said.

The new employment numbers show that while the tech sector added 13,000 jobs in the South Bay and 6,400 in the San Francisco metro area (which also includes Marin and San Mateo counties), the number of tech workers in the East Bay declined by 600.

Long-term jobs numbers in the Bay Area are even more striking. Over the past seven years, the East Bay has lost 11,100 tech jobs, the data show. During the same time, the South Bay added 26,700 jobs in tech and the San Francisco metro area added 13,000.

Emphasis added. The larger story is that San Francisco is recovering and Oakland is struggling. I'm not buying the Blame Berkeley narrative.

I lived in Boulder, CO longer than I lived in any other place. Boulder (a.k.a. People's Republic of Boulder) might not be as famously liberal as Berkeley. But the two communities have a lot in common. Think über-liberal college town or left of left-wing college town. That's Boulder, a place steeped in Beatnik lore. Boulder is also the cradle of a tech-boom. Why isn't wacky commie Boulder driving away graduates?

First, where else would you go? There isn't a Silicon Valley like alternative. South Bay, Marin, San Mateo, San Francisco, and San Jose are all pulling on the talent coming out of the university. Second, there isn't a Stanford in the region serving as a competing anchor for innovation. Lastly, Boulder is blessed with federal government laboratories and research facilities. You've got NASA, NOAA, NIST, and NCAR. That's why IBM located there many moons ago.

I doubt the policy landscape makes much of difference. Oakland has a Rust Belt quality, the draw of an urban frontier. East Bay should be looking for a different kind of talent, people who are interested in civic innovation. Other parts of the Bay Area are winning the war for tech talent. Berkeley produces graduates in other fields. I'm sure there's a niche in there somewhere.

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