As the capital of Silicon Valley, San Jose is at the heart of the innovation economy. But we face a pressing question: Are we creating enough opportunities for every resident to have their chance of securing a spot in the middle class?
In recent decades, conventional wisdom has told us the high-wage manufacturing jobs of yesterday have gone overseas for good. But that’s not necessarily true.
Just look at the “help wanted” signs up the street at Tesla, where millions of cars will be manufactured right here in California. Just in Assembly District 27 (covering about half of San Jose), there were 11,274 manufacturing jobs in 2014, up from 7,948 manufacturing jobs in 2012; and the average salary for these manufacturing jobs was $106,080 in 2014, up from an average of $86,996 in 2012.
Given these numbers, it is critical that we not only foster the creation of more well-paying manufacturing jobs, but also make sure San Jose workers are in the position to fill the openings.
My plan starts with education. Before we manufacture innovative products, we need to design them. I’ve proposed that the next University of California campus be located in San Jose (UC San Jose) so we can teach the innovators of tomorrow right here in our community.
Employers are drawn to where they can meet their demand for high-skilled workers. We need to become the national center for skilled manufacturing workers, and remain the global leader in skilled engineers. That requires investments in education—high schools, community colleges and a new UC—and a commitment to life-long learning through ongoing job training for local workers.
We can also get back to the days when products labeled “Made in America” are commonplace around the world by continuing to support and grow San Jose’s export industry. A revenue-generating export accelerator would help reduce the significant challenges small businesses face when attempting to scale-up distribution and sell their products in international markets, while a public-private partnership could exploit the expertise that already exists within our community.
Additionally, municipalities could waive the locally-imposed share not included in the state-level Sales and Use Tax Exemption (STE) for local companies, unlocking the incentive for investment created by California’s partial STE for the purchase of manufacturing and R&D equipment.
Since taking office, Mayor Sam Liccardo has taken a collaborative approach to strengthening manufacturing activity in San Jose. And leaders throughout the community have recognized that rebuilding manufacturing is the path to rebuilding the middle class.
It’s a commonsense approach that’s making progress here in San Jose, and I’m eager to bring that experience to Sacramento. Together, we can create good, middle class jobs and expand opportunity for every member of our community.
California has long promised opportunity for those willing to work hard and study hard. So it was for my family, who escaped from Vietnam on a fishing boat when I was four years old. My siblings and I worked alongside our parents in the fields of the Central Valley, yet my folks always believed that their children would someday go to college. It was their example that led me to UC Santa Cruz and the University of Chicago, and to the San Jose City Council.
But today, I see that promise of opportunity slipping away from too many Californians.
For San Jose to thrive, as a strong and safe city, that promise must be protected and expanded. Ensuring that high-wage and high-skilled workers have an opportunity to make things here is how we make that promise a reality for more families.
Madison Nguyen is a former San Jose vice mayor and candidate for the State Assembly’s District 27. She wrote this for San Jose Inside, which will publish op-eds from local candidates between now and the November election.