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San Francisco wants to become a manufacturing mecca again

There’s opportunity in Silicon Valley-style manufacture techniques, but where are we going to put it all?

During the 20th century we made just about everything in San Francisco—from Levi’s jeans to cold hard cash—and the sprawling manufacturing industry shaped the city’s expansion decade after decade.

One look at defunct factories and warehouses dotting the eastern side of the city will tell you that those days are seemingly done, even though we do still make stuff in San Francisco.

Five years ago, San Francisco had an estimated 300 manufacturing businesses. Today, according to the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, we have more than 600.

In a report with the slightly confusing title “Make to Manufacture,” OEWD (in conjunction with SFMade) lays out its plans to turn the city into an “advanced manufacturing” hub.

As a buzzword, “advanced manufacturing” is a little bit hard to pin down. The report cites businesses producing everything from custom guitars to wooden jewelry to smart home appliances.

(Even “hacker/makerspaces” fall under the city’s present working definition.)

Maybe the most handy answer is that it’s manufacturing with technology that only recently became available—even if what you’re making with it lacks a space-age vibe in itself.

Only about 10 percent of the manufacturing gigs in the city sit under this broad umbrella, but the mayor’s office sees opportunity in this cross-section of Silicon Valley and old school San Francisco.

But industrial rents are as insane as any in the city right now, the supply chain is only a few links long, and existing companies aren’t yielding quite the diversity of jobs that we might like.

With that in mind, the OEWD is pitching everything from a training program teaching the likes of soldering and design efficiency to luring “mid-size” electronics firms and test facilities to set up shop in the city to shacking up even more tightly with the local trade group SFMade.

Of course it makes perfect sense that the city would want to snag the tail of Silicon Valley-style manufacturing and nail it down here. It’s only surprising it took this long for a game plan to come together.

Interestingly, although OEWD stresses the importance of preserving PDR space, and there is an initiative on next week’s ballot to do just that, SFMade of all people opposed that measure when it first came up.

While the manufacturing trade group of course supports the idea of preserving manufacturing space in general, they called Prop X’s parameters “arbitrary” and said that “more thoughtful attention” is needed.

Prop X author Supervisor Jane Kim said in July that the rate manufacturers are being pushed out by condo and office development demands an immediate fix.

If passed, Prop X would require developers to replace any PDR space of at least 5,000 feet done in by demolition or redevelopment plans.

This would presumably hit a number of OEWD’s goals, although the report doesn’t mention Prop X, deferring to things like the Central SoMa plan instead.