San Francisco makes smart move to boost another thriving industry

In the past few years, there has been a growing industry in San Francisco rapidly adding jobs — manufacturing.

Manufacturing has slowly built a solid job base in the background as the burgeoning tech industry has overshadowed much of the recovery in other sectors of The City’s economy. But that does not mean light industrial has gone unnoticed, as is evident in the new legislation put forward Tuesday to make it easier for these types of companies to start their businesses here and grow.

A few years before the launch of sf.citi, the tech sector’s business advocacy group in The City, the nonprofit SFMade formed to be an advocate for the manufacturing industry. The word “manufacturing” may conjure up images of automobile assembly or the like — the types of jobs that have gone overseas in the past few decades.

But manufacturing is much more, especially light industrial here in The City, which is making things such as clothing, furniture, bath and body products, bicycle accessories, food, jewelry and pet products, among others. The range of companies setting up shop in The City is staggering.

According to SFMade, the manufacturing industry in The City is employing almost 4,000 people. The direct revenue generated by these companies is $325 million since 2010, the group says. The nearly 500 companies in the group — a 25 percent increase since 2012 — is not something to scoff at, especially as these companies have decided to do business here despite the obstacles they may face.

In a move to further bolster the manufacturing industry, Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisors Malia Cohen and David Campos have proposed legislation that aims to reduce the cost of doing business by increasing the space available for light-industrial manufacturing.

Some of the proposed solutions include zoning alterations, but others are innovative approaches, such as allowing for the pooling of space for retail. Another idea is to create incubator spaces — much like shared tech workspaces — for small companies to set up shop, rather than having to launch with the daunting overhead of leased space and equipment.

SFMade Executive Director Kate Sofis said in a statement that the legislative proposals respond to the challenges the manufacturing industry in The City faces.

“While the sector is thriving in many ways, a sometimes overly burdensome regulatory process and a critical lack of affordable, functional space are challenges we hear about from light-industrial businesses in San Francisco on an almost daily basis,” she said.

There will always be market forces at work in land-constrained San Francisco, leading to issues about how many and what type of businesses will be able to open their doors and stay open, especially as the prices soar during booming economic times like The City is experiencing now. But there should also be an acknowledgment about the need for The City to do what it can to encourage business here.

The proposals in the legislation will need to be fully vetted in the hearing processes, but it is encouraging that city officials are taking steps to bolster a thriving sector of San Francisco.

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