The Equity Factor

In a Bid to Keep Non-Tech Businesses Growing, San Francisco Tweaks Laws to Help Manufacturing Sector

Metalworker John Rosas cuts steel at San Francisco metal works factory, Wizards of Metal.(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

When we talk about San Francisco, we talk about Silicon Valley. From the Twitter Tax Break to Google buses, tech rules the day. But on Monday, the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee approved legislation that they hope — should it get passed by the full board — will encourage more local manufacturing.

The ordinance amends a 2008 zoning law that the committee felt wasn’t conducive to manufacturing in the southeast part of the city. Or, as it’s called in the legislation: Production, Distribution and Repair Zoning (PDR). Essentially what the committee wants to do is cut some of the red tape when it comes to building and expanding manufacturing spaces.

“This Ordinance would amend the Planning Code to simplify the procedures related to establishment of PDR and SEW [small enterprise workplace] uses,” the ordinance reads. This isn’t the Big Three. There aren’t any massive industrial powerhouses looking to move into the Bay Area. They’re simply trying to promote more local, arguably small-scale, manufacturing in the city. And they don’t want to stunt growth or have businesses look outside the city limits for space.

Hampton Creek Foods is a San Francisco-based manufacturer of plant-based egg substitutes. The city wants to keep businesses like Hampton Creek making stuff within city limits. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The San Francisco Examiner tracked down some chocolate makers who have had difficulty expanding within the city limits. From their story:

Greg D’Alesandre, owner of Dandelion Chocolate at Valencia and 18th streets, said he has been looking for space to expand and double his 38-member workforce for the last six months, but to no avail.

“A lot of chocolate makers have been in San Francisco. All of them have moved out because none of them have been able to find the space that they need,” he added. Tcho, a chocolate manufacturer, announced in February there was no local space to accommodate its growing business and moved to Berkeley.

I know the first reaction here is to crack wise about artisanal chocolates. But D’Alesandre is, he says, trying to add roughly 38 more jobs. That is, in the grand scale of things, not that many. But the city shouldn’t have some unnecessarily stiff zoning law that prevents or discourages D’Alesandre from staying in the city.

Manufacturing accounted for 6.6 percent of jobs in San Francisco, according to the 2010 Census. So, while it is certainly not the driving force behind the city’s economy, 28,228 jobs is nothing to scoff at. (Now, as our own intrepid Stephen Smith wrote yesterday, if we could just figure out a way to make the region more affordable for all those workers.)

Anytime word leaks that a city is trying to promote more manufacturing, words like “boom” and “revival” get tossed around. But let’s not call it the next generation of manufacturing — these businesses are already here and they want to stay. San Francisco is simply revising its zoning codes to keep its local companies local. And that, if you ask me, is pretty forward-looking.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Bill Bradley is based in Brooklyn. His writing has appeared in The Daily, Bloomberg Businessweek, GQ.com and Vanity Fair, among others. Follow him on Twitter @billbradley3.

Tags: equity factorsan franciscomanufacturing