'First East Bay Economic Summit Highlights Growing Clout of Area'

  • May 3, 2005

Alameda and Contra Costa counties, long overshadowed by the glitzier economies of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, are actually the region's job hub.

"The East Bay is no longer the bedroom community that commutes to San Francisco or the South Bay. It is the employment center of the Bay Area,'' said Bruce Kern, executive director of the Economic Development Alliance for Business in an interview.

Kern was a panelist Monday at a conference on the growing business clout of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Organized by the Small Business Development Center at Cal State East Bay (formerly Cal State Hayward), this first-ever East Bay Economic Summit drew about 150 people to a daylong event that will be followed by a week of seminars and classes designed to nurture the tiny firms that contribute to the East's Bay's diverse business mix.

In interviews, conference speakers said the diversity of the area's industrial base and the disproportionate strength of its small-business community enabled the two-county area to emerge from the dot-com crash in better shape than its crossbay rivals.

Kern, whose nonprofit group is made up of 600 private firms in partnership with municipal officials in the two counties, noted that before the crash, the West Bay counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin were strongest with a payroll job count of about 1.1 million. The East Bay and Silicon Valley trailed with about 1 million jobs apiece.

But the tech collapse that devastated the San Jose area and, to a lesser extent, San Mateo and San Francisco counties, exacted a smaller toll in the East Bay.

Alameda and Contra Costa counties were cushioned by petroleum and food processing firms, the housing construction sector, and strength in traditional health care employers, such as Oakland's Kaiser Permanente, plus success in attracting new jobs in biotechnology, Kern said.

"Bayer, which is already in Berkeley, recently announced that it was moving its world headquarters for biotech medicines here from North Carolina, '' Kern said. That expansion will bring several dozen people and a $50 million expansion project to the East Bay.

Mark Quinn, regional director for the Small Business Administration, highlighted the flip side of the East Bay's economic coin -- its small- business community.

"We always see a higher proportionate level of small-business lending in Alameda and Contra Costa than we do in any other Bay Area counties,'' Quinn said in an interview. His federal agency works with private banks as well as directly with smaller firms to provide financing.

Quinn's observation is backed up by numbers. In 2004, he said, SBA made 850 loans worth about $250 million in the two East Bay counties. That compares with 509 loans totaling $163 million in Santa Clara County and 373 loans valued at $81 million in San Francisco and the West Bay.

Summit organizer Raj George of the East Bay Small Business Development Center said the idea behind the gathering was to give the Bay Area's workhorse counties an annual opportunity to brag, as well as to call attention to resources, including low-cost classes and free consulting from Cal State East Bay business school professors and students offered to small firms that are at least a year old.


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