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Guest Commentary: Manufacturing didn’t leave Silicon Valley — it evolved

Oct 6, 2016, 4:10pm PDT

Oct. 7, 2016, marks the fifth annual Manufacturing Day across the U.S., when thousands of manufacturers host students, teachers, parents, job seekers and community leaders at open houses, facility tours and educational sessions to showcase modern manufacturing technology and the career options involved. San Jose manufacturers are signing up as well, ready to refute the conventional wisdom that Silicon Valley manufacturing has moved overseas — and ready to attract talent of all ages to exciting careers.

As the city of San Jose Office of Economic Development helps plan local tours for Manufacturing Day, we wanted to share some of the facts on manufacturing activities in San Jose.

More than 950 manufacturing companies are located within San Jose, employing a total of 56,000 workers, by far the most robust concentration of advanced manufacturing in the Bay Area.

Recently, the San Francisco Business Times published a list of “Largest 25 Bay Area Manufacturers” — those with more than 100 employees. The geographical area covered by this list didn’t include Santa Clara County. San Jose alone is home to more than 80 manufacturing firms with 100+ employees, representing 43,000+ jobs.

Two examples illustrate the range of manufacturing enterprises in San Jose. The first reflects the still-thriving classic manufacturing model — NPI Solutions, founded by Kevin Anderson, a Bay Area native and entrepreneur. As a Yuba City High School graduate in 1982, he followed a family member’s advice and came to San Jose with photos of his woodshop projects that he took around to local manufacturers in hopes of landing a job.

After 30 or 40 visits, one employer took a chance and offered Kevin an entry-level position with the opportunity to learn about manufacturing. And today, Kevin’s contract manufacturing business, NPI Solutions, boasts two locations, major global corporations in his client list, and more than 120 employees — right here in San Jose.

The second example illustrates a strategic twist to manufacturing – complex ecosystems that include research partners, product innovators and advanced manufacturing expertise, working in partnership to develop and exploit new technologies.

NextFlex recently celebrated its grand opening in San Jose, an event that demonstrated the innovative collaboration among a collection of companies, academic and nonprofit institutions, and government organizations from across the U.S., all focused on creating a robust flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing infrastructure. Many of NextFlex’s partner companies are based in San Jose, including Jabil and Bestronics. In his remarks at the NextFlex opening, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense André Gudger said the next wave of technological innovation is “supposed to happen here in San Jose, because this is where the talent is.”

Much as it was for Kevin Andersen, the personal need to make, tinker, and build can be the driver for a manufacturing enterprise. In San Jose, we’re seeing the maker movement evolve into “Urban Tech,” with Tech Shop, Hackers/Founders, and SJ Made; even the downtown Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library is now offering maker space for the public.

As for actual employment, Mayor Sam Liccardo’s “Built in San Jose” initiative provides training via the Office of Economic Development’s work2future program. We’re now preparing 100 people for careers in manufacturing, logistics, 3D prototyping, manufacturing project management, even welding.

We also provide hiring assistance – recently, we helped a solar manufacturer find entry-level workers quickly for trial periods, and the successful matches resulted in permanent positions paying well above minimum wage, with benefits.

Manufacturing Day on Oct. 7 provides a chance to visit a variety of San Jose manufacturing facilities, and to remember that manufacturing is at the heart of our innovation economy and our community, creating good jobs and a strong future.