California manufacturing makes high-tech comeback despite nationwide decline

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

Robotic surgery system made by Intiutive Surgical, a California manufacturer named one of Forbes’ most innovative
companies in the U.S. (Photo credit Nader Moussa via

Recent headlines read: Manufacturing in the United States takes its biggest hit in more than three years. One survey says manufacturing has faded as a big driver of recovery in the U.S. economy.

August was the third month in a row the industry took a hit, that’s according to a recent survey of the Institute for Supply Management.

There’s a different story being told in California. In fact, the Bay Area/Silicon Valley is seeing a manufacturing revival.

Right about now, you’re probably scratching your head. Yes, this is the same region seeing a new technology boom.

“It’s real important to define the kind of manufacturing that’s booming right now. Advanced manufacturing is leading the way in the Silicon Valley and Bay Area,” said Doug Henton, CEO of Collaborative Economics and California Economic Summit Management Team member. “Advanced manufacturing is the use of technology to improve products and/or processes—so here we are using tools, sensors, and robotics in a much more efficient way.”

Henton cited an April Brookings Institution study that stated the Silicon Valley had the country’s highest paid workers in manufacturing and the second highest concentration of production jobs in the nation’s big cities.

“We’ve been tracking this for some time,” said Henton. “All those advanced manufacturing jobs are associated with other jobs like design, logistics, and support. These are all very important jobs for the valley.”

To date, there are more than 162,000 people working in the industry in the region. 

Most factory jobs provide an opportunity for lower-skilled workers, but Henton says that’s changing.

“With new technology, workers will need a whole range of skills, that’s where community colleges are really playing a big role developing courses and curriculums in advanced manufacturing,” added Henton. “In fact, many companies have developed great relationships with community colleges.”

An executive at a steel manufacturer in Fontana told us, there are skilled manufacturing jobs ready to be filled.

“We don’t need workers to have four-year degrees, but there’s sophistication in today’s manufacturing plants that demands workers are prepared. It’s hard to find them trained and ready to go,” said Brett Guge of California Steel Industries.

Despite this challenge, Henton says manufacturing will continue to play a big role in the state’s economic recovery. 

One example by a company you may know: “Google is developing a tablet and the company decided to do the manufacturing right here in the Silicon Valley,” said Henton. 

“The Bay Area, Silicon Valley, really all of California is positioned well for continued success in manufacturing, ” said Henton. “When you look at defense jobs, biotech jobs, the food industry—they’re all related to advanced manufacturing. This is a field our universities and labs can build on.


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza