Solar shines while manufacturing needs some polishing in California

150 150 John Guenther

Machined parts at a manufacturer in Arleta, CA. (Photo Credit: John Guenther)

While snow falls in much of the country, things are looking bright in California–it’ll be 80 degrees in Los Angeles tomorrow, by the way–and that includes our number one ranking in the solar industry. Unfortunately, the weather won’t help us when it comes to improving manufacturing, which will need some of the support and collaboration that made solar a growth industry in California.

The good news is solar companies employed more than 47,000 Californians in 2013, according to a Solar Foundation survey released this week. That’s up 8 percent from 2012 and represents one third of all solar jobs in the U.S.

Policies like solar roof installation rebates and other efforts by officials appear to be bearing fruit, say those in the industry.

Arno Harris, CEO of Recurrent Energy, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “the fact that California is a third of these numbers (nationwide) really reflects the important role California has played and the connection between policy, markets and jobs,” 

But California also needs that same level of support for industry when it comes to manufacturing. That’s why industry, education institutions, civic and business groups, and government officials need to partner up in crafting smart ways to help foster manufacturing clusters and help train more manufacturing workers. The state still employs the most manufacturing workers in the country but it’s taken a back seat to expansions and new sites in other states, with less than 2 percent of those happening in California, according to BLS numbers. 

That leads us to the bad news which is, for the first time, California found itself behind Texas in tech exports. In 2012, California companies exported in technology products to other countries $44.8 billion, while Texas exported more than $45 billion, according to a report also released this week by the TechAmerica Foundation, a tech company lobbying organization.

It’s very easy to throw up your hands and slide into political, red-state-versus-blue-state arguments, but it’s more difficult to get into the policy work that actually makes a difference. The importance of manufacturing in California is not lost on organizations working on helping the state invest in keeping manufacturing and encouraging expansion. It’s well known that these are well-paying, middle-class jobs, which have a hefty multiplier effect, resulting in 1.6 jobs per every manufacturing position.

Gino DiCaro of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association gave a nod to the work of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) for creating a sales tax exemption for manufacturing equipment and R&D in place. And the California Economic Summit has picked up the baton also, with the Advancing Manufacturing Action Team working on multiple fronts.

The Team’s main priority for action this year will be to expand industry-led regional manufacturing partnerships focused on developing manufacturing clusters involving manufacturers, universities, community colleges, and training organizations. Their goals will be:

  • Promote 1-2 model manufacturing partnerships in regions that apply for federal grants, for example a Central Valley/Bio-Based Alliance partnership and a Southern California aerospace partnership
  • Support training programs: Promote training programs for manufacturing in community colleges and universities that meet the skills requirement of industry.

And that’s just step six in an nine-point prosperity strategy the Summit will champion this year through its Action Teams. Read more about it in our blog covering the release and keep up-to-date with the Summit’s work on the Progress Tracker page. With commitments like that, the future’s looking brighter already.  


John Guenther

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