09/21/2021

Opinion: Can California survive a tech bust?

California’s economic revival has sparked widespread notions, shared by Jerry Brown and observers elsewhere, that its economy — and policy agenda — should be adopted by the rest of the country. And, to be sure, the Golden State has made a strong recovery in the last five years, but this may prove to be far more vulnerable than its boosters imagine.

The driver of the latest California “comeback,” the Silicon Valley-San Francisco tech boom, is beginning to slow in terms of both job growth and startup activity. The most recent job numbers, notes Chapman University economist Jim Doti, show that employment growth in the information sector has slowed over the past year from almost 10 percent to under 2 percent. Particularly hard-hit is high-tech startup formation, which is down by almost half from just two years ago.

This slowdown extends also to the professional business services sector, which has become increasingly intertwined with tech. In a recent survey of professional business service growth for Forbes magazine, economist Mike Shires and I found that last year Silicon Valley and San Francisco growth rates were considerably lower than those in boomtowns such as Nashville, Tenn.; Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas; Orlando, Fla.; Salt Lake City and Charlotte, N.C. With the exception of Orange County, the rest of Southern California performed below the national average.

The historical perspective

Historically, California’s great strength was the diversity of its economy, stretching from high-tech and aerospace to finance, entertainment, energy, basic manufacturing and homebuilding. Yet, during the most recent boom, the growth of high-wage job growth largely took place in one region — the Bay Area — while other sectors generally stagnated or shrank.

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