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GOLIS: Wanted: Plain talk about jobs


In the 1990s, an explosion of innovation and entrepreneurship brought unprecedented prosperity to Petaluma and to Sonoma County. In the heady days of Telecom Valley, people celebrated what they were sure would be decades of job creation. In 1999, when Cisco Systems purchased a hometown startup called Cerent Corp. for $7.3 billion, it was said that 200 Cerent employees became millionaires in a day.

Pete Golis.

Thirteen years later, we can reflect on the transitory nature of success in a world that is changing at light speed.

When the dot-com bubble burst in 2001 and corporations discovered the cost savings associated with overseas production, jobs in Telecom Valley began to disappear. Eventually, companies such as Cisco, Nokia and Motorola would leave altogether.

Meanwhile, in the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, the Sonoma County jobless rate more than doubled. More than 22,000 local residents are looking for work, according to jobless figures released Friday. Many more are underemployed.

In December, the unemployment rate did fall below 9 percent for the first time in three years — but only because the number of jobs and the number of people seeking jobs declined. This is usually a signal that people have given up.

The local economy shed 2,800 jobs in the past year.

Hoping to put people back to work, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this month promised to spend $591,000 on an economic development program (though the board has yet to explain where it will find some of the money).

It’s noteworthy that the board recognizes the importance of jobs. Not so long ago, local leaders would cover their eyes when anyone expressed an interest in promoting economic development — a term then viewed as code words for uncontrolled growth.

In recent years, Sonoma County residents have learned the hard way that prosperity can’t be taken for granted. More people are out of work. More people live in poverty. Essential public services are being jettisoned as tax revenues decline.

If you check out the Economic Development Board’s website, you’ll find evidence that officials and citizen groups have devoted a lot of time and energy to developing a strategy to get people working again.

Still, the hard part will be proving that this economic development initiative is not like all the others. All over the country, communities big and small are trying to entice new jobs and preserve the old ones. Some of these efforts will make a difference, and some will be window dressing.

Board members say the emphasis will be on creating “green jobs” in industries that promote renewable energy and conservation — an admirable goal, but hardly unique.

While the objective is to be applauded, no industry gets a free pass when it comes to the economic forces that are transforming business around the world. U.S. companies that manufacture, say, solar panels still must compete with their rivals in China.

And Americans wherever they live must recognize that the economic landscape has changed — and they better learn to deal with it.

Unfortunately, American politicians aren’t willing to speak plainly. They aren’t willing to separate what’s real from the stories that promote their selfish political narratives.

Consider, for example, the conventional wisdom that manufacturing production is declining in the U.S. Among Republicans and business leaders, it’s an article of faith that taxes and regulation are strangling business.

If these same folks read the cover story in this month’s Atlantic magazine — “Making It in America” — they might be surprised to learn that U.S. manufacturing output grew by one third in the last decade. What declined was the number of jobs in manufacturing. This is what happens when less skilled workers are replaced by machines.

As best we can, Americans also must try to reconcile the contradictions that follow us wherever we go.

How do we preach the importance of education in job growth — even as we are eviscerating school budgets?

How do we demand lower prices for the products we buy — even as we condemn working conditions in other countries?

How do we advocate for public works projects that create jobs — and decry government’s growing indebtedness?

Gov. Jerry Brown last week took flak for preaching government frugality — and then endorsing a proposed bullet train.

Given what we’ve learned about the problems associated with the bullet train, he probably deserved it.

But it’s too bad because Brown, in his second time around as governor, seems to be reaching for the combination of optimism and realism California needs right now.

In the 1960s and 1970s, this state didn’t create millions of new jobs by cutting taxes, shortchanging education and refusing to build highways and water systems.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. Politicians talk about them all the time. Starting now, they need to tell us the truth and make the hard choices necessary to get people working again. Meanwhile, the rest of us are challenged to support job creation as a way of renewing our faith in the future.

Pete Golis is a columnist for  The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.

18 Responses to “GOLIS: Wanted: Plain talk about jobs”

  1. Chris says:

    Pertinent to the bullet train:


    I enjoyed traveling between Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville in 2008.

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  2. The Oracle says:

    I thought government doesn’t create jobs? If we’re ready to get past such cliches, are we also ready to talk about promoting a healthy local economy? Go Local!

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  3. Skippy says:

    It takes a stunning sense of self-importance to believe that mankind can change the weather, not to mention an ego as big as all outdoors.
    And the Malthusian predictions of impending armageddon are still fresh after 200 years.
    Mankind utilizes natural resources to survive and thrive just like every other organism on earth.
    Why is it that only our motives are deemed malicious, and only our natural behavior must be curbed?
    If it makes one feel better and more caring to stand on the street(or on WSC)wearing a “the end is nigh” sandwich sign, then go for it.
    I will never believe that, of all God’s creatures, only man must be eliminated for life on this blessed rock to continue.
    If people are the true problem, didn’t Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin actually improve the earth’s chances of survival?
    Wouldn’t suicide be the prescription for a just and fair world?

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  4. Canthisbe says:


    The planet is going to be OK.


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  5. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Follower-personally I think it’s too late to save the planet. We’re breeding like rats and our planet can’t feed us all. Our greed and stupidity now will affect our generations in the future. Natural resources will not last forever. For untold wealth for a few today we are destroying the security of the many in the future-OUR OWN GRANDCHILDREN DOWN THE LINE.
    The sooner we start conserving, building new technology (which will create JOBS) innovating (which Americans are supposed to be good at), starting businesses (again jobs) we will be helping ourselves and the planet.
    Posters may not believe we’re responsible for global warming and I don’t care if they don’t believe. But it’s coming and it will cause changes in the weather worldwide and our coastal waters will rise. We have to start to prepare for the inevitability of they planet changes and adapt or die.
    Darn, Skippy, now I’m talking green.

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  6. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Skippy, you must not mean me. I haven’t mentioned ANY of those subjects you’ve listed. Just a working person trying to get justice for the middleclass which, I believe, includes you as well as me. I don’t think you’re part of the 99%. Oops, darn, I’ve gone and done it.

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  7. Follower says:

    Alternative Energy (Green Jobs) is not only a great idea but certainly VITAL to our future.

    Unfortunately given the current state of our technology, it’s the very distant future & should be prioritized accordingly.

    We are dumping huge amounts of our financial, intellectual & productive resources into curbing “Greenhouse Emissions” in the “HOPE” that it will reverse Global Warming.

    Let’s just assume that Global Warming is real & it IS caused by humans…

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to expend our resources in preparing for a warmer planet?

    We KNOW we can build Greenhouses to grow food in a controlled environment free of the affects of Climate Change. We already have the technology to survive a warmer climate.

    We DON’T know when someone will discover a viable “alternative energy”.

    So in 50 years when we realize that Global Warming has reached the point of no return despite our efforts to reverse it, and nobody has developed a viable alternative to fossil fuels, we’re screwed!

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  8. Billy C says:

    Anybody with a lick of business sense knows what we need to do. It just not PC.
    Evidently things will have to get much worse before things will change. Then we can ask ourselves, How PC can we afford to be?

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  9. Skippy says:

    Anyone who mentions Green Jobs; alternative energy; smart growth; 99% or social justice has already failed the IQ test of the 21st century.
    The fantasy world in which they reside is immune to logic, reason or the lessons of history.
    Clicking a thumbs-up/down is redundant in that case.

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  10. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Anyone who mentions ICLEI or Agenda 21 in their post gets an automatic thumbs down for me. Not only does it negate most anything else you say BUT IT’S BORING. You point has been made on this issue over and over again. Give it a rest.

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  11. Fed Up says:

    Golis, if the politicans in Sonoma County want to see what has happened to the local business economy and jobs, they need look no further than their bathroom mirror.

    They are responsible for creating regulations, fees, building requirements and an anti-business climate that has destroyed most of the economic growth in the county. Their green economy is a political slogan. Their continuing demands for more “clean energy” is a sure way to turn away businesses looking to relocate here. Think about startup costs.

    None of the politicans have a vision or leadership position, only the old if its green, its golden.

    Boondoggles like SMART which is sucking hundreds of millions of tax dollars away from infrastructure repairs and maintenance is another good example.

    Too many jobs have turned into low wage jobs because of illegal aliens and the social services they demand. Think about construction jobs as one example. The local politicans certainly have promoted this and continue to support illegal aliens.

    Instead of looking up, the politicans look at the under classes as votes and constituents who rely on them for public services. They continue to build the welfare class.

    Look at what is happening in North Dakota. No unemployment, jobs go begging and you can’t find a motel room in the state. Why because of oil, the evil substance so hated by our locals.

    It is time for a new look at what the fundamental causes of what is going on here and stop chasing rainbows and green energy. Even their beloved train is going to burn oil, not run on windmills if it ever gets rolling.

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  12. Social Dis-Ease says:

    To Steveguy:
    You just described Agenda 21.
    The deliberate undermining of the work landscape, our civil and fiscal landscape, incrementally through a wide range of social engineering.
    Including the erosion of Property Rights.

    Often under the ‘green guise’.

    For me, it always seems to come back to:
    Why do we belong to ICLEI?

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  13. Lo Sbandato says:

    Here’s plain talk: the growth days are done. If the Washington ijits (of all parties and bought-out persuasions)had let things REALLY crash in 2008, we would already be back on the success tangent, albeit not an 80′s style rebound explosion, but that’s actually a good thing.

    Instead, trillions are wasted backstopping morons who thought they could out-clever the second law of thermodynamics, and now we have a zombie economy. It will have to reset eventually, and because it was arrested the first time, it will be infinitely more painful. And still, none of those non- or semi-skilled jobs are ever come back, unless the US truly collapses to third world levels (trust me, we aren’teven close yet).

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  14. NoQuarters says:

    Consider, for example, the conventional wisdom that manufacturing production is declining in the U.S. Among Republicans and business leaders, it’s an article of faith that taxes and regulation are strangling business.

    Hey Golis
    would you like to give a look at who supports the Keystone project, not BO or the Dems or maybe you could look into why the Refiners in Richmond are 60 years old, could it have something to do with the EPA
    Or better yet, why not earn your wage and post rules and regs that stifle or close down an industry
    would you like me to help, i need a job

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  15. Social Dis-Ease says:

    When you want to talf about jobs and small Business,
    you have to talk about ICLEI.


    Which brings us to: THE QUESTION.

    Why do we belong to ICLEI?

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  16. Steveguy says:

    Jobs Pete ? OK, I’ll give jobs a stab.

    The main elephant in the room is the illegal labor market. I think that they take away the teen and lesser skilled citizens to learn work. My family lives near the Nogales AZ border, and the teens are doing the traditional high school jobs due to the presence of the Border Patrol everywhere. Teen workers can turn into entrepreneurs when stimulated, many of us have known successful people that started that way.

    Like a circus, there are other elephants.

    One way to stimulate work is to get the price down for permits to build anything. The permitting process rewards the building of McMansions because of the cost factor per parcel. The fees and costs for building a home now costs more than a house did a few decades back. So if it costs you $100,000 a lot in Government induced overhead before even building, economics 101 say build the biggest you can with that kind of up front costs. My first house cost $40 thousand back in 1980. The policies of the City, County and State with the backing of special interests have driven up the price of new housing more than any other factor, probably combined.

    Mama elephant may be the outrageous salaries and pensions that require a ever increasing need of money. Not the rank and file, the upper managers. How much City money has been spent over the decades on the old White House site ? And now they have to raise fees in order to compensate for their own self-imposed rules and regs. I know, it gets frustrating.

    Smart growth is another. Seems as though the County wants to let 80% of the roads crumble and converted to gravel ( hey bike riders) and then probably fine them for having a dusty road that pollutes the atmosphere. If someone really thinks that Railroad Square is going to become some Yogurt Shop with professionals and young families living above strolling about talking about their favorite Latte place while talking about how great it is to live in clustered housing, they haven’t noticed the market. The market has already said fail. Has any infill project made money ? Besides Section 8 subsidies.

    Want affordable housing and create real jobs for those struggling right now ? Relax the ” Granny Unit” regulations so someone can add a toilet or a small kitchen. Far cheaper than subsidizing brand new Section 8 housing and the ongoing costs.

    This is from someone that has had a contracting business in Santa for decades, and for some years I lived on Humboldt Street. I have done ‘ non-conforming’ work that worked just fine. If you want to open a can of worms, look into good contractors opinions of City inspectors. Even when better than code, or the same as it has always been, there is money the City demands.

    I could go on.

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  17. The North Bay offers great standard of living (climate, lower crime than most, proximity to SF, etc.). Also, judging from the commuter traffic on the 101, there are plenty of talent that other parts of the Bay Area leverages, but unfortunately not the North Bay. The recent history of job losses expands beyond Telecom Valley, State Farm, State Fund, ATT, Barbara, etc. The trend is clear – at the current pace we will continue to lose quality white collar jobs and what will be left will be lower paying retail and service jobs. The question is how can Sonoma County attract quality jobs. I believe it is a combination of being friendlier to business + marketing ourselves like the city of Austin + more government/business partnerships. If not, more quality jobs will be moved out of the area – like mine was.

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  18. GAJ says:

    “Gov. Jerry Brown last week took flak for preaching government frugality — and then endorsing a proposed bullet train.”

    Thankfully 2/3 of California Voters can see that for the fiscal White Elephant that it is and want a revote.

    Too bad that can’t be said for North Bay voters who, according to polls, currently do not support a revote on SMART.

    I ran a business for decades in Sonoma County with hundreds of employees. I am tickled we sold prior to the market collapse and wouldn’t consider starting another similar business in this area.

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