Political Climate with Mark Simon: San Mateo County has changed forever

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

The San Mateo County that was simply is no more.

Once a hotbed of social rest, San Mateo County is an increasingly urbanized technology focal point in the regional, national and global economy, and there is no going back.

Nowhere is this more evident than at the San Mateo County Economic Development Association’s annual showcase of new and innovative companies.

At these events, held every year at the Oracle Conference Center in Redwood Shores, recognized companies have run the gamut from science to medicine to toys to transportation and every other iteration of the new economy imaginable. The presentations often have audience members reaching for their smart phones to look up products and stock symbols.

This year was no exception as seven companies were honored as Innovators. They included startups that are delving deeply into virtual reality animation programming, customized shopping, a convincing alternative to meat and cancer diagnostic tools requiring only the drawing of blood.

Of the seven companies recognized by SAMCEDA, five are in Redwood City, two are in Menlo Park and one is in San Mateo. More interestingly, of the 42 companies honored at this event between 2010-17, 36 still are headquartered in San Mateo County — only six have left. Combined, these 42 companies employ 17,000 people.

As SAMCEDA President and CEO Rosanne Foust told Political Climate, San Mateo County used to be known for its annual “churn” rate of 50 percent – the percentage of companies that would start in the county and then leave. Most companies, if not all, would reach a certain size and then move elsewhere, usually in seeking space for manufacturing facilities.

But then came companies that “laid the foundation,” Foust said. In the late 1970s, Oracle established its world headquarters in Redwood Shores and then Genentech opened in South San Francisco. At first, they were the only major employers from the new economy, but they were the forerunners of companies that now abound.

One key characteristic they share is that their products are virtual and don’t require physical production plants. Facebook is the most dramatic example with its plans to grow substantially in the next decade without leaving Menlo Park. At Facebook, they manufacture ideas and they need their employees to remain together, generating and executing new ideas at a clip that will maintain the company’s success.

Certainly, San Mateo County’s unique setting is an essential part of its appeal – its proximity to San Francisco, the ease of access to the redwoods and the beach. Just as crucial is the presence of Stanford University as a feeder of workers and innovators, and it’s no accident that Stanford is expanding into San Mateo County.

The net result is a reconstitution of the county’s DNA.

“There’s an energy here,” said Foust, and the world’s leading innovators sense it, understand its appeal and want to draw from it and contribute to it.

“The vitality of Redwood City in recent years has created a virtuous cycle with the diverse people and local, national and international businesses fueling an incredible ecosystem,” said Kristy Stromberg, chief marketing officer for Shopkick, one of the Redwood City companies honored at the SAMCEDA event. “It’s a great location for a tech company like ours.”

Stromberg referred to Redwood City as “being in the heart of Silicon Valley.”

There’s something no one would have said 20 years ago, or even 10.

These changes are the most profound to face this community in our lifetime. As I spend more time meeting and talking with the people who are making this change happen, I will revisit this topic with an eye to fully understanding what has happened, what will happen and why.

Yes, the San Mateo County we once knew has changed forever. It’s better – more diverse, more interesting, more dynamic and economically more powerful.

OUT OF THE GATE: Diana Reddy this week became the first Redwood City Council to formally launch her campaign. This is notable in that the council election is in November and the filing period has yet to be established or opened.

Reddy announced Monday before more than 40 friends and supporters at the Main & Elm Restaurant. In brief remarks, Reddy said she has a “passion for the least of us” and that she would be an advocate for those who have been left out or pushed out by the economic boom in Redwood City.

“We have much poverty in the midst of plenty and much fear in the midst of security,” she said. She vowed “we will have a seat at the table” if she is elected.

“We need a new direction,” Reddy said, promising to “align our city’s priorities with our community’s needs.”

An advocate for rent control, Reddy told Political Climate that it was highly unlikely a rent control ballot measure will be put on the November ballot. If anyone would know, she would, Reddy said, and it’s clear there isn’t the widespread political support required to take on the interests that would be arrayed against such a measure. There are other ways to take on the issue, she said, implying that she could introduce a rent control measure if she is on the council. … Among those on hand at the Reddy kickoff was Steve Penna, publisher of the monthly magazine Spectrum. Both Penna and Reddy denied a widespread rumor that Penna had assumed a formal role in Reddy’s campaign management. Penna acknowledged that he has worked for business interests in the city, including Main & Elm, helping longtime friends with marketing services. But, he said, “I will never, ever work on a city council campaign.”

A MOMENT OF PERSONAL PRIVILEGE: Two nonprofit organizations I am honored to support held major events in the last seven days. Sequoia Awards held its annual dinner last Thursday at the Crowne Plaza in Foster City, dispersing 29 scholarships to Redwood City high school seniors for their volunteer service to our community. That’s a total of $215,000 awarded, including $25,000 to the top student, Clara MacAvoy. The Sequoia Awards also recognized Barbara Pierce and Dee Eva as 2018’s Outstanding Individuals for their work on the city’s sesquicentennial celebration and recognized the Canyon Inn and proprietors Tim and Stephanie Harrison for their constant generosity to the community. … Bay Area Cancer Connections held its annual spring benefit yesterday at Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club. Award-winning actress Camryn Manheim told the story of her own frontal assault on breast cancer with characteristic brio. I am honored to serve both of these organizations as a member of their boards of directors.

Contact Mark Simon at