How San Francisco Office of Economic Development Dept. Recruits Cleantech Companies

Posted on September 6th, 2012 by
   

Todd Rufo, Director of Business Development at the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, discusses his organizations approach to recruiting businesses to San Francisco.

Full Transcription:

Ben Lack Can you give me a high level view of what your office does and how that ties to the RenoSola project?
Todd Rufo The Office of Economic and Workforce Development is charged with the economic growth and vitality of the city ensuring that were creating jobs here in San Francisco, keeping jobs here in San Francisco and ensuring that people are getting trained and finding those jobs here in San Francisco. Within this area we are focused on business attraction and retention across key sectors in the city as defined by the city’s economic strategy and clean tech is absolutely one of those sectors. Today, the background in terms of what the city‘s clean tech sector looks like, is more than 208 clean tech companies investors in San Francisco 35 plus solar companies including 5 of the top 10 solar module manufacturers in the world, 89 active clean tech investors we’re recently named by the clean tech group as the San Francisco was and the Clean-Tech Capital of North America in 2012. At Intersolar where you’ve noted that ReneSola was announced having opened an office in San Francisco, as well as Enertis Solar which is out of Spain so the momentum continues, growth continues in San Francisco.
Ben Lack With a such strong community for the clean-tech space, talk me a little bit about  what the 5 year growth plan is, obviously more is better but you wanted to do it smartly so what’s the strategy for growing smartly?
Todd Rufo San Francisco is fortunate to have a fairly diverse sector. So we’re not just concentrated all in solar, all in energy efficiency. We’re fortunate to have a cross section of solar from manufacturers to development and finance to installation. We have a number of energy efficiency, a number of green building companies; we have a small but growing clean transportation sector of electric vehicle manufacturers. We have folks that focus on bio-fuel development, emission bays using lab space in the biotech ecosystem in Mission Bay. As I mentioned there’s also very active investment community and as Darlene mentioned we also are home to a number of utilities like PG&E, as well as the city’s local utility, the city’s owned utility SFPUC as well as CPUC, US Green building council and etc. A number of sort of key institutions EPA, Region 9 are also located in San Francisco. So your point about the Ecosystem it’s fairly diverse it’s robust in certain areas and I think we benefit from the fact that it’s fairly multi faceted.
Ben Lack Is there a city that San Francisco consistently have to compete against whether you’re in California or outside of the state in order to try to always win so to speak the business of getting companies to set up shop here in the city?
Todd Rufo One of the things that Darlene spoke to this is why companies choose to locate, grow or start a business in San Francisco. Our strategy has always been to focus on starting great companies in San Francisco, keep them as they grow and then ensure that they grow or help them to do as we can, help them to grow into successful company here in San Francisco. Sun Run is a great example of that, starting to grow in San Francisco. There’s other companies that have moved into San Francisco; so OPower headquartered in Virginia opened up their west coast office in San Francisco. Companies that Darlene and the ChinaSF have recruited San Francisco is obviously opening the North America headquarter offices for San Francisco. So it’s kind of different for every company but again I think the story is that’s it is a range of companies, of some based here in san Francisco, some moved here to San Francisco. To your question about who do we compete with for that, I think that there’s not anyone city that we’re going head to head with. I think our value proposition is fairly differentiated and that we offer a very unique ecosystem of the companies we’re talking about. We have strong policy leadership, as Darlene referenced a 100% renewable goal, incredible talent, I mean when you looked at why a lot of these international firms are moving to San Francisco as well as the numbers of firms are growing like Sun Run in San Francisco, it’s because of access the top talent. And Darlene reference as well as the trend with Google and others, I think that that’s speaks volumes about the kind of work force that can be accessed in San Francisco. And certainly the city is doing everything we can to help create new more competitive environment, we obviously offer a clean tech payroll tax exemption which exempts qualified cleantech companies from the City’s business tax. Now we don’t lead by saying, “Hey we’re going to make San Francisco the cheapest location to do operate your business”. What we focus on is what value we as a city I think, bring to the table, meaning the city of San Francisco doing business in San Francisco, bring to the table can offer to a company that’s doing clean tech. And the incentives whether the clean tech exclusion or the city’s enterprise zone, our work force programs those incentives help make it more compelling proposition but I think at the end of the day these guys are really making important decisions based on core fundamental business requirements like talent, access to partners access to customers.
Ben Lack You mentioned and it’s probably a great amongst the industry that the ecosystem is really unlike any other as far as everything that offers to the clean tech sector. I’m curious to get your perspective on section in the ecosystem has really the “weakest link” and has been able to really become a strong asset for the city. Is there something like that that you’ve seen improve over the last couple of years?
Todd Rufo I think there are a couple of subsectors that we’re watching closely. Obviously we’ve demonstrated strength on the renewable side in energy efficiency. I think two areas that are showing really interesting growth is in electric vehicles – we’re home to Mission Motors. There’s a number of small vehicle start ups in San Francisco and they are flustering.When we say SoMa, San Franciscansthink technology companies but small vehicle companies are clustering in an industrial part of SoMa which is really interesting in taking older industrial buidlings that had been formally auto-repair and they’re turning them into proto-typing facilities for small vehicles and I think it’s a really were talking less than 10 companies. But one of those areas that has a really interesting trend in the urban setting like San Francisco, to have prototype vehicles, to have prototype engines, being developed within an urban setting like this I think it’s just fascinating story about growth in this industry within the urban context. I think the second one is the development at the intersection of biotech and clean technology and the bio guys very much see fuels as part of their bio-tech industry and I think the clean guys also see fuel as part of their industry and that’s I think one of the great things about San Francisco it’s intersection of those two things. The fuels growing in Mission Bay, San Francisco, is also very interesting. And finally, one final comment about that. Is that there’s also with 1600 plus technology companies in San Francisco I think there’s really interesting cross over going on between folks who see themselves with both within the clean space and the tech space. So relay rides within San Francisco there’s a number of companies that are being incubated by the Greenstart Accelerator which also have a tech piece as well as a sort of a clean tech focus.
Ben Lack This is going to be my final question and it’s personal which is why are you doing what you’re doing?
Todd Rufo Why is the city pursuing?
Ben Lack You personally.
Todd Rufo Why do I personally want to support the growth of these companies? It’s the number one issue in the country right now, jobs and unemployment that’s what I think. And it’s an important thing for the city and for people in my profession to be doing is to help grow jobs and to keep cities to strong and to help people in those cities find jobs within industries. I think you can have a powerful impact in that.

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