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The Mighty Oak is On the Rise

Oakland Rebounds to Scores Points with Employers and Employees Alike

By Craig Harrison

Note: This article originally appeared in the California Job Journal Mar 12-18, 2000
under the title Things are Looking Up for Oakland.


This is a tale of two cities — the Oakland you thought you knew, and the new Oakland: vibrant and artistic, inviting and growing, unique among its Bay Area neighbors. Oakland, California’s eighth largest city, is truly on the rise.

While much of the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area has been experiencing growth and prosperity, Oakland is just now hitting its stride. As Silicon Valley expands and San Francisco rents continue to skyrocket, Oakland’s prime location, affordable housing, proximity to top educational institutions and diverse workforce all help it attract new jobs and new workers. New leadership and a populace eager for change have signaled a new dawn for this historic city.

Oakland is poised for a dramatic economic and cultural renaissance, thanks in part to major improvements in its infrastructure, linking it more closely to its more prosperous neighbors. With its own international airport, a new downtown Amtrak rail station, the Nelson Mandela Parkway replacing the earthquake ravaged Cypress Freeway, and the fourth largest port in the United States, Oakland is accessible by land, air and sea. The short BART ride to downtown San Francisco also makes it closer to that city's commercial centers than many parts of San Francisco itself.

Of course Oakland has its own business to boast about. It is home to 32,000 firms, including major manufacturing, service and food processing industries, as well as numerous entrepreneurial endeavors. With new hotels recently built or underway near the airport, more service jobs are projected.

A core of 300 high-tech ventures are thriving in the East Bay. Established corporations such as Informix, Sun Microsystems, Health Systems Design and smaller companies draw on the talent from many of the local educational institutions, including UC Berkeley, Mills College and Cal State Hayward, as well as many nearby technical colleges and universities.

Start-ups such as Cybergold and Zhone Technologies regard Oakland as ideal for building their businesses. Among the attractions are a diverse and skilled labor force of 180,000, numerous educational and training programs, affordable housing, newly established commerce zones and clusters, and other business incentives which the city and private agencies are partnering to offer.

Army Base Beachhead

At the forefront of much of Oakland's makeover is the Oakland Redevelopment Agency, which has its marching orders — to turn the soon-to-be converted 200 acre Oakland Army base into a mecca for high-tech, bio-tech, light industrial and R&D firms. The site's proximity to the Port of Oakland as well as downtown, makes it prime commercial real estate.

A number of other areas are enjoying a rebirth. West Oakland, home to a manufacturing and light industrial zone, is also creating a transportation hub. A nearby housing project is offering more affordable single-family homes, and Giant Foods has just opened in the Acorn Plaza Shopping Center, the first real supermarket to serve those residents in some time. A new Youth opportunity Center provides training and placement services for the young, out of school and out of work.

The Oakland Coliseum is at the heart of another area abuzz with the promise of new jobs and prsoperity. Zhone Technologies, a start-up spun off from Lucent Technologies, is building a 20 acre campus across the street that will employ almost 1500. About 20 blocks away a new Federal Express facility, along with Webvan’s 400,000 square-foot facility. Just Deserts is opening a new production and distribution center as well. The coliseum activity was made possible in large part due to the assistance and business incentives from Oakland’s Community Economic Development Agency (CEDA). Partners such as the Oakland Private Industry Council, Oakland Commerce Corporation, and other agencies and organizations that help cut red tape.

Also noteworthy is the area around Broadway near 22nd, home to a cluster of communications technology companies.

Downtown’s Upturn

Petulia Clark could just as easily have been singing about the revitalized downtown district of Oakland when she said "everything’s waiting for you…you’ll find a place for sure…things will be great when you’re downtown." Everything, in this case, includes entertainment, retail, office, and residential opportunities.

Jack London Square is truly vibrant with its waterfront restaurants, multiplex theatre entertainment center, the Jazzy Yoshi’s restaurant and nightclub, new lofts and live/work spaces. Downtown also includes the City Center, Old Oakland and Chinatown. The Gap is coming to Broadway, and the Shorenstein Company will be building a new 20-story office building. Mayor Jerry Brown, himself a downtown resident, is inviting 10,000 others to join him. In this case, more is more. The Mayor has mobilized city government resources for this 10K initiative, knowing that with new residents comes a critical mass to support day and night commerce.

From Mean Streets to Clean Streets

Even before Mayor Brown came on board, City Manager Robert Bobb has led a campaign to transform the face of Oakland. His well-publicized focus on grime and crime has tackled blight wherever it was found within city. As the population rises it’s worth noting that crime is down. Oakland Police Captain Ralph Lacer states it plainly: "It’s a safe city if you keep your nose clean. The city is tracking crime like never before. We experienced crime reduction of almost 20% last year and the reductions are continuing this year." The city not only looks safer these days, it is.

A City Like No Other

Oakland’s diversity is clearly one of its strengths. Among its 395,000 residents you will find over 40% African American, almost 34% White, 16% Asian/Pacific Islander, and almost 10% other ethnicities. 17% of the city’s population is Hispanic. With 20% of Oakland’s population foreign born, more than 80 different languages and dialects are spoken. Among its 144,700 households you’ll find 1/4 have disposable income over $50,000.

Oakland’s business environment is itself diverse: 32,000 businesses include major manufacturing, service and food processing industries, as well as numerous entrepreneurial endeavors. With new hotels recently built or underway near the airport, more service jobs are expected. Overall, the next five years are expected to witness sustained growth for Oakland across the board: business services, health care services, transportation, food processing, light manufacturing, arts, culture and entertainment.

Asking What City Hall Can Do For You

A great deal of effort has gone into making Oakland more accessible to businesses interested in relocating, as well as those seeking to remain in Oakland. One-Stop Capital Shops and Career Centers, the streamlining of processes and better coordination between interlocking agencies have all facilitated progress and new opportunities. Clearly Mayor Brown has been a catalyst for change, as has been City Manager Bobb. Both are proud of the city.

Says Manager Bobb, "As a renaissance city with a new vision and direction, the City of Oakland is an excellent place to work. The City prides itself in its culturally diverse population, and is often compared to the Mediterranean because of its climate. The city is accessible to many of California’s great attractions including its mountains, coastline, wineries, and other amenities."

Bobb adds: "the City of Oakland provides challenging employment opportunities and a compensation and benefits package that is competitive with other San Francisco Bay Area communities."

Back to School

While much attention has been paid to the lower than average performance of the Oakland schools, focus will remain on improving them as quickly as possible. Meanwhile it is worth noting that Oakland residents rank 6th in the nation in overall educational achievement. Within Oakland and surrounding Alameda County there are 10 junior/community colleges, six 4-year colleges, and more than 15 graduate level institutions. Various community college and vocational training centers provide apprenticeship programs.

There Is A 'There' There

Overall, the next five years promise to provide Oakland with a prosperity that once it could hardly have dreamed possible. Oakland is clearly a city on the rise. Its acorns of yore are ready to bloom. Today’s Oakland is an international city of formidable capabilities, with a bright future ahead of it. The yoke is off the Oak.

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Craig Harrison, founder and principal of Expressions of Excellence!™ is a professional speaker, corporate trainer and communication coach whose clients include public and private Oakland companies and non-profits. He can be reached at (510) 547-0664, by sending e-mail to Craig@ExpressionsOfExcellence.com or through his website: www.ExpressionsofExcellence.com

Look Who’s Under the Oak Tree

Oakland Resources for Employers & Job Seekers

City of Oakland http://oaklandnet.com/
Job Hotline: (510) 238-3111

http://www.oaklandnet.com/government/government7.html lists city jobs.
Business Development Office: (510) 238-2206
Workforce Development & Training: (510) 238-7794

One Stop Career Center/East Bay Works 1-888-411-HIRE
www.eastbayworks.org Accepts résumés, posts openings, matches talent to jobs

Oakland Private Industry Council (510) 891-9393 www.oaklandpic.org

One Stop Small Business Center (510) 238-3703

Oakland Business Development Corporation 510-763-4297 http://www.obcd.com/

Merchants Leadership Forum (510) 530-2120

Craig Harrison
(510) 547-0664; Craig@ExpressionsOfExcellence.com

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