Breland: Tech giants must play a part in economic recovery
An aerial view of downtown San Jose. File photo.

I had the great honor in 2020 to serve on the Silicon Valley Recovery Roundtable, which was formed by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 59-member Roundtable, which was charged with making policy recommendations to local and regional governing bodies to ensure our region was best positioned to weather the challenges posed by the pandemic and fully recover from its economic effects as rapidly as possible, was comprised of leaders and innovators from the business, labor, nonprofit and education sectors.

The Roundtable issued its report in August, which highlighted four key focus areas: the safe reopening of our economy, ensuring that the recovery is inclusive for our region’s most vulnerable members, enabling local businesses to survive and thrive and innovating to build the foundation of a “better normal.”

In some ways, the report paints a dire picture, calling attention to the severe economic impacts of the pandemic: unemployment in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties quadrupled from 2-3 percent in June 2019 to 11 percent in June 2020 with some sectors being particularly hard-hit. The restaurant and hotel industry, for example, lost more than half its jobs from 2019 to 2020 and almost 130,000 jobs were lost total in the San Jose metro area alone.

The report also highlights the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on low-income communities and communities of color within Silicon Valley. In Santa Clara County, for example, despite comprising just 26 percent of the population, the Latinx community has experienced more than half of the positive cases. Additionally, rates of infection in the region’s lower-income ZIP codes are double the infection rates in more affluent communities.

However, the report doesn’t focus only on the negative impacts of the pandemic; it lays out clear recommendations and a concise plan to take on the most pressing challenges we face as we need to move forward together, as a uniform community.

One organization that has taken to heart the recommendations is Stanford Impact Labs, whose mission is to enable “teams of scholars to work in partnership with leaders from public, social and private sectors to tackle social problems using human creativity, rigorous evidence and innovative technology.”

The innovative leaders at Stanford Impact Labs are working on an approach that would build upon the recommendations made in the Silicon Valley Recovery Roundtable report to increase social and economic equity in part through partnerships with local higher education institutions, including the region’s community colleges and public universities. It proposes launching up to a dozen local impact labs where researchers from Silicon Valley’s academic institutions would partner with local government and nonprofit organizations to devise and implement new solutions to improve equity throughout our region.

At San Jose – Evergreen Community College District, we are excited for this opportunity, and although it is still in the very early planning stages, we are committed to working with Stanford Impact Labs and other partners to ensure this innovative idea becomes a reality. However, with higher education having suffered the effects of the COVID pandemic and associated economic impacts, funding for these local impact labs and other programs may need to come from new and creative sources.

While hundreds of thousands of Silicon Valley residents have lost jobs, housing, or—tragically—lives during the pandemic, one economic sector has not only been able to avoid the most-damaging effects, but has thrived during the more-than-yearlong pandemic: technology. These tech behemoths—like Apple, Google, and Facebook, among others—have seen their values (according to market capitalization) increase by hundreds of billions of dollars from early 2020 to early 2021.

For decades, the Silicon Valley economy has greatly benefited some while leaving others behind.

If we are to have a full and equitable recovery that will allow us to see our hardest hit and most vulnerable neighbors reap the benefits of our region’s resilient economy, then those who benefit the most from their location in and association with the global epicenter of technology and innovation must make a commitment to working in partnership with educational institutions and helping to fund the kinds of programs and initiatives that will help train and develop the next generation of our region’s workforce.

By working in partnership to develop innovative and groundbreaking curriculum and training programs, institutions of higher education and leaders from business, industry and technology can create programs and initiatives that have real, tangible results and impacts throughout all our communities and create a more diverse, resilient and equitable workforce as we emerge from the pandemic.

I call on our region’s leading companies and their CEOs to take seriously the need to support all communities throughout Silicon Valley as well as all those who call it home by supporting innovative and creative approaches to an equitable recovery.

San José Spotlight columnist Dr. Byron D. Clift Breland is chancellor of San Jose – Evergreen Community College district, which operates San Jose City College, Evergreen Valley College, the Milpitas College Extension and the Community College Center for Economic Mobility. His columns appear every first Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at [email protected]

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