29 Apr 2018

SF Growing or Shrinking?

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Quotes and headlines from selected articles published in so far in 2018

“San Francisco is such a boomtown that people are leaving in droves.”
Wall Street Journal

“Silicon Valley is over” “In the last three months of 2017, San Francisco lost
more residents to outward migration than any other city in the country.”

New York Times

“San Francisco is so expensive that more people are leaving than moving in
– and it could mean disaster for the nation’s tech capital.”

SFGate

[According to a survey] “49 % of Bay Area residents were looking to move out.”
Business Insider

Bad news, predictions of crashes, the arrogant finally getting their comeuppance: These stories grab eyeballs and get re-posted on social media. And much of the country finds the Bay Area insufferably smug – its wealth, home prices, unicorns, Google buses, 26-year-old billionaires, liberal politics, and much else – and if it is finally getting its just deserts (or “just desserts,” if you prefer), that is entertaining news. I get that: Sometimes, I find us insufferably smug myself. But let us investigate the issues a bit deeper.

First of all: Without argument, there are big economic and social challenges facing the Bay Area: high housing costs; high state income taxes; recent federal tax law changes; the hostility of the current federal government to foreign immigration; rising income inequality, poverty and homelessness; growing commute times and other quality of life issues; national and international concerns; and, yes, population migration trends too.  It is certainly true that places like Austin and Seattle, with much lower housing costs and no state income taxes, are actively luring our businesses to relocate or expand there, and doing so with some significant success.

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But, for a much more realistic illustration of what is going on in the Bay Area, here is some hard data from U.S. Census and CA Employment Development Department data released in March:

More people are NOT leaving San Francisco or the Bay Area than arriving. When you tally both domestic migration in and out (to and from other places in the U.S.), and foreign migration, more people are arriving than leaving. It is true than in the past 2 years, domestic net migration has shifted to a net loss, but that deficit is still overcome by the large positive in foreign immigration. Is the shift in domestic migration worrisome? Yes, if it continues to grow. But it is not cataclysmic in its current proportions, and there are further underlying factors to consider, which shall be discussed later in this report.

Some other factors to consider:

Many of the people leaving inner Bay Area counties are moving to adjacent counties, such as Solano, Sonoma, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, San Joaquin, San Benito and Stanislaus Counties. Many of those people almost certainly continue to work within the metro area. To some degree, the Bay Area economic zone is expanding geographically, not declining.

The Bay Area over the past 7 years has been one of the greatest new-wealth creation machines in history. With the recent Dropbox IPO, it seems to be cranking into gear again – and there are still dozens of other local unicorns such as Uber, Pinterest, Airbnb, Palantir, with total values in the hundreds of billions of dollars – that could yet go public. Uber has already stated its desire to do so in the near future.

A significant portion of those leaving the Bay area are retirees, cashing out on high home prices to move to less expensive locales, such as other counties in California, and Nevada, Arizona and Oregon. This is not a new phenomenon, as it has been going on for decades, though it may have accelerated in recent years, since cashing out has become so much more lucrative.

Most of those coming to the Bay Area are coming for new jobs, and the Bay Area remains a magnet for many of the best and the brightest around the world. Besides which, every year, thousands of Bay Area students graduate from schools like UC Berkeley, UCSF and Stanford, to take jobs locally as well. Economically, the Bay Area is trading many residents who are, to a large degree, checking out of employment for people in the prime of their working lives. A new 2018 study by BuildZoom (whose accuracy we cannot evaluate) found that the median income of people moving into the Bay Area was substantially higher than that of people moving out: According to the study, from 2010 to 2016, newcomers out-earned relocating residents by about $18,700.

Millions of square feet of new commercial office space continue to be snapped up as soon as they come on market, even before the buildings are finished, and the only possible reasons are new businesses arriving and existing high-tech, bio-tech and fin-tech businesses – such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Dropbox – continuing to expand, both of which are fueled by continued hiring.

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