Local Manufacturing Sector Gets New Support

East Bay manufacturing encompasses many sub-sectors ranging from traditional areas such as machining and food to more advanced areas such as surgical and medical instruments and biotechnology. Last year, for example, Inscripta launched the world’s first fully automated benchtop instrument for genome-scale engineering. The company, which has an office at Hacienda, developed a CRISPR-mediated, massively parallel platform that enables researchers to engineer, in their own labs, microbial libraries containing the full breadth and scope of possible edit types. Among other things, the platform supports bio-industrial materials development and manufacturing, according to the company.

Breakthrough developments may be easier to produce in a region with two national laboratories and exceptional public-private partnerships such as the Livermore Valley Open Campus, which allows private companies to work with experts at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Sandia National Laboratories. Business groups and academics welcomed the Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory, a $10 million state-of-the-art, 14,000-square-foot facility that LNL opened early this year. The new laboratory speaks, in part, to the broad, deep, and diverse manufacturing industry in the East Bay and Tri-Valley, according to Stephen Baiter, Executive Director of East Bay Economic Development Alliance (EDA).

The environment for manufacturing has shifted since the opening of the new laboratory last January, however. The region hosts an estimated 100,000 manufacturing jobs, according to East Bay EDA; as a result of the pandemic, an estimated 14% of those positions have been lost. The global pandemic created by Covid-19 has dramatically affected the manufacturing sector, and many companies, especially small to medium sized enterprises, are struggling. In the face of this challenge, the Tri-Valley business community as a whole joined together for mutual support as well as to help combat the pandemic. Now new support is available to many local manufacturing companies.

Free Consulting and More

Thanks to funding from the federal CARES Act, the East Bay EDA has been able to partner with California Manufacturing Technology Consulting’s California’s Manufacturing Network (CMN) to provide direct support to eligible manufacturers affected by Covid-19. Through the end of March 2021, East Bay EDA is working with CMN, consulting nonprofit Manex, and others to help businesses survive, recover, and thrive. The group’s goal is to meet with manufacturers throughout the region to identify and understand their specific needs, challenges, and opportunities, and to provide them with assistance for recovery and growth. The assistance includes outreach and communications; direct advisory assistance such as consulting; and webinars, virtual peer groups, and more.

“We really want to support the small and mid-sized manufacturers who right now need those resources,” says Alyson Greenlee, Senior Economic Development Analyst for East Bay EDA. “Maybe they need a connection to a procurement officer at a different company or at a national lab or university. Maybe they need a connection to an international trade group or another international resource. Maybe they need some strategic consulting that they have never had access to before. We can help them with that.”

Innovation Continues

That help is needed. “It is hard to overstate the importance of the manufacturing sector to maintaining a healthy regional economy,” according to Keith Carson, Chair of East Bay EDA and Vice President of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Of course, local cities as well as the region are dependent on manufacturing, which is also a vital industry for the City of Pleasanton.

“A key driver of Pleasanton’s commercial community is our robust base of specialized firms that drive innovation in the life science sector with prominence in information technology, biomedical research, and advanced manufacturing of medical devices,” notes   Lisa Adamos, Economic Development Manager for the City of Pleasanton. “As a City Council priority, Pleasanton continues to actively cultivate an environment in which a breadth of life sciences companies can be successful. In turn, these game-changing life science companies contribute to the city’s location as a highly desirable employment center and add to the robust commercial network that supports all businesses, and our community benefits from the exceptionally skilled workforce and access to innovation.”

That access to innovation is expected to continue. In October, for example, U.C. Berkeley announced that the U.S. Department of Defense and more than 80 companies, universities, states, and research institutes will invest at least $275 million over the next seven years “to brew better molecules for manufacturing” as part of a new public-private partnership, the Bioindustrial Manufacturing And Design Ecosystem (BioMADE). BioMADE will be based at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, with major satellites at UC Berkeley and MIT. Several East Bay companies have already joined the partnership, which is the eighth Department of Defense-sponsored Manufacturing Innovation Institute and the 16th institute in the Manufacturing USA network.

“Biomolecules on the market today are mostly drugs or fragrances made by small batch fermentation in yeast or bacteria, a process much like that of a craft brewery,” explains Robert Sanders, writing in Berkeley News. If successful, BioMADE “will enable a growing biomanufacturing industry to supply a broad range of businesses with large quantities of chemicals at the low prices necessary to make them competitive with petroleum-based alternatives.”

“The broader BioMADE team will provide proof-of-concept manufacturing capacity and help develop key capabilities in the emerging manufacturing workforce, both of which are critical to strengthening U.S. competitiveness,” according to Zach Serber, Chief Science Officer and Co-founder of Zymergen, an East Bay company that has joined BioMADE.

In September, East Bay EDA and Manex co-hosted an online panel called Made in the East Bay with four East Bay manufacturing executives addressing the challenges and opportunities their companies faced as a result of the pandemic. The challenges have been real but so have the opportunities, according to the panelists, who cited the region’s talented and diverse workforce as a large factor in making the East Bay such a strong manufacturing center.

“The East Bay is unique because of our industrial base and our industrial core,” notes Greenlee. “It makes us able to weather the economic storms more easily. We have a manufacturing community that is working on one of our greatest public health challenges right now, which is this virus, and being able to bring an economy back after we have a vaccine. Protecting our industrial core and supporting it with policies and investments like this is really critical.”

No region is guaranteed continued success but the Tri-Valley’s exceptional resources, which include a talented workforce and a braintrust of dedicated business officials and public agencies, make it well-suited to ride out the current economic storm. The area has seen tough times before. After Prohibition brought down much of the once-thriving vineyards in Livermore Valley, many predicted local winemaking would never recover. Instead, over time innovative vintners rekindled the industry by developing award-winning wines and the Livermore Valley became a world-famous destination. There is every reason to believe that regional manufacturing, which is still vital and strong, will continue to  grow and prosper, especially with the new support now available.

For more information about East Bay Economic Development Alliance manufacturing resources, please visit www.eastbayeda.org/manufacturing.

Manufacturers seeking support under the CARES Act are invited to contact Alyson Greenlee directly via email at alyson@eastbayeda.org or by phone at 510-995-0040 for more information.

For more information about California’s Manufacturing Network, please visit www.cmtc.com/californias-manufacturing-network.

For more information about Manex, please visit www.manexconsulting.com.

For more information about the City of Pleasanton Economic Development Department, please visit www.cityofpleasantonca.gov/gov/depts/ed/default.asp.

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