Talkin' Jobs, but Not THAT Jobs!

Woman using a computer
Woman using a computer

Silicon Valley is once again re-inventing itself, and the timing is excellent.

These have been brutal months for so many tech workers here, with big companies like Intel, Google, Yahoo, Cisco, Microsoft, National Semiconductor and dozens of others slashing tens of thousands of positions.

It has been gut-wrenching to watch.

And sadly, for an area so steeped in creating new paradigms of efficiency and the next generation of new technology, the lesson from this downturn is all about the concept of doing more with less. Meaning, even when this economy turns around, companies will not be inviting workers back because the ones who were left were able to absorb the additional work.

It's a trend so clearly detailed with the latest earnings reports: Toplines continued to contract, but bottomlines continued to grow. Companies found new ways to squeeze more money to the profit column even as they slashed billions in expenses.

Leaner, meaner.

And while that's been the operating mantra here, new innovations and major new tech trends are gaining traction. Green tech, which saw so much hype during the campaign last year, and in the early days of the Obama Administration, is now showing some fire under all that smoke.

Take Solyndra, a solar panel start-up company housed inside the former disk drive maker HMT's headquarters along Highway 880 in Fremont, Calif. The symbolism there is striking. Silicon Valley started as a disk drive mecca with the famous Winchester drive. ("Silicon" Valley always seemed a misnomer for me.) But now, HMT is gone, and like a hermit crab, Solyndra has moved into its old shell.


To say it's thriving is an understatement. The company after a few short years, has already outgrown its two massive buildings, and is preparing to break ground on a new corporate campus just up the road. It'll employ 2,000 construction workers, and add 1,000 new workers to its payroll. The company got the first $500 million in Federal stimulus money and it is already off to the races putting that money to good use.

It's not just Solyndra either. We've focused on Nanosolar in the past too. Venture capitalists poured a half billion dollars into 49 deals in July, a record pace. And that doesn't even include the $300 million that Exxon is investing in the biofuel alchemist company called Synthetic Genomics.

Even with California's severe budget crisis, the state will still invest $3 billion in the solar industry, and officials say that should yield 40,000 new jobs. Also, consider that 73 percent of the nation's solar panel installations happens in California. That could mean 4,000 new installer jobs by 2015.

All of this shows just how important job re-training has become, particularly in Silicon Valley where we've all seen trends change over the years, but never quite this fast. I'm not going to be a Pollyanna here. I see the boarded up store fronts, and brown lawns, and crowded coffee shops at 1030 in the morning with unemployed workers networking and wondering where their next jobs will come from. I talk with Wall Street friends who are true experts with useful, relevant skills who sit by, still unemployed, with so much to offer, waiting, and hoping, and wondering.

There are 14 million Americans out of work. Just shy of 10 percent of the working population. It's ugly.

Today's numbers show it's getting less ugly, but only slightly. Still, I look at the ingenuity, creativity, momentum and investment up and down the streets here, and I'm heartened (not emboldened, but heartened) that tech, innovation and entrepreneurship will once again bring this nation out of our economic darkness.

And that's why I say Silicon Valley's timing is excellent: Just when the nation needed new tech, a new industry, and new jobs, this region steps up again. I've seen it happen for 20 years, and I marvel at it every time.


Questions? Comments?