New Report Identifies Top Bay Area Issues. What’s SVCF Doing About Them?

A significant part of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s mission and area of expertise is research, as long as that research helps the region focus on the most pressing issues of the moment. This is exactly the goal of a new report called the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project.

The foundation collaborated with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (founded by David Packard in 1978) to take a closer look at 23 local economic health indicators and compare them with five other leading U.S. tech regions (New York City, Boston, Southern California, Seattle, and Austin), as well as China, South Korea, and the European Union. Some of the indicators we’re talking about, here, include data on innovation industry jobs and economic impact in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties, research and development investment, STEM workforce data, education data, and housing and traffic data.

The whole point of this report is to reinforce public policy that’s needed to ensure the prosperity of Silicon Valley and keep it competitive and innovative in a variety of fields. But the results will also be interesting to locally focused donors who want to tune in to the region’s greatest needs.

The study found that STEM education, early childhood education, and affordable housing need more attention in the region. The report identifies other local needs, including promoting science and technology research, math education for minorities, and traffic congestion for commuters.

“Silicon Valley’s economy continues to outpace economic growth in many parts of the country – but our updated SVCIP report underlines that we still struggle with rising housing prices and severe transportation issues that cause many people to leave the area. We will keep pushing for public policy leaders to address these and other issues so that Silicon Valley will remain both the world’s center of innovation and a great place for all to call ‘home,’” Emmett Carson, SVCF’s CEO and president said in a press release.

To learn more about SVCF’s involvement with this research and what the foundation plans to do with this data as a local grantmaker, I connected with Erica Wood, SVCF’s chief community impact officer, to ask a few questions.

What inspired you to collaborate with Silicon Valley Leadership Group on this particular study? 

Both organizations share a commitment to having a comprehensive, data-driven strategy that supports Silicon Valley’s competitive advantages while also making it one of the world’s best places to work and live. We saw value in a strategic partnership to combine our institutional strengths to achieve these important goals.

What is the best way to apply the data collected in this study on a practical and local level?

One of the best ways to use this data is to support smart public-policy and advocacy decisions. This report highlights regional strengths as well as opportunities to further prosperity in Silicon Valley. We have also linked those findings with recommendations for public policy action at the local, state and even federal level, providing decision makers with the information to reinforce and enhance the region’s competitive advantages, while ensuring all residents can benefit from the region’s prosperity.

Who would benefit the most from reviewing the data collected in this study? 

Some of the stakeholders who benefit most from reviewing this report include:

  • State and federal legislators
  • Local elected leaders
  • County and city administrators
  • Educators
  • Community decision-makers
  • Business leaders
  • Anyone else concerned about maintaining Silicon Valley’s advantages in competitiveness and innovation.

Based on the results of the study, STEM education, early childhood education, and affordable housing are huge local issues. How will SVCF respond to these findings as a community foundation? 

These are huge issues and SVCF is proud of the work it is doing to address challenges related to early childhood education, STEM education and affordable housing at the local level. But more needs to be done, and these challenges cannot be addressed by a single city or county alone. State-level policy action is required. As a community foundation, SVCF can and does engage in public policy and sees this as a powerful way to effect positive change. The Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project is one of the tools we use to inform our policy agenda. As part of this agenda, we intend to advance two major legislative efforts over the next several years to address the housing affordability crisis and to make early learning a budget and policy priority in California.

Do you anticipate allocating more grant funding in these three areas based upon these findings?

SVCF is already making considerable investments in the areas of STEM education, early childhood education and affordable housing through our discretionary grantmaking programs and those investments will continue through this year. We have also announced a process to conduct a strategic review of our discretionary grantmaking programs that will begin this year and be carried out through 2017. During this process, SVCF will solicit community input, review evaluation data and other reports, such as the 2016 SVCIP Update, to help inform our future grantmaking priorities.

Is SVCF involved in any other research project collaborations at this time? If so, can you share any details about them?

Leading research to identify and address some of our communities’ most challenging problems is one of SVCF’s greatest tools. One example includes SVCF’s current research collaboration with the California Budget & Policy Center to document and address the problem of income inequality in Silicon Valley. The partnership arose out of SVCF's concern that there was more to the story about living and working in Silicon Valley than the economic success heralded in the media— especially for low-income and underserved individuals. Leveraging the Budget Center's expertise in economic analysis, the report will document the growing problem of economic inequality in our region. Moreover, it will use the findings to provide data-based public policy recommendations to increase prosperity opportunities for all of Silicon Valley's residents. We look forward to providing updates when the report is released, within the next couple of months.

Another example is SVCF’s current collaboration working with an innovative online news reporting platform, Water Deeply, to understand and raise awareness about Silicon Valley’s experience during the California drought. You can read the first story here. A new approach to our research and informing on our findings, the Water Deeply collaboration offers the opportunity to leverage their readership to advance awareness and education about our research findings.

To learn more about local trends and needs, you can read a full copy of the Silicon Valley Competitive and Innovation Project 2016 Update report on the collaborative group’s website.