Soldering not software: Why Governor Newsom must rediscover California manufacturing

By Bart Taylor | Jan 09, 2019

The popular narrative as Gavin Newsom ascends to lead California is that the worst is ahead, that a laundry list of challenges will develop into full-blown crisis, a red-hot economy will cool, and campaign promises will bankrupt the state and sabotage his tenure.

That's just the start. Has any newly elected official suffered from such stilted expectations?

Governor Newsom will be wise to focus on those things he can control, and despite naysayers, California's still an economic beast, a bellwether by any estimate. The pieces are in place for Newsom to do great things. If he can pull the right levers, California can be ground zero for an authentic populist economic movement.

This includes the prospect of California's wide and deep manufacturing economy catalyzing a period of growth, of innovation and expansion. Consider:

  • California manufacturing is today on the front lines of national trends transforming the sector, from consumer-driven growth in new and dynamic industries, to innovation that's keeping more work in the U.S. It's a sector today alive with possibilities, across multiple industries.
  • Its innovators are young entrepreneurs who value where things are made, and by whom, across multiple high-growth industries. Maker industries like natural food, craft brewing and distilling, and cannabis are shaping a regional and national tsunami of new products. Brands in outdoor industry prefer to keep production here, if possible, or bring it home.
  • Manufacturing has always been an R&D catalyst, and California's R&D ecosystem leads the nation. Yes, software development and medical research and programming brilliance are California calling cards. But so are e-vehicles and advanced robotics. The walls between design, engineering, and manufacturing are tumbling down. We're finished designing products with no preference as to where they'll be manufactured. It follows that products engineered and designed in California should be manufactured here.
  • The state's agricultural and energy assets provide the basis for a new era of rural redevelopment -- and manufacturing's at the center of plans. Ag-tech is a spectrum of products made in California that enable and fuel growth in California food brands, in food manufacturing, in R&D. The same closed-loop ecosystem drives energy and energy manufacturing.

Governor Newsom can be the first to connect the dots, to reimagine manufacturing and its role in California's future. In doing so, the state would emerge a model, not a punchline.

Here's hoping Mr. Newsom seizes the moment.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Contact him at