Silicon Valley -- that ill-defined region that leads the world in technology in virtually all sectors of its economy -- is doing better than ever economically, with the exception of the infamous "dot-com bubble" of 2000, which became a bursting embarrassment.
But this time it's no bubble, Russell Hancock, president and CEO of the Joint Venture Silicon Valley, emphasized in introductory comments at a Feb. 4 "State of the Valley" conference in Santa Clara.
The 85-page Index, jam-packed with statistics and charts, was the star of the conference, attended by nearly 1,500 business, government and community leaders. Hancock introduced it with a string of economic and statistical superlatives. The valley's economic performance has exceeded anything that has occurred since he was recruited to head Joint Venture in 2003, following in the footsteps of former state Senator Becky Morgan, who headed Joint Venture for a decade. (See detailed report by Weekly reporter Gennady Sheyner.)
During his dozen years at the helm, Hancock has vastly expanded the nonprofit organization's outreach and impact, including his founding of the Index and conference in 1995. Along the way he, Joint Venture staff, consultants and board members have launched specific collaborative initiatives, such as:
Developing a "smart energy development zone";
An effort to turn El Camino Real into "grand boulevard" of "meaningful destinations";
A "Public Sector Climate Task Force" to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions;
An "economic development alliance" to promote the region and address needs of business;
A "wireless communications initiative" to create a "21st century communications infrastructure" for Silicon Valley.
Hancock credited the extent and quality of this year's Index to its principal author, Rachel Massaro, Joint Venture vice president and senior research associate, and consultant Stephen Levy of the Palo Alto-based Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy.
Hancock is himself rooted in Palo Alto (sometimes characterized as "the heart of Silicon Valley"), where he lives with his wife, Marguerite, and their three children.
A Harvard graduate in government, he received a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University. He was vice president of the Bay Area Council in the 1990s, helping push BART to the San Francisco International Airport. Fluent in Japanese, he then spearheaded the Shorenstein Forum for Asian-Pacific Studies at Stanford until he was tapped for the Joint Venture position. He has a busy lecture schedule, including visits to other regions and countries interested in creating a Joint Venture-type organization.
And he has a "second life," as a concert pianist currently with the local Saint Michael Trio, with violinist Daniel Cher and cellist Michel Flexer. A reviewer described the zest of their performance: "Deep, sonorous passages from the cello usher in a joyous, lyrical violin, as the piano shimmers like light bouncing off water."
He ducks that "heart of" comparison by describing Silicon Valley as a loosely defined region that includes all of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties plus parts of Alameda (including Oakland) and Santa Cruz (Scott's Valley) counties, encompassing 39 cities.
Should it include San Francsico, which also has burst with growth in the tech-related fields of innovation, investment and related areas? Yes, Hancock feels, while this year keeping the San Francisco statistics mostly separate. Silicon Valley also is creeping up the East Bay, even to Oakland: "Oakland is happening," Hancock noted, citing statistics.
"Silicon Valley isn't so much a place as a state of mind," Hancock summed up.
The statistics boil with good news, along with some perplexing hard news -- such as a huge disparity in incomes between men and women with college degrees and even moreso with graduate degrees. Hancock said the reasons for the disparity are unknown, but Joint Venture will be sponsoring forums on that topic later this year.
And there is the decades-old dilemma of growth and traffic, an imbalance between new office construction and transit and highways.
Yet the good news side of the ledger is astounding. In an area smaller than Rhode Island there are 3 million people, with 1.5 million in the workforce. If Silicon Valley were a state it would rank 33rd in population yet "the State of Silicon Valley, has generated 64,000 business establishments, and of those 46,000 … are start-ups. That's the kind of place this is.
"There's no other region in the United States that can claim numbers such as that."
The area's gross domestic product (GDP) is also huge: $217 billion a year, Hancock noted. "That is an extraordinary accomplishment. That is a large share of California's GDP and an outsize share of the nation's GDP. Certainly by our population and the size of our land mass if you worked it out per capita we would be sixth in the world, right behind Switzerland."
The region holds 13 percent of all patents of the country and more than 50 percent of all patents in California, and boasts "the most educated workforce in the entire country," with 47 percent of adult residents holding a college degree and 30 percent having multiple degrees, including graduate degrees. Silicon Valley is also the most diverse region in the nation, with 36 percent of the population born in another country and speaking another language than English in the home.
Yet Hancock's international-scale comparisons caught up with him at one point.
"We were the last country -- I'm sorry, the last region -- to succumb to the Great Recession in 2008. But like the rest of the country it caught up with us and 2009 was a very bad year. But in 2010 we were the first region to emerge out of the recession" and after a slow start began an upward surge, bursting not like a bubble but with more than 100,000 new jobs, despite pay discrepancies.