Jobs were dealt a blow last week when the Board of Supervisors voted to reject Planning Commission recommendations that would have approved the environmental documents for the 555 Washington St. residential development at the foot of the Transamerica Pyramid. But after five years and $6 million, the project’s developers were forced to walk away from the deal, which would have created hundreds of construction jobs while bringing additional housing and commerce downtown. Yet more opportunities remain for our city leaders to encourage job creation and grow the economy.
On Wednesday, the Budget and Finance Committee will vote on whether or not the Board should consider extending the biotech payroll tax exemption for four more years. Proposed by Supervisor Alioto-Pier, the measure extends the seven and one-half year payroll tax exclusion currently provided to qualifying biotech companies that begin operations in San Francisco until August, 2014. The extension will ensure that companies receive the benefit for the full seven and one-half year period and incentivize even more businesses to locate in San Francisco.
This exemption should be an easy decision for a city with more than 46,000 unemployed residents. According to estimates from the Controller’s Office, more than 2,200 life science jobs have been created since the incentive was made available in 2004, and these estimates don’t include companies like Chamber member FibroGen which located 250 employees in the city last fall. With every biotech position estimated to create another 1.3 jobs for waiters, janitors, accountants and other service-sector workers, this exemption is one of the best job-creating tools currently at the city’s disposal.
Biotech jobs bring many benefits and should be a priority for San Francisco. Biotech businesses employ workers of all skill-levels – from the scientists who make discoveries, to the sales and marketing professionals who sell them, to the lab technicians. Many of the City’s biotech businesses are committed to workforce development, working with the city and our community colleges to train and hire the next generation of biotech workers. And, we should not forget that the biotech industry generates $7.6 million annually for the city’s General Fund.
As one of the nation’s fastest growing and high-paying industries, we should be doing all that we can to retain and attract biotech companies – and jobs – to our city. The Chamber encourages the Budget and Finance Committee to bring the biotech payroll tax exemption to the full Board for a vote. San Francisco can’t afford to let these jobs go somewhere else.