Demystifying the San Francisco Economy’s Little Known Catalyst

What do a $3 billion stem cell research headquarters, Consumer Report’s 2014 “Best U.S. Airline,” and the nation’s most attended solar exhibition all have in common? The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Virgin America, and Intersolar North America — and the millions of dollars in economic activity that they generate in thisĀ region — may very well have called other locales their home if it had not been for the “behind the scenes” efforts of the San Francisco Center for Economic Development (SFCED).

On the face of it, economic development may not be the most tantalizing of subjects, nor its complexities the most straightforward, but it is consistently credited with being among the most critical elements of a prosperous city — a characterization San Francisco can confidently claim of itself.

That’s why I’m shedding well-deserved light on the SFCED with the hope that, as we better understand its role and the value of the economic development it brings to the Bay Area, we continue to utilize this important resource to enhance our local economy even further.

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Some quick background: The SFCED is a department within the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Foundation and exclusively focuses on helping businesses locate to and expand within the Bay Area. The SFCED works collaboratively with an array of organizations, including the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, to pave the way for businesses to succeed in what we know to beĀ  one of the world’s greatest cities.

According to SFCED Executive Director Dennis Conaghan, “Our team provides a one-stop shop to help businesses establish themselves and thrive in the San Francisco Bay Area.” Indeed, the SFCED confidentially provides free, comprehensive advice and fast-track information, expertise, contacts, and support, aiding businesses in location decisions and navigating governmental organizations and incentives.

Free service – sounds like a pretty good deal. But you may be asking: Aside from the examples above, what kind of job is the SFCED doing?

Earlier this month, Conaghan accepted seven awards on behalf of San Francisco and the SFCED from fDi Magazine, a publication of the Financial Times, which recognizes “American Cities of the Future.” The awards, which were bestowed on Conaghan at the International Economic Development Council’s 2015 conference in Anchorage, honored San Francisco as:

  • The Best City for Economic Development

  • The No. 2 North American City – Overall (U.S. and Canada)

  • Top 10 Major Cities for fDi strategy

And as the runner up for:

  • American Cities Overall

  • Major Cities Overall

  • Best for Connectivity

  • Best for Human Capital and Lifestyle

According to fDi Magazine, “San Francisco, which finished second in the overall ranking, has seen inward foreign direct investment projects increase by 150 percent between 2010 and 2014.” It also notes, “San Francisco is an innovative place, where more than 26,000 patents were created between 2003 and 2013, with 80 percent growth being recorded between 2010 and 2015.”

I think it’s more than fair to say that Dennis and his SFCED team are doing excellent work stimulating the local economy through economic development. However, according to Dennis, “Recruiting companies to SF is highly competitive, so time is always very much of the essence,” which explains why the SFCED isn’t basking in the shine of these impressive awards, but rather launching initiatives to focus on key growth areas.

Through collaboration with the Office of Mayor Ed Lee and his Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the SFCED manages initiatives to enhance inward investment from key regions across the globe, including ChinaSF, SFAsia, and LatinSF.

Additionally, the SFCED has launched the Fashion Incubator that strives to transform creative fashion apparel designers into successful San Francisco entrepreneurs, and the Spaces for Growth project that works to identify the up-and-coming hot-spots for the expansion of technology companies in San Francisco. They have also launched the Innovation Hub (iHub), an initiative of the governor’s Office of Business & Economic Development (GO-Biz), designed to enhance California’s national and global competitiveness by stimulating partnerships, economic development, and job creation around specific research clusters.

We really only highlighted a handful of the many projects and initiatives the SFCED has underway, but with a new appreciation for economic development and the important contributions of the SFCED, I encourage you to learn more at

How We See It




Bob Linscheid is the President & CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.