Manufacturing has traditionally been a critical part of California’s economy, but it needs to be renewed to create “the kinds of broad opportunity and prosperity that our state has always been about,” Kish Rajan, director of the California Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development, told an audience of elected officials, business people, educators and Martinez residents on Oct. 15. 

At the Manufacturing Matters forum sponsored by the East Bay Leadership Council and the Martinez Chamber of Commerce, Rajan and local leaders said Contra Costa County and the East Bay in general have a rich history of industrial uses that can be adapted for new industries, and a workforce that can be trained in the more technology-based manufacturing work.

At the Manufacturing Matters forum sponsored by the East Bay Leadership Council and the Martinez Chamber of Commerce, Rajan and local leaders said Contra Costa County and the East Bay in general have a rich history of industrial uses that can be adapted for new industries, and a workforce that can be trained in the more technology-based manufacturing work.

The Manufacturing Matters panel  discussed industry, the environment and workforce development specifically in the East Bay.

“Manufacturing is not the smokestack industry of the 19th century,” said Gary Craft, a consultant who worked on Contra Costa County’s Northern Waterfront Economic Initiative. “It’s changing. Advanced manufacturing and clean technology is making industry more efficient in its use of resources, energy and water consumption, with less of an environmental impact. We need to understand those changes and take advantage of them.

The Shell Martinez Refinery is one of the industries in Contra Costa’s northern waterfront that is changing and becoming cleaner, said Steve Lesher, the refinery’s public affairs manager. Shell’s proposed Greenhouse Gas Reduction Project, if approved, would take a energy-intensive unit offline and allow Shell to change its crude mix to reduce greenhouse gas emissions annually by 700,000 metric tons, the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road. The project would also save 1,000 gallons of water a minute.

Lesher noted that the Martinez facility’s greenhouse gas proposal is currently working through both Shell’s investment process and the county permitting process. Approvals, final scope and timeline for the work should occur some time in 2015.

“Those kinds of investments are made possible by the environment in which we live and the standards that you all hold us to,” Lesher said. He attributed Shell’s close relationship with the residential community surrounding it to making it “the best neighbor we can possibly be every single day.”

“We have a myriad of agencies that regulate us, through the EPA, the air district, the county, the city, the state lands commission. Our neighbors hold us accountable to such a high degree that I think we are better prepared for that regional scope.”

Rajan noted that Shell is celebrating its 100th year in Martinez next year, and said, “"They’ve always been a tremendous corporate partner, a wonderful neighbor here.

Rajan praised Shell’s greenhouse gas reduction proposal as a bold move that highlights what modern manufacturing means in California. "And now they too are intending on investing an enormous amount of money in renewing their operations to make them safer, to make them an even better neighbor -- although they’re a great neighbor now -- to reduce their consumption of energy and water, but to do it in a way that will allow them to produce the energy of the future," he continued.

The future needs of the world are changing, and Rajan said that the East Bay as a whole is in a position to fill many of those needs.

“As you look at the emergence of societies that are growing all around the world, there is insatiable demand – and there will be for the rest of our lifetime and our kids’ and our grandkids’  lifetime – insatiable demand for the fundamentals of what societies need – food, water, energy, health. They are looking to California for those goods and services.”

Stephen Baiter, Executive Director of the Contra Costa County Workforce Development Board, agreed that manufacturing is “pivotal” to the future of the county, but he noted that programs need to be put in place or enhanced to train the workers in the field.

 “There’s a lot of folks who are being left behind still in this economy and trying to find their way forward, so providing them the opportunity to upskill and become competitive” for industries like the Shell Martinez Refinery,” Baiter said.

Lesher, the public affairs manager of the refinery, said the company has already been helping to design curriculum to train future employees through the Process Technology and Electrical Technology programs at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg.

The very fact that Contra Costa and Alameda counties have traditions of manufacturing, along with agricultural lands and an educated p0pulation, will help it move into the future, all the panelists agreed. They also pointed to the robust research and development laboratories in the region run by both the UC system and private corporations as an incredible resource in capitalizing on future manufacturing growth.

“We have a tremendous legacy and tremendous capacity from an industrial perspective … that can be renewed and that can be repurposed in a 21st century context and put back to work to make manufacturing thrive and succeed in this region,” Rajan said. 

More About Shell Martinez

Martinez Refinery

Shell Martinez refines and markets gasoline and petroleum products under the Shell brand name throughout the west and northern midwest.