One should never read too much into a single, relatively small event, but Roger Philips' story today about a San Francisco furniture designer moving from the Mission District to downtown Stockton is worth reading.
Everybody is so impressed with Silicon Valley that far-fetched hopes for the tech industry often dominate economic development talk. But the best assets of Stockton, proximity to Bay Area markets with relatively low real estate costs, are not that important to tech industries who aren't sensitive to rents and sell to a global market. The tech industry has moved up the peninsula to even more expensive San Francisco. Much of the attraction is the art and cultural attractions of the City, and there is much concern in SF that the tech workers are damaging the City's cultural fabric as they drive rents into the stratosphere.
I have long thought Stockton should focus its economic development on artists (broadly defined to include craftspeople, musicians, etc.), since they are more likely to be attracted to what the city has to offer. They are sensitive to rents, and value access to the Bay Area market but do not necessarily have to live and work there every day. Stockton's history, diversity, and urban environment can also be a plus.
These type of moves don't bring the number of jobs or millions in investment of the big corporate projects typically targeted. But they can make positive changes to the culture and identity of the city, and that will help attract higher-paying, higher-skill employers and workers down the road.
So are these designers the start of a wave or just a small blip? I don't know, but Stockton's economic developers should do what they can to promote this scenario and build some momentum.