Economic Opportunity and Entrepreneurship

The question of job quality and economic opportunity is central to the People’s Plan for San Bernardino. For too long, the leadership has neglected the needs of the residents who live, work, or go to school in the city. Specifically, we have seen the unstructured growth of the goods movement sector (logistics and warehousing), which represents a group of employers that have tended not to provide a living wage. San Bernardino is a terminal for BNSF Railyard, Amazon air, and several trucking lines, making it an extremely valuable part of the goods movement sector which moves $500 billion in freight through the region every year.

The Just SB coalition surveyed 4223 people who live, work, or attend school in the city of San Bernardino.

This survey asked basic questions about employment, wages and conditions as well as more detailed questions about what residents wanted from their local economy. In addition, the Just SB coalition and Warehouse Worker Resource Center also conducted two focus groups with San Bernardino residents in Fall 2021. The WWRC also held individual interviews with residents around the issues of economic growth and opportunity. These residents are members of the community who showed interest in specific issues and aspects of the local San Bernardino economy.

    Limited Employment and Low Quality Jobs

    This section details the findings of the Just SB People’s Plan process related to the job quality and economic development opportunities of the city and region, including warehousing, one of the dominant sectors of the local economy.

    Our analysis of the employment status of San Bernardino residents shows that 20% of the people we spoke to are unemployed. This rate is highest among women and people of color. It’s consistent across age groups, with working-age people generally unemployed at a rate of 25%. People with lower rates of education tended to have higher rates of unemployment.

    Related to the low quality of jobs is the lack of options for other kinds of employment in the region. Focus group participants noted that it is hard to find job opportunities in other sectors of the economy. Related to this is a concern for people who have trouble finding employment for a variety of reasons. Other sections of this report detail aspects of this specific issue. For example, people with history related to the justice system (formerly incarcerated individuals) faced significant challenges finding opportunities for employment. Others faced limited choices due to hiring discrimination based on race, sex, age and other factors. Together, these factors create significant barriers for people seeking employment.

    Residents interviewed noted the lack of opportunities for people without higher education. The data from the larger community survey also affirms that the lack of higher education is a barrier to employment. People pointed to several potential solutions, including more job opportunities for people without higher education and more access to education and technical training for those who seek it. Such training programs would have to fit into the needs of people who require job placement support and other employment services. One resident linked the lack of employment opportunity to negative impacts in the community. This resident, who works in a warehouse in the region, stated that “there is a lot of crime in the city, drugs and homelessness due to the lack of good jobs that pay a liveable wage and provide benefits.” This resident received no vacation time, no health insurance, or any other employer provided benefits. ”If I don’t work, I don’t make any money.”

    The warehousing and logistics sector, which according to the state employment development department pays an average of $19.67 per hour in the Riverside-San Bernardino Metropolitan Statistical Region, is the largest sector among people interviewed.

    Cost of Living and Housing

    Another related area is housing. The minimum wage in California for an employer with more than 26 employees is now $15/hr. However, the cost of living, including housing in the region, is quickly rising. One interviewee explained that “it takes at least $25 an hour to be able to have the basics in San Bernardino; lights, rent and food are all increasing and it is continuously getting harder to be able to afford rent.”

    The findings of these interviews and focus groups added nuance and detail to the issues that were raised by survey respondents. Workers who had been employed in the warehouse sector noted that while it is the easiest place to find employment, it is also a site of potential exploitation and job insecurity. Workers noted that some warehouses don’t pay overtime as required by law. This issue has also been documented in wage claims and litigation within the region in recent years. Other workers discussed facing discrimination related to gender and race. And others noted the dangerous conditions for workers. A resident who is in her 50s noted that she worries about getting injured while on the job at a warehouse.

    A New Approach to Economic Development

    The City’s economy requires a new approach to economic development. We suggest that the city should approach this through the following strategies:

      • Comprehensive Community Based Planning
        Currently, the city is engaged in a once-in-a-generation revision of its general plan as well as specific area plans. This includes a review of land use, housing opportunities and economic development for the entire city. The city needs to ensure the principles of inclusion and economic opportunity are centered in the process, and that longtime Black, Latino and Indigenous communities are protected from potential displacement.


      • Employment Access
        Other chapters of this report detail the need for more opportunities for people who have historically been excluded from the economy including formerly incarcerated people. Several of the interviewees and focus group participants raised the need for economic opportunities as the way to comprehensively address the issues of crime and homelessness in the city. We see these relationships across issues as key to a comprehensive approach to the related and complex problems in the city.


      • Diversified Economic Development Strategies
        While goods movement is, and will continue to be, a major part of the city’s economic development, there is a need for a variety of opportunities for San Bernardino residents who want to work in the city where they live. A strategy for working class jobs that provide a living wage would involve partnering with local universities and colleges, union apprenticeship programs and job training programs. Programs for local residents, through either the city or community based organizations, should prioritize low income residents who want but cannot find employment, including those with barriers to employment related to their past experiences with the justice system.


      • High Road Training and Employment Programs
        The sectors of the economy that have been growing include goods movement and health care. These two sectors have highly diverse working conditions ranging from minimum wage temporary jobs, to unionized blue collar employment, as well as highly technical jobs requiring high levels of education. The City should work with labor and workforce development partners to develop strategies to upskill and train workers in these industries in order to raise the standard of living for those at the lowest levels. The city should provide career paths for workers in this sector, as well as mid career training programs that help workers move up to higher paying technical positions in their sectors. The logistics and health care sectors are examples of greatly profitable sectors with major employers that can and should set standards for good wages and working conditions.


      • Entrepreneurship and Job Opportunities
        Given the massive amount of interest in entrepreneurship in the City of San Bernardino, supporting residents’ desires to start their own businesses would create new economic engines that are rooted in San Bernardino rather than in investments from beyond the region. The City should establish and increase entrepreneurship training for residents. Programs that currently exist should be expanded and focused on sectors critical to growing middle class opportunities in the city. The new CSUSB School of Entrepreneurship and its related Small Business Development Center represents a great opportunity to build cohorts of businesses rooted in local innovation.

      The key question for people interested in starting a business is; how to access capital? The existing systems through the Small Business Administration (SBA) are limited and require significant amounts of capital. Programs like the Community Reinvestment Coalition’s Community Benefits Plans in partnership with major banks in California, designed to address the decades of disinvestment in cities like San Bernardino, represent the kind of opportunity that the City should be facilitating for its local entrepreneurs.