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May 30, 2008


Two faces of SF

When I was growing up, my father had a career in mind for me.

Let me put this in context. My father was weird. He also traveled a lot. And he enjoyed the company of attractive women who tended to his creature comforts.

He wanted me to be a stewardess.

He never understood why I didn’t want to be. And I never had the heart to explain it to him. But when I see articles like the one in today’s Chronicle, I remember my father’s dreams for his daughter.

The Chronicle jubilantly reported that even though the American economy is gasping, San Francisco has been attracting record numbers of visitors who are happy to spend big bucks in its shops and restaurants and hotels — $8.2 billion of them. The weak dollar plays a part — more than 10 percent of these tourists are from overseas — but most of these people have traveled here from other parts of the United States.

Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, recited what has become a familiar mantra in recent years:

Tourism continues to be San Francisco’s most vital industry.

The city knows how to sell itself. D’Alessandro added,

Thanks to (Mayor) Gavin Newsom and (City Attorney) Dennis Herrera (who argued in favor of same-sex marriage rights) and the California Supreme Court making sure that San Francisco will become the wedding capital of the nation — for everybody.

The Visitors Bureau is doing its bit, by spending “$1000,000 on marketing to gay, lesbian and transgender tourists.”

That’s on top of the $1.1 million that it spends (out of a $15 million marketing budget) on its “Taste S.F.” campaign, designed to remind the world that San Francisco is a “foodie destination.”

Food and romance. Can you say, “Coffee, tea, or milk?”

Now take a look at a description of the entire Bay Area — not simply the City by the Bay — found in a recent report called “Sustaining the Bay Area’s Competitiveness in a Globalizing World,” prepared by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute:

The Bay Area has a productive economy that draws on the talents of a well-educated workforce in one of the most dynamic urban centers in the world. World-class research universities, a vibrant technology and venture capital community in Silicon Valley, and the financial and commercial strengths of the region’s cities combine with the area’s natural beauty and mild climate to form an attractive environment for developing people, businesses, and industries. Bay Area universities receive a substantial share of the United States’ research funds, and the students educated in these schools often go on to develop successful companies that help build industries in biotechnology, software, Internet services and other sectors. In addition to the region’s traditional strengths in these sectors, opportunities are growing in digital media, nanotechnology, and clean energy technologies.

I realize that in times of economic turbulence, we should be grateful for any boost we can get. But tourists come and go. A well-educated and well-appreciated workforce goes on forever.

It’s partly a matter of image management. But only partly. It’s also a matter of how we see ourselves. Tell me truthfully, which place would you prefer to live in — one with yummy food or a productive economy? A theme park or a world-class city?

Thanks for reading. I’m outta here till Tuesday.

        — Copyright Betsey Culp 2008