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City staffer Margot Prado has a vision for Oakland’s manufacturing industry

How Margot Prado makes time to be a West Javanese dance instructor on top of acting as Senior Economic Development Specialist for the city of Oakland, co-chairing the $5 million Bay Area Regional Prosperity Plan and co-founding Oakland Makers, is one of life’s great mysteries.

Prado does the kind of work you may never have even fathomed existed, but after hearing about it, can’t imagine how you thought cities would have worked without people like her. She has to predict how the city’s industry and job sectors will change in interaction with demographic shifts and market forces, in order for the city to optimally support those changes five, ten, twenty years out. Zoning and land use decisions made by planners (like Prado used to be) and economic analysts (like Prado is today) determine not just how much the city will be able to prosper, but the way in which wealth will be distributed. Prado says that she believes “industrial and commercial land use represents the path to rebuilding the middle class.”

In a city beginning to attract the money-eyed gaze of condominium developers, Prado is one of few administrators defending the industrial use of places like West Oakland. To her mind, the land-use tradeoff is between an SF-commuting gentry or swaths of middle class, blue and green collar jobs.

“I do believe we need to increase our housing stock, of course, but there’s plenty of room for that elsewhere,” she says, “the infrastructure and facilities—the high-ceilings, the access to the waterfront and water flow, the truck accessibility—in West Oakland are optimal for the kind of advanced, high-tech manufacturing that’s growing.,”  Prado sees computer aided design, robotics, 3D printing, pre fab construction, artisanal food, and a whole host of products that have taken the place of steel and automobiles as important businesses to attract to West Oakland.

“Everyone thinks manufacturing is gone and we’re all working in the service and knowledge economy now, but the fact is we have a huge lack of skilled workers and this economy is going to depend on certain kinds of manufacturing that can’t be outsourced,” says Prado. She and Hiroko Kurihara, urban planner and founder of the 25th Street Collective, have organized a team of industrial artists, creative fabricators, architectural designers and “maker-force” institutions under the initiative Oakland Makers. The say that the plan is to usher in Oakland’s future as a manufacturing city winged by tech and artistry.

One of Oakland Makers’ projects has been to develop machine shop curriculum at Laney College and foster a pipeline between OUSD schools and those credential programs. “If we want the city to retain is working and middle class population we have to strategize what jobs will sustain them,” she said.

Prados’ work over the last twelve years has earned her co-chair of the Bay Area Regional Prosperity Plan, a working group funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The plan focuses on two, interconnected areas of work: (1) Economic Prosperity, towards which the group will define a regional approach for expanding economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income workers and administer over $1 million sub-grants for pilot projects, and (2) Housing the Workforce, an initiative to improve housing affordability near transit, while stabilizing low income neighborhoods as new investments raise property values, also culminating in more than $1 million in sub-grants.

“It’s kind of mind-boggling, a nine-county plan,” said Prado, but a plan for smart growth and more sustainable planning is sorely needed in the Bay Area. “We haven’t grown well, we’ve sprawled out and gentrification has not been bridled the way it can be.”

Liza Veale

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