Why California is key for Trump to keep promises on jobs

Donald Trump visits a Carrier factory in Indianapolis on Dec. 1. He vows to add 25 million jobs in the next decade.
Donald Trump visits a Carrier factory in Indianapolis on Dec. 1. He vows to add 25 million jobs in the next decade. The Associated Press

As Donald Trump becomes our 45th president Friday, he promises to be “the greatest job producer that God ever created.”

We suspect most Americans would be satisfied if he’s just a very good one. To do that, he must appreciate the importance of California as a job-creating engine and put together his economic strategy accordingly.

California’s economy, the world’s sixth-largest, has generated more than 1.7 million additional private-sector jobs since January 2009, 15 percent of the U.S. total. Trump says he’ll boost the U.S. economy so much that it will add 25 million new jobs over the next decade.

To come anywhere close, Trump needs to work with Silicon Valley, a global leader in the innovation economy. After a rocky relationship during the campaign, Trump met with high-tech CEOs last month and pledged, “We’re going to be there for you.”

A good start would be to follow advice from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which urges the Trump team to focus on workforce training in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and autonomous vehicles.

Also, Trump must be careful that his crusade for fairer trade doesn’t turn into a trade war. He should not pretend that globalization doesn’t exist.

California’s economy depends heavily on exports, $165 billion in 2015, about 11 percent of the U.S. total and second behind only Texas, whose main export is oil. Farmers in the Central Valley, workers at the ports of Oakland and Los Angeles, and executives in Silicon Valley and Hollywood all have ample reason for concern with Trump’s saber-rattling, aimed especially at China and Mexico.

Mexico is California’s biggest trading partner, with $27 billion in exports in 2015, about 16 percent of the state total. China is third-largest with more than $14 billion. A trade war with either would be devastating, killing jobs and raising prices for consumers. Besides, it turns out that some of the jobs Trump promised to bring back are returning thanks to Chinese and Mexican companies. In all, more than 6 million Americans are employed by foreign-owned firms.

Trump bashes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but one selling point is its stronger protections for intellectual property, crucial for Hollywood and Silicon Valley. If Trump does one-on-one trade deals with nations in Asia and elsewhere, he must insist on those provisions, as well as labor and environmental safeguards.

The new president must also look out for workers at home. He threatens 35 percent tariffs against U.S. companies that move jobs overseas, but says he has no problem if plants move from one state to another. An exodus to lower-cost, nonunion states will drive down wages, which should not be the goal of a president who promises to help forgotten American workers.

Depending on the details of what’s approved, California could gain defense industry jobs from Trump’s call for a major military buildup, and construction jobs from his infrastructure plan to use $137 billion in tax credits to stimulate $1 billion in spending over 10 years.

Already, Trump is taking credit, deserved or not, for announcements of additional jobs. Some companies appear to be seeking favor from the new president, or trying to avoid criticism from Trump that has pummeled stock prices.

Shaming and coercing corporate CEOs may work sometimes, but it’s not a long-term strategy for job growth. It doesn’t address economic trends, including automation, which could drastically cut the need for whole categories of blue-collar jobs.

As much as Trump vows to bring back old-line manufacturing jobs, it’s unrealistic. He needs to look to the future to clean energy and other emerging industries, which are much more likely to create jobs to expand America’s middle class.

California is leading the way toward that new economy. If Trump wants to be even a decent job producer, he should help the state flourish and learn from its successes, not get in its way.