Tech heavyweights Elon Musk and Marc Benioff recently shared their love for San Francisco in a July 29 Twitter exchange.
“San Francisco, beautiful San Francisco, though others forsake you, we will always be your friend,” Musk tweeted, defending his decision to keep Twitter/X’s headquarters in the city.
Musk’s tweet came just two years after he loudly announced his self-driving car company, Tesla, would be moving its headquarters from San Francisco to Austin. Now, after acquiring SF-based Twitter, Musk made yet another about-face and announced his plans to pull Tesla HQ back to Silicon Valley.
Musk is one of many people who have jumped back onto the bandwagon that is San Francisco. People are still moving to the city, in spite of doom loop narratives. Tech workers are being forced back into office, while those riding the generative AI wave are flocking to “Cerebral Valley” for networking events, incubator programs and the sheer excitement of building in a tech-forward city.
“There's something really special about San Francisco with, for better or for worse, the density of it and the singularity around the industry,” said Rachel Weissman, a tech founder who recently moved back to the city after three years away. “It really allows you to meet people serendipitously.”
San Francisco saw the second-biggest worker population gain of any area in the U.S., according to LinkedIn mobility data from January. For every 100,000 LinkedIn users, 83 moved to San Francisco in 2022. Though more up-to-date migration data is hard to come by, some in the tech industry are at least anecdotally saying it feels like San Francisco is bouncing back.
“It’s not as hustle-and-bustle as before, but especially in the last few months, if you’re building in AI, you’ve moved back here,” Weissman said.
Here’s why three different people are moving to San Francisco this year.
Weissman had no hard feelings against San Francisco when she left in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Weissman left to become a digital nomad, and ended up spending time in Los Angeles.
A former artificial intelligence worker at Salesforce, Weissman today runs a soon-to-be-announced startup: Potential AI. An April visit to San Francisco revealed how quickly the artificial intelligence and startup scene was growing in the city—an experience so profound she said it brought her to tears and spurred her recent move back to the city.
“It wasn’t like, ‘I’m done with SF!’” Weissman said of her 2020 move. “I never thought I was going to leave—but I also never thought I’d come back. People are feeling this pull to come back to the Bay.”
Practically everyone is talking about artificial intelligence in San Francisco. Mayor London Breed has in recent months pegged her hopes on the new technology, banking on AI to lure workers to the city and fill empty office space piling up in Downtown SF.
But some have blamed the transient nature of the tech industry for the city’s empty Downtown and economic woes: When the pandemic raged on, remote techies left. Now that AI is hot again, they’ve returned. Yet Weissman says it’s always felt like part of the Bay Area’s character.
“Given that the primary pull for most people to come here is rooted in career, it’s similar to New York: San Francisco is a very transient city,” Weissman said. “People come and once they’ve accomplished or achieved something they’ve wanted to do, they leave—unless they’ve fallen in love with the Bay itself.”
The tech industry is precisely why founder Saumil Patel is transporting his company from Canada all the way to San Francisco in October. Patel, along with co-founders Brandon Waselnuk and Karl Clement, operate AI-based company EchoLayer.
“Statistically speaking, you can see that startups in San Francisco are more likely to succeed,” Patel said. “One of those reasons is the network, being able to attend all the events. There’s a lot more progress that happens when you’re in that environment—and it’s almost not visible to you unless you’re there.”
Many in the tech industry—ranging from early-seed startups all the way up to Big Tech companies—have recently touted the benefits of in-person work. Tech companies started a wave of return-to-office requirements this year, and Downtown San Francisco has seen a slow but promising recovery in its most recent return-to-office statistics.
“Our quickly growing customer base is mostly in the Bay Area, and being able to sit down with these infrastructure engineers and discuss their challenges helps," Patel said. "It just helps us move a lot faster.”
Still, both Weissman and Patel emphasize that the Bay Area’s unique intellectual community is what sets it apart from other tech hubs like Austin or Miami.
“Obviously, we got an office in Hayes Valley, or maybe I should call it Cerebral Valley,” Patel said. “Being in that area and working with all the other people that are pursuing a very similar kind of journey down this path—we want to be in that community, soak up all that knowledge and learn from each other.”
Though the tech industry is buzzing about AI, other people are not so sure if it can pull San Francisco out of its slump—particularly with its ongoing challenges surrounding housing affordability, drug use and homelessness.
Jaclyn Siegel is a social psychologist at a University of Chicago research lab. With her engineer partner, Siegel is moving from San Diego to San Francisco in September for her partner’s new East Bay-based position.
“We always knew San Francisco was a place we might end up, but I’m feeling very mixed,” Siegel said. “A lot of the stereotypes and stories that you hear about San Francisco are very accurate about London, Ontario, Canada,” Siegel said, referring to Ontario's struggles with open drug use and homelessness. Siegel previously lived in Canada.
Yet Siegel said people have reacted to the news of her move with condolences or pity, seemingly as a result of the negative stereotypes plaguing San Francisco. Though she hadn’t heard of the infamous “doom loop” phrase, Siegel said stereotypes about the city’s safety and economic woes have dampened some of her excitement about moving.
“When I tell people I'm moving to San Francisco, everyone sort of has the same response: ‘It's so shitty in San Francisco; it's just gone totally downhill; as a young woman, how are you going to go there?’” Siegel said. “And I do wonder how much of it is just people feeling uncomfortable with seeing visible drug use and homelessness, and how much of it is actually safety?”
Still, Siegel said questions about affordability, public safety, transportation and commuting have complicated her and her partner’s ability to find housing.
“We’re looking for a new apartment, trying to figure out where on earth we’re going to live,” Siegel said. “Conversations about safety have been coming up a lot … but we are very fortunate to have good jobs so we can afford to live in San Francisco.”
Weissman, for example, chose her current home in Pacific Heights because she felt safety issues worsened during the pandemic, and she wanted a more residential neighborhood.
Though both Weissman and Patel have taken stock of all the negative coverage battering San Francisco, both say they’re just looking forward to the opportunity to enjoy San Francisco’s particular charms.
“From a news perspective, it definitely is a little daunting, especially if you don't visit the city often and you're just at an arm's length,” Patel said. “I'm looking forward to having better weather, being outdoors more often and just being among my people.”
“I’m really grateful for the trees—the redwoods are so humbling and so inspiring,” Weissman said. “San Francisco is very much a hub of innovation on a lot of levels, and so it's cool to be in the center and feed off of that energy.”
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