The first published use of Silicon Valley is credited to Don Hoefler, a friend of local entrepreneur Ralph Vaerst’s who suggested the phrase to him. Hoefler used the phrase as the title of a series of articles in the weekly trade newspaper Electronic News. The series, titled “Silicon Valley in the USA”, began in the paper’s January 11, 1971, issue. The term gained widespread use in the early 1980s, at the time of the introduction of the IBM PC and numerous related hardware and software products to the consumer market. The silicon part of the name refers to the high concentration of companies involved in the making of semiconductors (silicon is used to create most semiconductors commercially) and computer industries that were concentrated in the area. These firms slowly replaced the orchards and the fruits which gave the area its initial nickname—the “Valley of Heart’s Delight”.
Commercial use of the Internet became practical and grew slowly throughout the early 1990s. In 1995, commercial use of the Internet grew substantially and the initial wave of internet startups, Amazon.com, eBay, and the predecessor to Craigslist began operations.
Silicon Valley is generally considered to have been the center of the dot-com bubble, which started in the mid-1990s and collapsed after the NASDAQ stock market began to decline dramatically in April 2000. During the bubble era, real estate prices reached unprecedented levels. For a brief time, Sand Hill Road was home to the most expensive commercial real estate in the world, and the booming economy resulted in severe traffic congestion.
After the dot-com crash, Silicon Valley continues to maintain its status as one of the top research and development centers in the world. A 2006 The Wall Street Journal story found that 12 of the 20 most inventive towns in America were in California, and 10 of those were in Silicon Valley. San Jose led the list with 3,867 utility patents filed in 2005, and number two was Sunnyvale, at 1,881 utility patents. Silicon Valley is also home to a significant number of “Unicorn” ventures, referring to startup companies whose valuation has exceeded $1 billion dollars.
Silicon Valley has a social and business ethos that supports innovation and entrepreneurship. Attempts to create “Silicon Valleys” in environments where disruptive innovation does not go over well have a poor track record.
According to a 2008 study by AeA in 2006, Silicon Valley was the third largest high-tech center (cybercity) in the United States, behind the New York metropolitan area and Washington metropolitan area, with 225,300 high-tech jobs. The Bay Area as a whole however, of which Silicon Valley is a part, would rank first with 387,000 high-tech jobs. Silicon Valley has the highest concentration of high-tech workers of any metropolitan area, with 285.9 out of every 1,000 private-sector workers. Silicon Valley has the highest average high-tech salary at $144,800. Largely a result of the high technology sector, the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area has the most millionaires and the most billionaires in the United States per capita.
The region is the biggest high-tech manufacturing center in the United States. The unemployment rate of the region was 9.4% in January 2009, up from 7.8% in the previous month. Silicon Valley received 41% of all U.S. venture investment in 2011, and 46% in 2012. More traditional industries also recognize the potential of high-tech development, and several car manufacturers have opened offices in Silicon Valley to capitalize on its entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Manufacture of transistors is, or was, the core industry in Silicon Valley. The production workforce was for the most part composed of Asian and Latina immigrants who were paid low wages and worked in hazardous conditions due to the chemicals used in the manufacture of integrated circuits. Technical, engineering, design, and administrative staffs were in large part well compensated.
Silicon Valley has a severe housing shortage, caused by the market imbalance between jobs created and housing units built: from 2010 to 2015, many more jobs have been created than housing units built. (400,000 jobs, 60,000 housing units) This shortage has driven home prices extremely high, far out of the range of production workers. As of 2016 a two-bedroom apartment rented for about $2,500 while the median home price was about $1 million. The Financial Post called Silicon Valley the most expensive U.S. housing region. Homelessness is a problem with housing beyond the reach of middle-income residents; there is little shelter space other than in San Jose which, as of 2015, was making an effort to develop shelters by renovating old hotels.
Although the Financial District, Union Square, and Fisherman’s Wharf are well-known around the world, San Francisco is also characterized by its numerous culturally rich streetscapes featuring mixed-use neighborhoods anchored around central commercial corridors to which residents and visitors alike can walk. Because of these characteristics, San Francisco is ranked the second “most walkable” city in the United States by Walkscore.com. Many neighborhoods feature a mix of businesses, restaurants and venues that cater to both the daily needs of local residents while also serving many visitors and tourists. Some neighborhoods are dotted with boutiques, cafés and nightlife such as Union Street in Cow Hollow, 24th Street in Noe Valley, Valencia Street in the Mission, Grant Avenue in North Beach, and Irving Street in the Inner Sunset. This approach especially has influenced the continuing South of Market neighborhood redevelopment with businesses and neighborhood services rising alongside high-rise residences.
Since the 1990s, the demand for skilled information technology workers from local startups and nearby Silicon Valley has attracted white-collar workers from all over the world and created a high standard of living in San Francisco. Many neighborhoods that were once blue-collar, middle, and lower class have been gentrifying, as many of the city’s traditional business and industrial districts have experienced a renaissance driven by the redevelopment of the Embarcadero, including the neighborhoods South Beach and Mission Bay. The city’s property values and household income have risen to among the highest in the nation, creating a large and upscale restaurant, retail, and entertainment scene. According to a 2014 quality of life survey of global cities, San Francisco has the highest quality of living of any U.S. city. However, due to the exceptionally high cost of living, many of the city’s middle and lower-class families have been leaving the city for the outer suburbs of the Bay Area, or for California’s Central Valley. By June 2, 2015, the median rent was reported to be as high as $4,225. The high cost of living is due in part to restrictive planning laws which limit new residential construction.
The international character that San Francisco has enjoyed since its founding is continued today by large numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America. With 39% of its residents born overseas, San Francisco has numerous neighborhoods filled with businesses and civic institutions catering to new arrivals. In particular, the arrival of many ethnic Chinese, which accelerated beginning in the 1970s, has complemented the long-established community historically based in Chinatown throughout the city and has transformed the annual Chinese New Year Parade into the largest event of its kind outside China.
With the arrival of the “beat” writers and artists of the 1950s and societal changes culminating in the Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury district during the 1960s, San Francisco became a center of liberal activism and of the counterculture that arose at that time. The Democrats and to a lesser extent the Green Party have dominated city politics since the late 1970s, after the last serious Republican challenger for city office lost the 1975 mayoral election by a narrow margin. San Francisco has not voted more than 20% for a Republican presidential or senatorial candidate since 1988. In 2007, the city expanded its Medicaid and other indigent medical programs into the “Healthy San Francisco” program, which subsidizes certain medical services for eligible residents.
San Francisco also has had a very active environmental community. Starting with the founding of the Sierra Club in 1892 to the establishment of the non-profit Friends of the Urban Forest in 1981, San Francisco has been at the forefront of many global discussions regarding our natural environment. The 1980 San Francisco Recycling Program was one of the earliest curbside recycling programs. The city’s GoSolarSF incentive promotes solar installations and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is rolling out the CleanPowerSF program to sell electricity from local renewable sources. SF Greasecycle is a program to recycle used cooking oil for conversion to biodiesel.
The Sunset Reservoir Solar Project, completed in 2010, installed 24,000 solar panels on the roof of the reservoir. The 5-megawatt plant more than tripled the city’s 2-megawatt solar generation capacity when it opened in December 2010.