San Francisco Center for Economic Development
March 2011

Tourism Up Slightly—Repeat Visitors Love SF “Ambiance”

According to a report released at its March 22 industry outlook conference, the San Francisco Travel Association confirms that San Francisco hosted almost 16 million visitors last year—up 3 percent from 2009. Visitor spending increased 6.2% over last year, to $8.3 billion. A major positive: the high percentage of repeat visitors (74%), who reported loving the City's ambiance, atmosphere and scenic beauty, but who also pointed to homelessness and panhandling as major negatives.

The tourism industry generated $485 million in taxes for San Francisco, up 4 percent from 2009. Tourism supported 67,122 jobs in 2010, representing an annual payroll of $1.88 billion. That year saw an average of 126,931 visitors to San Francisco each day. Daily visitor spending, including that related to meeting and conventions, equated to $22.84 million.

“This data is good news after the economic challenges of the past few years,” said Joe D’Alessandro, San Francisco Travel president and CEO. “But we have a long way to go to return to and surpass the levels of years past.”

Among the things that will keep the momentum going is the arrival of International Pow Wow May 21-25. Known worldwide as the major marketplace for transacting inbound U.S. travel business, Pow Wow is expected to generate more than $350 million in tourism for San Francisco in the short term.



San Francisco unemployment rates dropped from 9.5 percent to 9.1 after last month's very slight increase. This is a departure from the past few months' as the trend has been showing consistent stability, but is now moving toward improvement. This compares with an unadjusted unemployment rate of 12.3 percent for California and 9.5 percent for the nation during the same period, both noticeable improvements from previous months. Other noteworthy counties' unemployment rates are 7.8 percent in Marin County and 8.3 percent in San Mateo County.

Bay Area Unadjusted Unemployment Rates, February 2011









Contra Costa












San Francisco




San Mateo




Santa Clara












*Lowest in State

Source: CAL-EDD
Historical Unemployment – San Francisco, CA, USA – Through January 2011
Source: Cal EDD, BLS

Commercial Real Estate

How’s the market? San Francisco currently has an overall market vacancy rate of 17%, the equivalent of 12 million square feet of empty space. This breaks down into approximately 7.2 million of Class A space, 4.5 million of Class B, and 1.5 million in the Sublet pool. Both January and February saw positive absorption, and increases in rental rates. According to CBRE, Fourth Quarter 2010 asking rates for Class A Financial District space were $32.35 per square foot, and South Financial District $32.76.

The recovery is beginning, as evidenced by the increase in rates, and increased demand in the South of Market area from the expanding technology/digital media sectors. Colliers International reports a 15% increase in rental rates during the last six months of 2010, and more than 20 tenants currently touring the South of Market area. Occupancy will tighten slowly over the next months, as there is little or no new construction activity.


San Francisco and Bay Area Housing Stats

After hitting a two-year low in January, the median price for San Francisco single-family resale homes increased 4.9% in February over January numbers. Year-over-year, however, the median price fell 7.2% to $645,000. Single-family home sales in the City totaled 116 in February, down from 145 in January. Condo sales were markedly better, coming in at 160 in February versus 130 in January 2011. Average days-on-market for single-family homes rose to 81 (from 69 in January) and dropped to 84 from 110 for condos/lofts/TICs, according to San Francisco Real Estate Trends.

In the nine-county Bay Area, home sales took their normal January plunge, but rose slightly from a year ago as prices edged lower. Although investors stayed active, many potential buyers and sellers continued to play a waiting game, with new-home sales dropping to their lowest level in more than two decades.

A total of 4,966 new and resale homes and condos sold in the nine-county Bay Area in January—down 30.8% from 7,178 in December and up 2.3% from 4,853 in January 2010.


SF Tops List for Residential Real Estate Investment

San Francisco tops the list of best American cities for residential real estate investments.

  1. San Francisco
  2. Austin
  3. Madison
  4. Raleigh-Durham
  5. San Antonio
  6. Oklahoma City
  7. Des Moines
  8. Salt Lake City
  9. Fort Collins
  10. Omaha

Contributing factors to this rating:

  1. While unemployment is at 9.1%, job growth in high-income skill sectors requires professionals to buy homes in the City.
  2. Job growth: the number of high tech jobs in the City has doubled from 8,000 to 16,000, and life sciences jobs increased five-fold over the last 10 years.
  3. Venture capital dollars continue to flow, with $6.3 billion invested in the IT/Computer and Biotech industries since 2010.



UCSF Leads in Academic Rankings, NIH Funding

UCSF has again been named among the nation’s best graduate schools by U.S. News & World Report. The School of Medicine is No. 4 for primary care and No. 5 for research—the only medical school that ranks in the top five in both categories.

UCSF received more research funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) than any other public institution in 2010, and ranked third among all institutions nationwide. In 2010, the UCSF School of Pharmacy received $22.6 million in NIH funding, the most of any pharmacy school for the 31st consecutive year. The UCSF Schools of Dentistry and Nursing also ranked first, receiving $19.5 million and $9.9 million, respectively, while the School of Medicine ranked second with $422.1 million.

NIH funding plays a key role in supporting biomedical enterprise, including research into the genetic, molecular and cellular basis of diseases; epidemiological and clinical-research studies; and efforts to develop innovative treatments and cures.



10 Best Cities for Public Transportation

Rankings were assembled based on per capita spending on public transportation, number of safety incidents per million trips, and the number of trips taken per capita.

  1. Portland
  2. Salt Lake City
  3. New York
  4. Boston
  5. Minneapolis
  6. San Francisco
  7. Los Angeles
  8. Honolulu
  9. (tie) Denver & Austin

Source: Alttransport

10 Happiest Cities for Work

According to a survey by online career site Careerbliss, the top 10 happiest U.S. cities to work in are:

  1. San Jose
  2. San Francisco
  3. Jacksonville
  4. Miami
  5. Washington
  6. Memphis
  7. El Paso
  8. Los Angeles
  9. San Diego
  10. Birmingham


A major transatlantic conference is coming to San Francisco for the first time: The British American Business Council’s “Impact of Innovation” forum, May 11 – 13 at the Fairmont Hotel. The SFCED is a sponsoring organization. The lineup includes an impressive group of senior executives and political leadership from both sides of the Pond, including representatives from Genentech, Virgin Galactic, Tesla, McKinney Rogers, Sequoia Capital, among others. Lord Green, Minister of State for UK Trade and Investment, and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom will address the delegates. Space is limited. Please visit for more information and to register.


QuickFacts is produced by the San Francisco Center for Economic Development ( For more information please contact:

Dennis Conaghan
Executive Director