In January we announced a partnership with Square to help ensure their move to the old Sears building in Uptown Oakland created benefits for all Oaklanders. At that time, we shared our hopes for the partnership and a few ideas about what Square’s participation in the community could look like.
It’s been almost three months since that announcement, and we’re excited to share our first update on how our work is going.
We spent the last three months on a community listening tour, hosting meetings with community groups, policymakers, small business owners and entrepreneurs, and workforce training organizations.
Our takeaway? Much of what we’ve heard can be summed up as “cautiously optimistic.” It’s clear that Square moving to Oakland will bring benefits to the city. What’s less clear for many of those we talked with is to whom those benefits will accrue. We have to be vigilant to ensure that long-time Oaklanders are able to access that growth. Specifically, three themes emerged across the conversations we’ve had:
Workforce Development: Who Gets Hired?
Over the course of the next several years, the plan is for Square to house up to 2,000 employees in their Oakland office, and that’s not including the various subcontracted service workers, such as custodial staff or security, who will also be employed in the space. Many questions have been raised about who will get the opportunity to fill those roles, with concerns that long-time Oaklanders from communities that have been at risk of displacement will be passed over. Any potential workforce programs — whether they’re filling open roles in the short term or preparing young people for the jobs of the future — must take these concerns into account. In addition, we want to make sure that the contracted service jobs in the building are good, family-supporting jobs.
Entrepreneurship: How Do Small Businesses Thrive?
Oakland’s vibrant community of artists and entrepreneurs is central to the city’s identity. Because of rent increases on commercial space, small business owners who have helped shape Oakland are now facing displacement alongside long-time residents.
Given its line of business, Square is uniquely positioned to support the small business and arts community in Oakland through educational programming on critical topics like accessing capital, building financial empowerment skills, and utilizing new tools to build a business. We heard the need for workshops across the city, especially in deep East Oakland. We also heard exciting ideas like starting a merchants’ association in East Oakland, subsidizing office space for nonprofits, and ensuring supplier diversity within Square’s new building.
It is important to note that Square doesn’t own Uptown Station and does not have control over most of the ground floor space. But there are opportunities to recommend local businesses to the landlord for tenancy and to use the ground-floor space that Square does have to support local businesses.
Structural and Cultural Issues: How do we Keep Oakland Oakland?
Finally, we heard loud and clear that it’s time for companies, Square included, to take action on homelessness and housing. In many of our meetings, people expressed concern about the ability of long-time residents to remain in Oakland (and, therefore, in the talent pool for jobs created by Square) as the economy continues to boom. While we don’t believe tech companies are the root cause of the housing crisis, they are in a unique position to help solve it. At TechEquity, we are advocating for a number of systemic changes that will address the housing crisis. We are hopeful that companies like Square will use their voices to support policies like these now and in the future.
We’re working closely with Square to distill our learnings from these conversations into a plan that addresses some immediate needs of the community, as well as a long-term strategy for their Oakland office.
In the next few weeks, expect to hear more from Square about this plan, and the community equity initiatives they are committing to. In the meantime, Square is hiring for a Community Affairs and Outreach Associate to support community relations in Oakland and help Square understand how to evolve community engagement programs across the organization. This is the perfect role for Oaklanders with strong ties across the community.
We’re glad to have heard some of what Oaklanders want from Square’s entrance into their community, and we want to make sure the lines of communication stay open. We’ve created a mailing list for those who would like to receive updates (like this one) directly, as well as learn about opportunities to participate in future meetings. Sign up for the mailing list here.
We also want to create a place to collect all the valuable feedback we’ve been receiving from the community. You can email us at SquareOaklandUpdates@squareup.com to share thoughts, questions, and concerns with Square and TechEquity. We can’t promise to answer every single question, but we can promise to read everything sent our way.