Vive La Différence


The Bay Area is the most ethnically and racially diverse region in the country today.


By Adam Albright-Hanna

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he United States has seen explosive growth in minority populations nationwide over the last 30 years, a trend that is likely to continue: For the first time in history non-Hispanic white newborns are in the minority, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau report, with slightly more than half—50.4 percent—of all babies under one year of age belonging to a minority group.

The geographic dispersion of the ethnic groups—which themselves have grown more varied—differs throughout the country. Yet, across the board, the United States has fewer all-white cities and towns, and more minority-majority places and no-majority places, according to new research from a trio of sociologists at The Pennsylvania State University. Within the melting pot, the Bay Area adds a distinct and powerful spice: Of the country’s five most diverse metropolitan regions, three are in the Bay Area; of the 10 most diverse, four are.

In a world where the Internet and mobile communications are shrinking time and space and where more than 215 million people live outside their country of birth, the question arises: Does a racially and ethnically diverse population give a region an economic leg up by facilitating its deeper global integration?

“Racial and Ethnic Diversity Goes Local: Charting Change in American Communities Over three Decades” says diversity is determined by the number of racial or ethnic groups in a community’s population and the size of those groups relative to one another. The most diverse community would have many ethnic and racial groups of generally equal size. Under the index created by the authors, a score of 0 indicates complete homogeneity while 100 represents perfect diversity.

With an index reading of 89.3, the Bay Area’s Solano County is the most diverse metropolitan area in the country, according to the study, which was completed by Barrett A. Lee, John Iceland and Gregory Sharp. The metro area that includes San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties is second most diverse, at 85.3. Stockton is third, and Silicon Valley, including Santa Clara and San Benito counties, is sixth, measuring 80.1 on the diversity scale. New York’s Russell Sage Foundation, which specializes in social science research based on the decennial census, financed the research as part of its US2010 project.

Anna Alejo, director of corporate communications for the Western Union Co., which does business globally, said the Bay Area’s technical talent played the crucial role in the money-transfer company’s decision to open a San Francisco office for its new online and mobile Digital Ventures division. But, there was more: “Being such a diverse and interesting city as well as a gateway to Asia (the geography where Western Union is growing fastest) made our leadership confident it was the right place for this division to be headquartered,” she said.

Raziel Ungar, a Burlingame Realtor, said more than half of his homebuyers are foreign-born professionals educated in the United States whose intellectual attributes and achievements could take them anywhere in the world.

Sara Menke, founder and chief executive of Bay Area-based Premier Staffing, has seen firsthand how the assimilation of foreign talent has dramatically altered the hiring landscape over her past 14 years. Companies locate in the region based primarily on the giant talent pool regardless of ethnicity or nationality, she said, but there are global companies such as Virgin America who show particular interest in the Bay Area as a means to gain greater access to talent with an experience of foreign markets. The notion that companies would routinely locate to a region specifically to tap an ethnically and racially diverse workforce is not far-fetched, she said.

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Photography by Chad Ziemendorf

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