From Orange Empire
to Inland Empire
and the Future of Work

With technology set to forge new winners and losers around the United States – and the world – how does Riverside envision its future of work? And what is it doing to prepare?

The Riverside Workforce

A Snapshot

Nearly a quarter of jobs added have come from the logistics industry, with new fulfillment centers and warehouses bringing ancillary jobs in trucking and packaging. Amazon alone operates 14 fulfillment and distribution centers in the MSA.

As of December 2018, the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) had 1.52 million workers, with the City of Riverside itself boasting a workforce of roughly 150,000. From October 2017 to October 2018, the MSA’s labor force expanded by 1.2 percent, accounting for a quarter of the growth in California’s entire labor force.

However, over the past five years, nearly a quarter of jobs added have come from the logistics industry, with new fulfillment centers and warehouses bringing ancillary jobs in trucking and packaging. Amazon alone operates 14 fulfillment and distribution centers in the MSA.

Top 10 Employers in the Riverside MSA | 2018

Loma Linda University Medical Center
Kaiser Foundation Hospital Fontana
S. Ca. Permanente Medical Group
Barrett Business Services Inc.
Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center
Morongo Casino Resort & Spa
Kaiser Foundation Hospital Riverside
San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino
Amazon Fulfillment Center
Arrowhead Regional Medical Center
Source: Riverside County EDA, August 2018

Wages in the MSA stand at $785 per week – $244 less than the national average of $1,029. Despite its status as the 13th largest metro area in the United States, the MSA ranks 219th in annual wages per employee and 276th in total annual wages when taking into account location quotient.

Nearly 43 percent of Riverside households are “cost-burdened” by housing, with the figure jumping to 63 percent for low-income households. Overall, the MSA is ranked as the fifth least affordable housing market in the United States.

Housing in Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California | 2018

  Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California US Average
Cost-burdened Households 42.9% 32%
Cost-burdened Low Income Households 63% n/a
Median Single Family Home Value 349k 216k
Median Household Income 56k 59k
Homeownership rate 61.1% 64.2%
Population Growth (2011 – 2016) 5.2% 3.7%
Housing in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area | 2017: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Las Vegas Review Journal U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2016.

Riverside is home to four institutions of higher education and nearly 50,000 college students, but, paradoxically, just 21 percent of adults in the Inland Empire hold a four-year degree. Riverside Unified School District has more than 60,000 K-12 students, and the Riverside STEM Academy teaches science, technology, education and math to fifth- through 12th-graders.

Specific Forecasts

Since 2017, Riverside has drawn the attention of researchers examining labor market vulnerability to technology and automation. A January 2019 study by the Brookings Institution determined that 47.6 percent of jobs in the MSA are vulnerable to automation. It said nearly all tasks performed by packing and filling machine operators and 91 percent of those done in food preparation in the MSA could be automated.

Another study by the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis found that 62.6 percent of all jobs in the MSA are potentially automatable. The same study predicted that workers in the area could see a 43 to 63 percent loss in wage share due to automation by the year 2035.

Future of Work

In August 2018, the Bertelsmann Foundation and the National Association of Workforce Boards, in partnership with the Riverside County Workforce Development Board, convened more than 60 stakeholders to discuss the impact of technology and automation on Riverside and its workforce. These discussions had three goals:

  • Move the conversation beyond estimates of jobs gained or lost, to identify Riverside’s core future-of-work strengths, challenges and needs.
  • Spark a local policy discussion on how technology and automation are impacting Riverside.
  • Highlight future-of-work approaches relevant to the area. These strategies are intended to add to ongoing initiatives, such as the Inland Economic Growth and Opportunity project (IEGO), without duplicating them.

Stakeholder Map from Riverside Discussions



Riverside stakeholders identified workforce challenges ranging from a lack of
corporate champions to over reliance on logistics and warehousing.
Here are the top ten challenges identified by Riverside stakeholders:


• A heavy reliance on logistics, warehousing and retail makes the area vulnerable to potential labor market disruption from technology and automation. Stakeholders report that while some changes “may be 50 years off” (autonomous trucks), others are “right around the corner” (labor-saving warehouse efficiencies employing everything from robotics to big data).

• A population of low-wage workers with fewer skills and less education than in neighboring regions makes the workforce less resilient and capable of pivoting to other industries.

• The area lags behind other parts of California in developing a knowledge economy propelled by innovation and startups. Despite being a locus for higher education, Riverside lacks an infrastructure to catapult research and development into economic and jobs engines. As a result, a surge in high-tech research driven by universities has failed to generate a commensurate boost in startups and mid- and high-skill jobs.


Despite the Riverside Chambers of Commerce boasting 1,400 members, Riverside lacks a major corporate headquarters (aside from Bourns Inc.). Stakeholders report that “CEOs live in Newport Beach or Huntington [Beach]” and “reverse commute” to Riverside. Stakeholders point to major warehouse and distribution employers as drivers of economic and job growth, with the caveat that they have not played a major role in community development or planning. With corporate champions absent from community and planning discussions, “they cannot be expected to come up with workforce solutions” that respond to disruption generated by technology and automation. A lack of corporate champions also means less urgency and demand from policymakers and the community to prepare for workforce disruption stemming from technology and automation.


Riverside lacks big-picture thinking on the workforce implications of technology and automation. Stakeholders say the city has been unable to agree on a community-level plan with which all major stakeholders are aligned to prepare for the workforce implications of technology and automation. Attempts to lure jobs, workers and investment through public investment have resulted in “underutilized white elephants” (convention center), and public money is being spent to “train workers for warehouses” and not higher-level opportunities. Furthermore, there is a lack of clarity around who leads and convenes planning efforts and what the long-term vision is.


From 32 to 35 percent of Riverside’s workforce commutes to Los Angeles and Orange counties, many of them spending two hours or more in traffic each way. These commuters are “zombies on the weekends,” with less time and energy to participate in community engagement and local government or to support local businesses. In the aggregate, the stress of commuting takes a toll on people’s health and well-being. Riverside also has a high percentage of non-native English speakers, who often work low-wage, hourly jobs that prevent them from becoming fully engaged in their communities.


Riverside has a population of 325,000, but it is jostling for competitive advantage while nested within Riverside County (2.83 million people), Southern California (18 million people) and California (40 million people). Riverside is a “medium-size fish in a big pond” forced to engage in a race for resources, workers, jobs and employers at many levels.


Riverside’s perceived issues with smog, crime, poverty, homelessness and long commutes have all dinged the city’s reputation. The perception that Riverside lags behind coastal communities in the quality of life hampers its attempts to lure employers and workers.


Although it hosts four institutions of higher education, Riverside paradoxically has an undereducated workforce, with just 21 percent of adults holding a bachelor’s degree. Stakeholders say businesses struggle to find the highly trained workers needed to drive higher-level economic development and growth.


The region struggles with basic community-level indicators:

  • • Comparatively high rates of poverty and low-paying jobs, with the area “lacking a strategy to break the cycle of poverty.”
  • • Housing insecurity spurred by low incomes paired with high rents or mortgages.
  • • Families “running on treadmills” due to long commutes and/or the need to work multiple low-wage jobs to make ends meet…


Stakeholders report that Riverside could do a better job of assessing present needs and future challenges in partnership with its citizenry. As a prerequisite to designing future-of-work solutions, stakeholders suggest that policymakers, business leaders and educational institutions engage with the community to articulate how Riversiders see themselves and their community, and what they want future jobs and economic growth to look like.


Stakeholders express concern over Riverside’s overreliance on sales tax revenue and the impact that technology and automation could have on the tax base upon which municipal tax revenues are generated.

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Riverside stakeholders identified a number of unique strengths,
including a historic downtown packed with cultural institutions
and the presence of three universities and a college. Here are the top ten strengths:


Riverside lies at the crossroads of Southern California. Expanding trade with the Pacific Rim means that roughly 40 percent of goods entering the United States pass through the area. Riverside is within overnight trucking distance to 11 western states, making it a hub for transportation, logistics and distribution. Logistics and distribution “generate lots of jobs for those that need them now.”


Riverside benefits from the oversaturation and high costs of coastal communities in Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties. With its stock of low-cost housing and land, Riverside is a beacon for new arrivals who have been priced out of other parts of Southern California. Lower costs also make Riverside a haven for small businesses in the “high-cost, high-tax” state of California.


Founded in 1870, Riverside maintains a historic downtown that draws people from around Southern California. National Historic Landmarks such as the Mission Inn, the Fox Performing Arts Center and the Riverside Art Museum foster a strong sense of place and community. The historic core is complemented by a wealth of cultural institutions, including the Riverside City College Culinary Academy, UCR ARTS, a new main library, the Riverside Food Lab and the proposed Cheech Marin Museum.


More than 50,000 college students call Riverside home and the city has three universities (The University of California, Riverside, La Sierra University and California Baptist University) and a college (Riverside City College). Riverside is also retooling its K-12 system to prepare students (and future workers) for technology and automation. Examples include:

  • • More than 115 Career Technical Education courses offered by the Riverside County Office of Education. In 2019, the office is partnering with employers to offer 1,000 internships.
  • • The elaboration of the Riverside STEM Academy (currently serving 400 students) into the proposed Riverside STEM high school.
  • • K-12 partnerships with employers including government (Naval Surface Warfare Center, March Air Reserve Base, NASA) and the private sector (construction, health careand biotech).


Riverside is home to existing jobs engines. In addition to these key sectors, area employers invest in developing the workforce:

  • • The healthcare industry invests in educational reimbursement and wellness programs for working mothers.
  • • Employers are luring high-skill workers to live and work in Riverside through “high-touch supports” [assistance] in finding homes and schools.
  • • The workforce board is liaising with employers in logistics and distribution to figure out how to accomplish the efficient reskilling of its workforce.


Riverside is having measured success in transforming its employer base beyond low-wage, low-skill industries. Examples include:

  • • The California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) relocation from Los Angeles to Riverside, which will bring at least 460 high-paying jobs. CARB’s work is aligned with UCR to drive additional economic and employment growth related to clean air and environmental technology. Through these investments, Riverside is rebranding itself as a “sustainable valley.”
  • • Through its Office of Technology Commercialization, UCR is working to ensure that research strengths in genomics, agriculture and environmental technology translate into new business activity and job creation.
  • • UCR’s new school of medicine is spurring opportunities for diversification into health services, medical device manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.


Riverside is homing in on entrepreneurship to ensure its 50,000 college students stay in the area after graduation to drive future economic and job growth.

  • • With more than 92 startups for every 1,000 businesses, Riverside ranks highly for startup density and rates of new entrepreneurs.
  • • The relative affordability of residential and commercial real estate has attracted a lot of home-based businesses to Riverside.
  • • The area is investing in incubators and focusing on metrics (gauging, for instance, how entrepreneurially minded its students are). One example is ExCITE, a startup incubator launched in partnership between UCR and the City of Riverside.


Riverside is using its historic core, strategic location and arts institutions to drive workforce opportunities in the creative economy. Examples include:

  • • Filmmaking migrating inland from the coast, due to lower costs and efforts to streamline bureaucratic permitting processes.
  • • Large art and music festivals and a vibrant arts community that draws crowds from around Southern California.


Among community actors in the face of big-picture challenges such as technology and automation:

  • • Policymakers, the business community and educational institutions are keeping abreast of research that identifies Riverside as one of the most susceptible places in the United States to worker displacement driven by technology and automation. Community actors are working together to come up with a plan and identify challenges and solutions.
  • • The business community works with the workforce board and the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce to lobby Sacramento and Washington for resources and assistance in attracting next-generation jobs and industries.
  • • Strategic analysis and community planning to prepare for the future of work is happening through the City of Riverside, the workforce board, the Growing Inland Achievement project and the Inland Economic Growth and Opportunity project.
  • • The region is focusing on its position in the global economy and maintains a regional trade agreement with the EU.


Riverside’s population is comparatively young and diverse, positioning the area to harness new technologies and automation to drive economic and job growth. In addition, the city has the third largest veteran population in California.

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Stakeholders revealed needs and areas of focus going forward


Articulate a local strategy. Stakeholders say Riverside has put many of its economic and workforce development resources (and much of its political capital) into attracting specific employers, jobs and workers without considering the potential impact of rapid advances in technology and automation on workers’ jobs, tasks and incomes. Stakeholders point to a need for a local game plan that anticipates the economic and workforce ramifications of technology and automation.


Prepare thousands of workers in logistics, distribution and other low-wage, low-skill sectors for the changes that will be brought by technology and automation. Stakeholders are understandably proud of the thousands of logistics jobs created since unemployment peaked at 14.4 percent in 2010. At the same time, they worry that logistics and distribution may not be sustainable job engines and that they will be left holding the bag for retraining and reskilling if workers are displaced by technology and automation.


Empower a future-of-work leader. Stakeholders report that economic and workforce developmentin Riverside tends to focus on immediate needs rather than long-term strategy. However, unlike other cities and regions, Riverside lacks corporate champions to kick off and sustain dialogue around the future of work. Therefore, community dialogue, strategy and solutions will need to be driven by other actors. Stakeholders point to the need for political will and a point person or organization to guide the development and implementation of future-of-work policy.


Tell the story of Riverside’s past, present and future. Stakeholders say that in order to benefit from technology and automation, Riverside first needs to explore, develop and communicate its story. This needs to take place both internally, by baking citizens’ views into sustainable policy around the future of work, and externally, by communicating its story or value proposition more effectively. Riverside should position itself as a community open to and prepared for the seismic changes being brought by technology and automation.


Riverside is blessed with more than 50,000 college students and a comparatively young and diverse population. At the same time, it suffers from the brain drain of its college graduates and high youth unemployment. Stakeholders say Riverside needs to create “safe bets” [economic opportunities] that keep students in Riverside while inoculating them from the adverse effects of technology and automation. At the same time, policymakers and educational institutions should equip students with the tools and skills necessary to reap rewards from technology and automation.

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The Riverside Policy Puzzle

In the end, as Riverside confronts the disruption and challenges of the coming wave of technology and automation, stakeholders should ask: “What do we want to build?”

Riverside confronts dueling visions for its future. Ultimately, these diametrically opposed visions illuminate the public policy dilemmas that policymakers will have to navigate as they seek to shepherd their communities through the profound changes brought by technology and automation.

On one hand, the area is in the midst of an undisputed jobs boom driven by logistics, distribution and health care. With unemployment hovering at just 4 percent, pretty much any worker who wants a job has one. And people are flocking to the area for a shot at the New California Dream: The county’s population is projected to expand from 2.42 million in 2018 to 3.16 million in 2040. In the words of one stakeholder, “Whatever happens to California, happens here.”

On the other hand, the area’s boom is threatened by the (not yet fully understood) impact of technology and automation on jobs, tasks and workers. A chorus of national and international experts is sounding the alarm about overdependence on low-wage, low-skill employment in industries highly susceptible to technology and automation. And most of Riverside’s stakeholders understand that the clock is ticking.

But for now, these predictions remain abstract, obscured by the haze generated by the economic and population boom. Time and resources go to managing breakneck growth and addressing current challenges, ranging from education to quality of life to housing. While there is widespread agreement that the threat looms, there is widespread disagreement about what technology and automation actually have in store for Riverside and its workers.

Having more or less successfully executed previous pivots from agriculture to the military and logistics, the prevailing sense seems to be that Riverside can handle the next transition ushered in by technology and automation. Workers in logistics will transition to advanced manufacturing. Students will bud into entrepreneurs and headquarter their startups in downtown. Public investment in culture and place will attract the creative economy.

But stakeholders also worry that this time could be different. The question, of course, is the toll that the next transition takes on the area’s economy and workers. Whether Riverside benefits from or falls victim to technology and automation is largely up to its citizens and policymakers.

Instead of “Build it and they will come,” Riverside’s guiding motto seems to be “We know they’re coming, so we’d better keep building” – which illustrates its determination to capture the benefits of growth using whatever means available. But Riverside’s policymakers and citizens will need to look beyond the quick fix to preempt a future in which technology upends not only their jobs and incomes, but also their communities.

In the end, as Riverside confronts the disruption and challenges of the coming wave of technology and automation, stakeholders should ask: “What do we want to build?”

Five Key Questions

What do you think Riverside should do?
Respond to these five key questions to let us know!

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Emerging future of work strategies for Riverside.


Lest the gloomier predictions of job and income losses precipitated by technology and automation come true, Riverside should develop a medium- and long-term strategy to preempt and addressany workforce disruption caused by these forces. Several stakeholders call for a “prevention tool or rubric” to help head off labor market disruption and say that at a minimum an overarching strategy should include:

  • • A detailed timeline for community engagement, policy development and implementation.
  • • A sense of who is responsible for driving discussion and implementing solutions.
  • • A comprehensive plan for reskilling the area’s low-wage, low-skill workforce (see Need 2).
  • • Tie-ins to related challenges such as quality of life, education, political geography, social capital and taxation (among others).


While stakeholders acknowledge that Riverside cannot wean itself from its current jobs base overnight, it can “stop developing industries that can be easily automated.” Given that dependence on the sector will likely only increase during the next economic downturn, stakeholders should move now, while the unemployment rate is low, to develop a strategy for the low-skill, low-wage population. Key questions to consider include:

  • • To what degree do workers’ skills atrophy when carrying out repetitive, low-wage, low-skill work in warehousing and logistics?
  • • What responsibility do employers, policymakers and educators have to retrain workers in industries and jobs that are easily automated?
  • • Given the preponderance of jobs being created in warehousing and distribution, how does Riverside execute a strategy to retrain workers who are vulnerable to technology and automation?
  • • It should be noted that this emerging strategy dovetails with the IEGO project’s focus on middle-income, middle-skill jobs in “opportunity industry” sectors in life sciences, environmental/energy technologies and advanced business services.


While a single future-of-work leader has yet to emerge, stakeholders point to a need for public policy development and research that empowers some individual or organization to drive local solutions. Developing basic place-based research would allow this leader to accumulate political capital and set the agenda for the development of future-of-work policy. Armed with these resources, stakeholders say a future-of-work leader must forge consensus with adjacent municipalities so they can speak with one voice when advocating for the region.


The full brunt of technology and automation will be felt by future generations. Riverside’s educators are keenly aware of the potential for technology and automation to transform skills, jobs and the community. In addition to continuing to focus on hard and soft skills, educators should also zoom out to help students understand the changing nature of work. Students that understand jobs, tasks and skills are evolving will be best prepared to ride the wave of technology and automation to a prosperous future.


Riverside suffers from actual and perceived problems that, on the surface, have little to do with technology or automation.Many of these problems defy simple solutions that can be crafted by policymakers alone. Riverside should ensure that its most underutilized asset − its citizens − are included in the future-of-work policymaking process. By listening to and understanding citizens’ voices, policymakers may find that solutions to difficult problems are closer at hand than they would have ever imagined.

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Who made this possible