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On the northeast side of Mission are dozens of unassuming industrial buildings where the only signs of life are parkers trying to find a space and the occasional open gate in front of a warehouse.

Still, planners believe, the sector could represent a bright spot in the Mission’s economy, and point to Heath Ceramics, which recently signed a 30 year lease on a vacant industrial building on Florida and 18th Streets.  Sometime next year, the maker of everything from dinnerware to tiles will open a ceramic manufacturing and retail space next year that will eventually offer more than 100 new jobs.

Good paying jobs, said Kate Sofis, Executive Director of SF Made, a nonprofit that aims to boost the manufacturing sector in San Francisco.

“It’s a viable place for a certain type of manufacturing with the jobs that we used to enjoy in the Mission,” Sofis said.

The same can be said of all of San Francisco.  Citywide jobs known under the land use classification PDR, which includes manufacturing, distribution and repair jobs, declined to 76,727 in 2009 from 116,540 in 2000, according to the Planning Department’s Commerce & Industry Inventory for 2010.

Of the Mission’s total employment of 16,187 jobs in 2009, the PDR segment represented 2,993, making it the third largest after retail and office jobs.

This table presents the geographic distribution of jobs within SF's 11 Commerce & Industry Sectorys by land use category. Courtesy of SF Planning.

Under the Eastern Neighborhood Plan, adopted in 2008, the city zoned the northeast part of the city to remain industrial to encourage business like Heath to come to the city and provide jobs for residents.

These jobs tend to give stable, good-paying employment for 50 percent of San Francisco residents without a college degree, according to the area plan.   The wages for a worker in one of these jobs in 2009 averaged $75,472 a year compared to $31,185 for retail.

When Heath Ceramics, which opened its first factory in Sausalito in 1948, opens its 20,000 square foot manufacturing and showroom next spring, it will hire 34 employees, said co-owner, Robin Petravic.

In the following three years, it plans to expand and use more than 60,000 square feet of its space and possibly hire more than 100 people, according to a press release. If so, it will rival Anchor Steam Brewing in Potrero Hill with 50 employees, according to its web site.

Heath’s move, Sofis said, questions the whole notion that it’s harder to do business in San Francisco.

“Being in San Francisco is not necessarily at a higher cost than other parts of the Bay Area,” she said. “The payroll tax gets a lot of attention, but we have enterprise zones and other incentive programs.”

The Mission in particular has a competitive edge over other industrial neighborhoods because of the mix of residential and industrial space and the easy access to public transportation. In the Dogpatch for example, workers have a hard time getting to work, Sofis said.

An example of the new kind of manufacturing that works here are consumer products with design elements, Sofis said. Cheap products would have trouble competing with prices abroad.

For example, a company that manufacturers a $4 Dora the Explorer backpack sold at Target won’t have as much success here as Timbuk2, which makes its messenger bags in the Mission and can sell them for upwards of $100.

Heath’s move to the Mission hasn’t gone unnoticed. On Tuesday Mayor Ed Lee held a press conference to celebrate the company.

Courtesy of Heath Ceramics

“This company is a great example of what makes San Francisco special – attention to history, dedication to diversity, and a spirit of innovation and creativity,” he said in a prepared statement and added that San Francisco now has 200 manufacturers.

Petravic, the co-owner of the company said he was thrilled to receive such a warm welcome from the city.

“It makes us feel,” Petravic said,” like we are doing the right thing, at the right place, at the right time.”