Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff still has faith in San Francisco’s ability to be a global center for innovation, despite the city’s rampant homelessness and drug use problems threatening his company’s annual tech conference. During an earnings call with analysts yesterday (Aug. 30), Benioff said San Francisco is “becoming the No. 1 A.I. city in the world,” noting a number of rapidly growing artificial intelligence startups have opened offices in the city.
Salesforce recently led a $235 million funding round in Hugging Face, a startup providing open-source A.I. developer platforms. The investment is part of Salesforce’s $500 million generative A.I. fund under its venture capital arm, Salesforce Ventures. The fund has invested in a number of hyped A.I. startups, including Humane, Tribble, Anthropic, Cohere, Hearth and You.com.
“It’s just awesome to see this growth and especially proud that they’re right here in our hometown of San Francisco,” Benioff said on yesterday’s call. “We’re seeing the development of ethical A.I. with amazing companies like Anthropic, Cohere, Hugging Face, and so many others.”
Benioff said he heard one of these companies just subleased Slack’s entire former office building, near Salesforce’s headquarters, but didn’t disclose which company that was. Salesforce acquired Slack in 2021 and moved its staff to the 61-story Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in San Francisco. Slack had a ten-year lease on its old office space set to expire in 2027.
“I couldn’t be more excited about that because we’re really seeing downtown San Francisco become A.I. central,” Benioff said.
Salesforce will host its annual A.I. conference, Dreamforce, on September 12. Benioff recently told the San Francisco Chronicle it could be the last Dreamforce held in San Francisco if the event is significantly affected by the city’s homelessness and drug use problems.
Dreamforce is San Francisco’s largest annual business gathering with an expected attendance of 40,000 people. This year’s event features speakers including OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Stanford A.I. professor Fei Fei Li, actor Matthew McConaughey and a performance by the Foo Fighters. Benioff estimates this year’s Dreamforce will bring $57 million in revenue for local businesses.
Benioff is a vocal critic of the tech industry’s role in worsening San Francisco’s economic inequality. He lobbied hard for 2018’s Proposition C, a legislature that increases taxes on corporations and high-earning individuals to pay for city services and homeless programs.
The reported number of homeless individuals in San Francisco has actually declined in recent years. In 2022, about 7,700 people were identified as homeless, down from roughly 8,000 in 2019, according to the city’s 2022 “point in time” survey. However, it’s estimated as many as 20,000 individuals in San Francisco were unhoused at some point last year, and many blamed job loss, eviction and drugs or alcohol as reasons for homelessness, according to the city survey.