The Pacific Century and San Diego


Council Members Mark Kersey and Marti Emerald listening to testimony.

March 26, 2014 (San Diego) There are times that you go to a hearing for one thing, and encounter something that is far more important in the long term view. That was the case Monday. The Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee heard testimony regarding the future economy of San Diego.  This came from the San Diego Regional Economic Development Council This is not small stuff. This is major stuff, that will affect all of us within a generation or less. After all, the plan is looking forwards to 2020. So that is near term But the economic changes will last far beyond a generation.

While six years might not sound like much, six years is what might very well determine the pivot from the Atlantic Economies to the Pacific Economies, and how well our region does within that pivot. In fact, exports are seen as an important factor in that pivot. (And why we all should pay attention to trade agreements)

So there are aspects to this that are understood by policy makers, but not by most San Diegans. The priorities are as follows:

Driving an increase in exports: This is critical and according to the Brookings Institution it is a driver in the economic recovery post crash in 100 cities in the United States.  San Diego is now seen as one of those 100 core regions.

Attracting Global investment: This is self explanatory but we do need to get international companies, such as ESET, to set up shop in San Diego. We have many assets for this, including research institutions, a research corridor and quite frankly a border with another country, and the Tijuana region is seen as part of this mega development region. Of course, we have the weather too.

Addressing the identity of the City: Leave political scandals to the side, the city is seen outside of San Diego as a conservative, sleepy little military town, and a good tourist destination. It is far from sleepy. conservative is in the eye of the beholder, and I would argue the city itself is quite liberal now, and military, well yeah, we are a strategic port for the Navy. But we are much more than that. We have world class research institutions. Most people do not think this is the case, but for instance Scripps Oceanographic Institute and Woods hole are of national importance. And then there are the many universities and private companies were basic research being done.

We also have incubators for new businesses, and one of the things that were addressed in testimony was how to make those incubators look beyond the San Diego Region, and the United States. We also have trade delegations now, and we are looking to open markets, So the question is connecting those businesses to those opportunities abroad. It is truly globalization. Oh and if you want to fly direct to either London or Tokyo, now you can. Those routes are part of the plan.

One particular statistic was quite astounding. Only 4% of San Diego based businesses export. That means 96% of businesses are not even exploring that market beyond our borders.  This is one thing they intend to change.

Who are the partners in this effort? I mean apart of the city of San Diego?

JP Morgan Chase

The Brookings Institution

The US Department of Commerce

UC San Diego: School of International Relations and Pacific Studies

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority

The Unified Port of San Diego


The Tijuana Economic Development Center

Of course the San Diego Economic Development Center

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce


And finally the World Trade Center San Diego.

This list is missing important actors in the region. Among them is the County of San Diego, which should be an obvious participant but it is not. Cities outside of San Diego are absent as well. Not just the East County Communities, those tend to have a very local view of things, but also cities like Escondido that want to create a high tech corridor.

So we continue to see a split between the largest stakeholder community in the region, that be San Diego City, and the rest of the County. If the City is correct, we are talking of a pivot that will determine our future economy and economic health of the San Diego Region. It will also continue to increase the divisions in the county, and I will add, the resentments.

It is time to develop a global view and become a participant; otherwise those communities will be left behind.

Oh and yes, raising the minimum wage is critical for our economy as well, but the media mostly ignored this story. And this will also determine the future society in this city. What it looks like is a well-educated core, with the support of a service economy. Politically this will also make it a far more liberal city.


Categories: analysis, business, City Hall Politics, economics, Emerald, Kersey

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