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The Big Picture San Diego Blog


San Diego at forefront of aerospace innovation

March 3, 2016

By Matt Sanford, director of economic development

As I fly over Palmdale and glance down at one of the last large aerospace manufacturing facilities in the Southern California, it is a reminder that the aerospace industry as a whole is experiencing dramatic change. Some of the large industrial centers still exist and are highlights of the heritage of the industry. But the landscape as a whole is changing.
 
San Diego is the place where Charles Lindbergh built the Spirit of St Louis and since then, Southern California has been at the forefront of aerospace innovation. Today, it continues to be a hub for innovators looking to push the envelope. But instead of erecting more large manufacturing facilities, we will see this innovation in entrepreneurs and startups, in tech companies that are entering the industry, and in legacy industry leaders who are pioneering new technologies, and driving convergence with other tech sectors to create new capabilities.
 
Now, we are creating new sensors and systems to push the envelope even further. The James Webb Space Telescope being developed by Northrop Grumman in El Segundo will give us the most comprehensive look at the universe to date. The technology developed at ViaSat in Carlsbad is creating the fastest satellite broadband available to the public. San Diego is also home to Brain Corporation, 5D Robotics and the Center of Excellence for Northrop Grumman’s unmanned systems division. These companies, among others, are creating systems that will work autonomously to take on the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks that put people, both services members and private citizens, at risk.
 
So how do we quantify this activity? Through a report by the Los Angeles County EDC and San Diego Regional EDC covering the eight county Southern California region, we learned there are over 85,000 direct jobs in our aerospace industry. The total employment impact is nearly a quarter million people and it’s growing. In San Diego County alone, the industry has grown by 66.7 percent since 2004. 
 
The rich heritage of the industry has brought companies and talent to Southern California and San Diego to create a formidable ecosystem. But there are challenges. As we move forward, we must continue to support our aerospace manufacturers. We must also be proactive in identifying and supporting new sectors by aligning our universities to stay at the forefront of research and innovation, and working with the state to refute the claims that aerospace is a dying industry. Finally, we must stay at the forefront of the convergence between tech and aerospace, as it will continue to be where Southern California and San Diego can lead the industry. 
 
Even with new large contracts to develop platforms like the Long Range Strike Bomber, we must realize that as a percentage, those in the industry will be fewer on the factory floor, and more in labs and behind computers.
 
It is an exciting time for the aerospace industry in Southern California. The ecosystem is changing rapidly. It brings with it opportunity for seemingly endless growth and development of new technologies.
 
For more information, see the full study and fact sh eet.