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The Big Picture San Diego Blog

Brookings: Foreign direct investment supports nearly 50,000 local jobs

June 19, 2014

Today, the Brookings Institution released its first-ever metro-level analysis of foreign direct investment’s role in the San Diego metropolitan area’s economy as part of its Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase. The report analyzes the types of foreign-owned businesses located in the San Diego metropolitan area, outlines the region’s sources of foreign investment and shows that 48,370 jobs are supported by FDI locally.

The research finds that San Diego has seen a steady climb in its FDI ranking, which is based on the top 100 most populous metropolitan areas in the US. In 1991, San Diego ranked 31 on the list with 25,600 jobs in foreign-owned establishments (FOE). In 2011, the region ranked 24th with 48,730 jobs, signifying more than a 90 percent increase in the number of jobs in FOEs in a 20 year period. Other key finds specific to the San Diego region are bulleted out below:

  • Industries with the highest concentration of jobs in FOEs include precision instruments (unmanned systems, medical devices), grocery stores and semiconductors
  • The largest share of jobs by FOE were created from mergers and acquisitions (36 percent)
  • FOEs have become more goods-intensive. The most recent data shows that 2011 was the first time more jobs in FOEs were concentrated in goods as opposed to services
  • Tokyo (13 percent) followed by London (12.1 percent) are the top sources of FDI by city

Since April 2014, San Diego has been part of a Global Cities Initiative pilot program to create and implement metropolitan plans to secure and sustain FDI. The FDI in U.S. Metro Areas report will help the region’s Global Cities Initiative team – comprised of leadership from the City of San Diego, San Diego Regional EDC, BIOCOM and Qualcomm – design its plan to maximize the amount, quality and economic benefits of FDI in the region and integrate FDI into an overall smart economic global trade and investment strategy.  San Diego is one of two cities - and the only in California - that Brookings selected to publish and develop its FDI plan.

“San Diego is global city,” said Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of San Diego Regional EDC. “It’s no coincidence that our top two FDI-generating cities– Tokyo and London – are also the two direct international flights out of San Diego. This report gives the San Diego region a key resource to take full advantage of this important economic development tool.”


While the United States remains the world’s top destination for foreign investment, its position has been steadily eroding. Between 1999 and 2012, the U.S. share of global FDI inflows dropped from a high of 26 percent to just 12 percent. However, metropolitan areas are the country’s strongest magnets for global investment and so understanding the San Diego metro area’s FDI starting point will help the region fully leverage FDI to advance its economic development.

Brookings Panel in Seattle

According to the Brookings report, the benefits of FDI extend well beyond the millions of jobs supported. For example, U.S. affiliates of foreign companies pay well above average wages. These companies strengthen U.S. trade, producing more than one-fifth of all U.S. goods exports. Additionally, nineteen percent of all corporate R&D expenditures in the United States come from foreign-owned companies. Finally, 48 percent of total FDI flows in 2012 went to manufacturing industries, shoring up the nation’s eroding production base.

While metro areas have traditionally focused on attracting greenfield investment, this new data shows that most FDI enters regions through mergers and acquisitions. In the average year, mergers and acquisitions account for 87 percent of all FDI inflows into the United States. These investments have significant economic potential—for example, cash infusions can help local businesses expand, and new access to global distribution networks can boost exports.

“This new data allows U.S. metro areas, for the first time, better grasp FDI sources and trends, and its impact on local economies,” said Brad McDearman, Brookings fellow and director of metro trade and investment. “As part of the Global Cities Initiative, San Diego is now at the forefront of U.S. metro areas seeking to position themselves as more globally fluent and competitive regions by developing a metropolitan global trade and investment plan.”

Next week, leaders from San Diego will travel to Louisville, Ky. to take part in a Global Cities Initiative panel.