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The Big Picture San Diego Blog


March 5, 2018

This op-ed was first published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, authored by EDC's Mark Cafferty and Biocom's Joe Panetta.

Largely due to its recent marketing campaign, Qualcomm is recognized by San Diegans as the company that puts the “smart” in our smartphones. But behind the billboards, there is a deeper story about how this homegrown San Diego company became the world’s largest smartphone chipmaker while redefining corporate citizenship and putting our region on the map as a tech and life sciences powerhouse.

Qualcomm is the quintessential San Diego story, but to understand its true impact you need to understand its origin: In 1966, Irwin Jacobs came to San Diego to take a job at UC San Diego. Two years later, he founded Linkabit — a telecom company specializing in government contracts — that served as a precursor to Qualcomm. In 1985, Qualcomm was officially founded by five individuals in Jacobs’ La Jolla home.
Fast forward more than 32 years, and Qualcomm is San Diego’s largest publicly traded company, employing nearly 13,000 locally. As a global company, it has offices on nearly every continent, yet its headquarters has remained in San Diego.
A recent economic impact analysis conducted by San Diego Regional EDC found that Qualcomm added $4.9 billion in economic activity to the San Diego region in 2017 alone — the equivalent of hosting 35 San Diego Comic-Cons. Additionally, every job at Qualcomm supports an additional 1.8 jobs in the San Diego region.
Qualcomm has led by example, with its founder, leaders, employees and alumni creating new companies, teaching at our schools, hiring our local population, advocating for positive public policy steps, and accelerating the growth of San Diego’s innovation economy.
While Qualcomm is a wireless company, its focus on connected devices and the internet of things has impacted nearly every high tech industry, from healthcare to smart cities. Qualcomm/Linkabit alumni have gone on to start or sell their inventions to major companies including Viasat, Leap Wireless, Kyocera, Motorola, Ericsson and more. Qualcomm Ventures has proved a vital backer of San Diego startups including Edico Genome and Brain Corp., and is a key player in the rise of telemedicine. Today, San Diego stands as the third most patent-intense region in the U.S., not only due to the intellectual property the chipmaker has developed and the innovation it has catalyzed throughout the region but also due to its relentless advocacy for intellectual property rights for all industries.
Its work in the San Diego community starts long before one steps foot on Qualcomm’s campus. Spend one day at its Thinkabit Lab™ — a part art studio, part engineering lab that is introducing middle school students to careers in technology — and learn how it has transformed the way students from all backgrounds think about the world of work. The successful program has been expanded to schools in Chula Vista, San Diego and Vista.
Everyone has a story about how Qualcomm has affected our community. In fact, we kicked off the #QualCOMMUNITY campaign with the support of Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders so San Diegans can share their story about the company’s impact. From the Old Globe to the San Diego Symphony to the new Central Library to our world-class universities, Qualcomm’s impact can be seen and felt across our region.
Qualcomm has given San Diego an opportunity to reinvent itself. It has been an anchor as we have transformed from a military town to an innovation hub and one of the top biotech clusters in the world. Qualcommers go to bat for San Diego. As employees, they define the next frontier of invention. As residents, they spend money at our businesses and enliven our neighborhoods; and as philanthropists, they donate millions to our universities and causes.
While the specifics around the deal are in flux, most everyone is aware that the homegrown wireless giant has been in conversations with Broadcom, a competing telecommunications company, about a potential merger.
Shareholders and regulators will decide what happens next, but outside the boardroom, this culture of innovation, collaboration, and community will always remain core to the San Diego story.
It’s a story that many companies and people, in San Diego and beyond, can learn a lot from.
Cafferty is president & CEO of San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation. Panetta is president & CEO of Biocom.
February 21, 2018

Recovering from a decrease in employment during Q3 2017, San Diego, and the overwhelming majority of the most populous metros, experienced an increase in employment during Q4 2017. The region’s total nonfarm employment grew 22,100, or 1.5 percent during the quarter. Compared to a year ago, nonfarm employment was up 21,100, or 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, San Diego’s unemployment rate was 3.3 percent in Q4, the lowest the region has seen in the last 17 years and down from 4.1 percent in Q3.

Key findings from the Quarterly Economic Snapshot:

  • San Diego closed Q4 2017 with an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent, the 7th lowest among top U.S. metros and below the state rate of 4.2 percent.
  • With the holiday season in full bloom, the retail sector continued to grow, adding 7,500 jobs in Q4. Other strong contributors to the quarterly employment growth were professional, scientific, and technical services and state and local government, together adding 13,200 jobs.
  • The median home price rose slightly from the previous quarter, and is now up 7.4 percent compared to a year ago.
  • VC dollars in the region increased 33 percent compared to a year ago.

The Quarterly Economic Snapshot analyzes key economic indicators that are important to understanding the regional economy and the region’s standing relative to the 25 most populous metropolitan areas in the U.S. This releases includes data from October to December (Q4) 2017.

Read it here, and see our research center for more.

February 15, 2018

Today, EDC launched a data-driven initiative to drive economic growth and inclusion in the region. Catalyzed by San Diego’s participation in the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program learning lab in 2017, EDC released research that highlights the region’s economic pain points and necessity for an employer-led approach to tackling inclusivity issues.

Despite record-low unemployment and a renowned innovation ecosystem, San Diego has an inclusion problem that cannot be ignored,” said Mark Cafferty, president and CEO, San Diego Regional EDC. “Small businesses cannot compete with larger corporations, while one million people cannot afford to live here. This initiative is a call to action for San Diego’s employers – we must come together to bridge the gaps in our economy.”

While the rise of the innovation economy has created wealth and opportunity across the region, it has also widened economic inequalities. If San Diego does not change its status quo, the region will to lose employees and companies to other regions. 

Key facts:

With the combination of a high cost of living, low educational attainment in our fastest growing population and a small business-centric economy that struggles to pay competitive wages, it is imperative that San Diego employers take action to promote economic inclusion.

Convened by EDC, a Steering Committee of local employers will work to create an actionable platform to achieve three goals: close the minority achievement gap; equip small businesses to compete; and address the affordability crisis. The committee consists of nearly 40 local employers including Northrop Grumman, Solar Turbines, Sempra, Thermo Fisher Scientific, San Diego Padres and more.

Inclusion is not a philanthropy issue. This is about economic competitiveness, and San Diego’s employers must lead the charge in addressing inequity in our local workforce, said Janice Brown, founder and owner, Brown Law Group, and incoming board chair, San Diego Regional EDC. “But if any region can change and reinvent itself, it’s this one.” 

If the region intends to compete in the global market, employers and economic development leaders must work to ensure all workers have equal opportunity to thrive. While talent attraction efforts are necessary in an increasingly global economy, San Diego must ensure its future workforce is prepared for jobs in the innovation economy and recognize opportunity within its local talent pool.

To view the research summary, click here.

Over the next year, EDC and the Steering Committee will produce ongoing research and develop actionable recommendations to inclusive economic development in San Diego that will be updated on

The initiative launched at an event hosted by EDC at the Jackie Robinson YMCA, with special guest Amy Liu, vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program, at the Brookings Institution.

Other partners and organizations are making progress as well. On February 27, National University and the San Diego Workforce Partnership are hosting Dr. Raj Chetty, leading impact economist from Stanford University, and the author of research that inspired much of the focus on inclusion, nationally.  He will discuss social mobility markers and the link between mobility and economic growth. To RSVP for the event, click here.


February 14, 2018

Last week, President Trump signed a two-year budget deal that included a hike in the debt ceiling and agreements to raise spending caps for domestic and defense programs.

For San Diego, a community where 20 percent of our GRP is tied to the military, this bill provides some stability and relief from the constant threat of continuing resolutions and sequester.

In order to better understand how fluctuations in defense spending impact our regional economy, EDC has released “Mapping San Diego’s Defense Ecosystem,” as well as a data visualization tool at This is the first of its kind regional analysis that focuses on the industrial composition of the defense supply chain and quantifies the number of firms and jobs that are impacted by defense spending. This project was executed as part of phase one of Propel San Diego, a Department of Defense funded grant initiative awarded to the City of San Diego.  

Specifically, the web tool provides deal flow information at the zip code level and by industry across the county. Why this matters: the 2019 budget includes two Fleet Replenishment Oilers (T-AO) priced at $1.1 billion. These ships will likely be built by General Dynamics NASSCO here in San Diego. While those contracts are awarded over a period time, by using this new tool, users can see that this funding will have a direct impact in creating more than 1,000 jobs in the shipbuilding and repair industry.

Key study findings include:

  • San Diego is the second largest recipient of defense procurement dollars in the U.S. 
  • A strong network of suppliers and access to customers are key reasons that 71 percent of firms have a favorable view of San Diego as a place to do business.
  • Defense contractor jobs have grown 6.3 percent over the last three years, and are expected to grow another 9.3 percent over the next year.
  • Since 2012, the majority of contract dollars received by the region were awarded by the Department of the Navy, each year awarding between 44 and 55 percent of total awards.
  • The majority of contract dollars were awarded to companies in the manufacturing industry, each year receiving anywhere between 47 and 68 percent of total contract dollars.

These resources provide companies, city planners, workforce agencies and economic development organizations better insights into how legislation like the bill signed into law last week can impact the San Diego community. The data has the potential to help companies prepare for new market opportunities and help communities prepare for changes in workforce demands, as has helped inform how EDC can better prioritize our limited resources in support of the region’s defense industry.

Following the successful execution of Propel San Diego’s phase one, the City of San Diego has been awarded a phase two grant for an additional $1.7 million. For more information, visit

Read the full study here.


December 22, 2017

Economic development is about more than just ribbon cuttings and groundbreakings. It involves long-term, strategic support of companies large and small, often over the course of several years.

And while everything can't be packaged into neat headlines, we wanted to take you behind the scenes for a look at the work that goes on along the way.

Click the link below for an interactive look at EDC's 2017 in review. Thank you and happy holidays to those who make this work possible: our partners, investors and friends.

Here's to 2018, and a prosperous San Diego economy in the new year.

December 22, 2017

Each month the California Employment Development Department (EDD) releases industry data for the prior month. This edition of San Diego’s Economic Pulse covers November 2017 data, including unemployment, new business establishments and job postings.

Highlights include:

  • The region’s unemployment rate fell to 3.3 percent in November, from a revised 3.7 percent in October. The unemployment rate is a full percentage point below the November 2016 rate of 4.3 percent, and the lowest since December 2000.
  • Every jurisdiction saw a decline in its unemployment rate in November. El Cajon and Imperial Beach saw the largest declines, both dropping 0.7 percent.
  • The labor force added 4,800 workers in November, after shedding a similar number in October. The labor force is up 8,600 compared to a year ago.
  • Year-over-year, real estate, rental and leasing growth outpaced all other key sectors, up 5.5 percent.

Read San Diego’s Economic Pulse here.

December 19, 2017

San Diego’s 2017 story was one of growth, innovation, global connectivity and collaboration across different communities and industries. And even in a year riddled with uncertainties, San Diegans remained committed to driving positive change – and EDC remained committed to delivering news about this change to your inbox each week.

So, we’re sharing San Diego's top 10 'Good News' stories from 2017 as a reminder of just how lucky we are to call this life-changing place home.

From all of us at EDC, we thank you for being a part of it (and a special thanks to Phil Blair at Manpower San Diego for sponsoring this Good News all year long). Here’s to 2018.

  SD deploys largest IoT platform in the world
San Diego might just have the smartest streetlights in the world. The city of San Diego partnered with GE to upgrade streetlights to reduce energy costs by 60 percent, as well as transform them into a connected digital network that can optimize parking and traffic, enhance public safety and track air quality. With 3,200 smart sensors, it is the largest city-based deployment of an IoT platform in the world. Read more.
  Airport expands, adds new nonstop flights
It was a big year for the nation's busiest single runway commercial airport. A few highlights from San Diego International Airport:
  Cubic moves the world
Cubic Transportation Systems is quite literally moving the world. This year alone, the San Diego transportation technology company netted more than $1 billion in contracts to implement next-gen payment systems for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Cubic also signed contract extensions with Transport for London, and with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the Bay Area
  Amazon expands in San Diego. No, not HQ2
Amazon committed to growing its footprint in San Diego, with more than 100,000 square feet of office space leased from Alexandria Real Estate. While Amazon has a small office in Solana Beach, as well as distribution facilities in the region, this is its first major office/engineering presence in the region – with room for 500 employees. While this move is separate from its highly-publicized HQ2 bid, it does signal that Amazon sees viability in the San Diego market. Read more.
  San Diego's Toni Atkins tapped to lead CA State Senate
State Senator Toni Atkins is set to become the California Senate President Pro Tem. She is the first woman and first openly gay legislator to hold the leadership position – and she hails from none other than San Diego. No stranger to leadership roles, Atkins previously served nearly two years as speaker of the California Assembly. Read more.

Former Google Ventures exec chooses SD as VC fund home
While San Diego may not be viewed as VC heavy weight, this year proved that we can still hold our own in the VC ring. When former Google Ventures exec Bill Maris was closing on his venture fund, Section 32, he chose San Diego as its home. While local companies do command VC (82 deals totaling $903 million as of Q3 2017), there are few funds based here. Maris’ decision to operate out of San Diego brings a new type of VC ecosystem to town. Read more.

  Comic-Con commits to SD through 2021
Staying true to its 1970 commitment, Comic-Con International announced it will remain in San Diego through 2021. With more than 130,000 attendees from across the world, Comic-Con is the San Diego Convention Center’s largest event and is estimated to generate $135 million regionally and $2.8 million in tax revenues for the city. Plus, it makes for some great people watching. Read more.
  SD ushers in new era of precision medicine
As the most patent intensive genomics market in the U.S., San Diego is leading the charge in a new era of healthcare. Kicking the year off, local genomics giant lllumina unveiled a new machine that is expected to sequence a whole genome for less than $100, in less than one hour – down from $1,000 in 2014. Also making waves in the genomics space, Edico Genome set (another) world record by processing 1,000 pediatric genomes in two hours and twenty-five minutes. Read more about the industry in the first-ever genomics study, which EDC released at BIO 2017.
  Local universities expand, bolster talent pipeline
San Diego universities produce a top-tier talent pipeline for employers both here and across the globe. And now more than ever, San Diego State University, UC San Diego, Point Loma Nazarene University and other locals are expanding programs and campuses to accommodate increased enrollment and industry needs. This year's university successes include:
  • UC San Diego broke ground on a state-of-the-art facility in East Village that will connect students to downtown's diverse, entrepreneurial community
  • San Diego State University quantified its impact, highlighting $5.67 billion in economic activity and 42,000 jobs supported
  • Local philanthropist T. Denny Sanford donated $28 million to National University System to address critical needs in teacher education, PreK-12 instruction and nonprofit fundraising
  San Diego tops the charts
San Diego made its presence known in many of this year's national rankings. From the region's entrepreneurial culture to its quality of life, top-tier publications and organizations took notice of what San Diego brings to the table. Here are some of our favorite rankings of the year: 


December 8, 2017

"Congressional action needed to replace San Diego’s aging airport terminal" was originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, authored by Mark Cafferty and Joe Terzi.

When you think about the region’s economic prosperity — today and tomorrow — all roads lead to San Diego International Airport. Tourism, business, global trade, the innovation economy, even the defense sector all depend on it.
Last year, our airport served almost 21 million passengers. Terminal 2, expanded several years ago, is a welcoming stage for San Diego. Yet Terminal 1 — now 50 years old and used by Southwest, Frontier and Alaska Airlines — not so much.
That is why the Airport Authority is refining the Airport Development Plan, which includes replacing Terminal 1. But there is a catch — paying for it. Right now, congressional action to lift the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) is being debated — again — and it is essential for our airport and for our region.
The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority is the airport owner and operator, and it has been busy making a stream of improvements over the past decade. These include the expansion of Terminal 2, a central receiving and distribution center, new general aviation facility, new rental car center using a new on-airport roadway to access the terminals, a parking structure and new international arrivals facility under construction, and much more....
Read the full op-ed online here.
September 29, 2017

By now, just about everyone has heard the news about Amazon and its pursuit to develop a second headquarters operation (HQ2), somewhere in North America. The announcement came out through Tech Crunch and The Wall Street Journal last month and spread like wild fire through economic development communities and elected offices across the nation. Suffice it to say that Amazon has created one of the most competitive business attraction processes in history. Cities, counties, even states, are bending over backwards to make their areas fit the profile that Amazon is seeking: a metro or suburban region with more than 1 million people, the ability to attract and retain tech talent and other amenities like direct flights to key markets.

With the input of EDOs and partners across the county and state, San Diego Regional EDC is coordinating a regional response to Amazon’s HQ2 proposal.

On paper, the region checks all the boxes that Amazon lists in its RFP. In addition, the region has a handful of quality sites that meet the requirements of their build out: ability to deliver 500,000 ft2 by 2019 and up to 8 million ft2 in subsequent phases. San Diego also has a top-tier tech workforce (Amazon has stated they could hire up to 50,000 people) and quality of life that is unparalleled throughout most of the world. But when you look beneath the surface, San Diego also needs to realize that Amazon is commanding what will inevitably be record-setting incentive packages, an area where the State of California has scarcely been competitive, and for good reason. Incentives rarely yield impacts that exceed the costs. Further, when trying to find the location for a truly Life. Changing. company, incentives usually are nothing more than marginalia. Talent, quality of life and the prospect of being able to succeed are ultimately the more important factors. Nonetheless, the process that Amazon has put forth will command hundreds of millions, if not billions in incentives – amounts that can change minds.

Second, San Diego can’t change its geography. There has been debate throughout this process whether being in the same time zone as Seattle (Amazon's current HQ) would be a blessing or a curse. While there are “experts” on both sides of the argument, we ultimately don’t know what Amazon is looking for: West Coast ease of access to Seattle, East Coast access to financial and political centers and new talent pools, or somewhere in between. Only time will tell.

In summary, we don’t know where Amazon will ultimately end up. As an EDO, EDC is excited about the opportunity to bring our region together and present our best opportunities. It’s a good test to see just what we can do when the right opportunity comes along. In conjunction with partners from around the county and state, EDC will submit a response to Amazon’s RFP ahead of its October 19 deadline. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

September 21, 2017

EDC officially launched San Diego: Life. Changing., a campaign to raise San Diego’s profile and attract and retain top STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) talent in the region. includes information about living and working in the San Diego region, and will soon include a digital toolkit to assist companies in their recruitment efforts.                          

The campaign was launched at a specially-themed San Diego: Life. Changing Night at the Padres game on September 19, with more than 15,000 in attendance.

San Diego: Life. Changing. communicates San Diego’s evolving value proposition, driven by companies and people looking to change the world and upgrade their quality of life.                                                                                                               

“We’re not Boston, New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. And we don’t want to be,” said Mark Cafferty, president & CEO, San Diego Regional EDC. “This campaign was developed by San Diego…and for San Diego to communicate the unique opportunities and experiences our region offers to companies and employees alike.”

Extensive research proves that talent fuels economic growth, drives corporate decision-making and fuels entrepreneurship. If San Diego wants to remain economically competitive, it must continue to attract a talent pool that appeals to global companies.

The launch of the campaign is the culmination of Phase I of a year-long effort to refine a cohesive identity to attract and retain STEAM talent in the region. Hailing from life sciences and tech industries, nearly 100 companies with a San Diego presence have joined the “San Diego Brand Alliance” including Illumina, Human Longevity, Inc., SONY, ViaSat, Intuit – as well as many startups – and have provided feedback on potential recruiting tools and other San Diego assets.

“San Diego holds such tremendous opportunities for candidates, yet when recruiting top talent from outside of the region we still encounter the false perception that career options here are somewhat limited,” said Melinda Del Toro, senior vice president of People & Culture, ViaSat and vice-chair, San Diego Brand Alliance. “The San Diego: Life. Changing. campaign reinforces the message we’ve been telling candidates for years: San Diego is a dynamic, rich environment with incredible opportunities to have both the career and life you want, that you just don't find in other regions.”

Over the next two years, San Diego: Life. Changing. will continue to build out to include full company profiles, a video library and additional recruiting tools for companies. In 2018, EDC will look to partner with local organizations to deploy the campaign in specific markets across the country.

Learn more at and follow along at #SDlifechanging. San Diego-based companies can request access to the recruiting toolkit online here.


Please see press kit and FAQs for additional information about the campaign.