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The Big Picture San Diego Blog

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April 28, 2016

It’s clear that despite a healthy economy, not every part of San Diego is enjoying economic prosperity. This week, sat down with Jim Zortman, sector VP, strategic operations of Northrop Grumman and newly appointed chairman of EDC, for a chat about what he hopes to do about this issue and others. 

What are your goals in your new role as chairman of the San Diego Regional EDC?

Zortman: Over the past four years, EDC has introduced a number of important initiatives to expand our regional economy with and through a broad base of partners. For example, in partnership with the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase, the “Go Global Initiative” aims to attract foreign direct investment, grow regional exports and strengthen economic ties in strategic international markets, as well as position San Diego’s unique global identity.

As chairman, I am committed to championing these initiatives, but it’s clear that despite a healthy economy, not every part of San Diego is enjoying economic prosperity. I hope to broaden our agenda to focus on economic development issues in communities that have not yet benefited from the region’s development. It is my vision that the broad-based coalition of partners that catalyzed the region’s life-sciences, technology, R&D, defense and aerospace sectors can also come together to develop job opportunities and prosperity for more San Diegans.

What do you feel are the biggest economic development challenges in the San Diego market?

Zortman: We have all heard the comment that businesses should operate “anywhere but California.”  We know it is not cheap to do business here. But it is our job as economic developers to understand and leverage our assets and competitive advantages—just as your readers often have to do as real estate professionals. California is number one in economic categories like foreign investment, venture capital and job growth; we rank first in sectors like agriculture, defense, biotechnology and life sciences; our public universities are nationally ranked and produce top-tier talent—the list goes on and on. San Diego plays an important role in each of these fields.

San Diego is home to the largest concentration of military anywhere in the world. It is the underpinning of defense sectors where we have unmatched dominance: cybersecurity, defense, communications, unmanned systems and maritime. San Diego is the epicenter of the future of biotechnology—specifically genomics. We are home to Craig Venter, who was the first person to sequence the human genome, and to Illumina, the company that can now sequence the genome in just over 24 hours for under $1,000. San Diego has more than 80 research institutions, more than any other region in the country.

Not only are we home to a diversity of thriving industries, but we are also a top-tier talent pool driving our region’s growth. Specifically, San Diego gained 72,000 degree holders in 2014 alone, more than any other major metro area in the country. Also, San Diego has the lowest turnover rate in tech and scientific R&D jobs, which is attracting the attention of technology companies across the country.

Continually, we have what talent wants: the lowest average commute time of any major metro area in the country; an influx of creative-office space as seen with iboss Cybersecurity’s space in UTC; competitive wages—ranking second average annual pay for R&D employees—and more.

And if that’s not enough, let me point out that the economy of Texas could pretty much double overnight and still not match the strength of California’s economy. In the end, dispelling myths about doing business here and telling San Diego’s story is our collective responsibility.

What do you feel are the biggest economic-development opportunities that are perhaps not being taken advantage of in the San Diego market?

Zortman: One of the biggest opportunities we have as a region is to help companies export their products and services. In 2013, San Diego ranked 18th of the 100 largest metro areas in total export value, export-supported jobs, GDP and population size. But the region was only 61st in terms of export intensity—total export value as a share of the region’s GDP. According to the Institute for International Economics, companies that export not only grow faster, but are less likely to go out of business than non-exporting companies.

World Trade Center San Diego – now housed within EDC – has introduced the MetroConnect Program to provide small- and medium-sized enterprises with resources and funding to help open new markets abroad. The Go Global Initiative and programs like MetroConnect help San Diego maximize its global competitiveness.

What else should our readers know about San Diego Regional EDC?

Zortman: The real estate industry is a key partner to EDC. Every day our team works with brokers and developers to help enable and encourage companies to grow here. Using data on the region’s industry clusters, workforce talent and network of partners, EDC is able to assist companies with expansions throughout the mega region. Some of San Diego’s recent wins include the attraction of tech companies such as Bizness Apps and Wrike.

Real estate professionals should also use the research EDC produces to better understand industry sectors poised for growth. For example, EDC recently released a study on San Diego’s software development industry. The study showed the region’s software ecosystem impacts more than 100,000 jobs in the regional economy, with an economic impact totaling $12.2 billion annually; venture-capital investment in software was up by 38 percent in 2015; and the industry has an anticipated employment growth of 18.1 percent in the next year—all signs that the region’s tech ecosystem is gaining national visibility.


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