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The Big Picture San Diego Blog


Metropolitan Export Plan

May 13, 2013

“It’s clear to us we are a global city,” said City of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner as he kicked off a press conference and town hall on May 13. Its focus was the need for the San Diego region to increase export activity in order to grow jobs and economic prosperity. It may be clear to San Diego, but it might not be clear to the rest of the world. He's out to change that perception and at the same time create more of the middle class jobs that were once the backbone of the San Diego economy. "We have not fulfilled our potential," he said, adding that we have the political will to change.

Each speaker commented on the findings of a market assessment that was the catalyst for the gathering. The market assessment is the first key step in the Brookings Metropolitan Export Initiative, a program focused on helping eight regions create collaborations from the ground up to design and implement customized metropolitan export plans.

City of San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey pointed out that San Diego has lots of advantages other areas don’t have, such as our technology sectors.

Michael Masserman, from the U.S. International Trade Administration came to offer his agency’s support which includes opening markets for exports and entering into trade agreements to facilitate exports. “Jobs in export-oriented companies pay 15 – 20 percent higher wages that their non-exporting counterparts,” said Masserman.

Elliott Hirshman, president of San Diego State University, discussed the importance of international engagement in educating the workforce of the future citing a substantial increase in international programs at San Diego State.

Peter Cowhey, dean of the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at UC San Diego, presented highlights from the market assessment. Cowhey, along with two of his graduate students, was responsible for conducting the survey and collecting the data for the market assessment. “San Diego is punching well below our weight,” said Cowhey, pointing out that although San Diego is the country’s 17th largest metropolitan economy, we rank only 55th when examining exports as a share of our regional economic output.

The market assessment revealed that San Diego’s exporters see a need for infrastructure development in three major areas: port, airport and cyber infrastructure.

Bob Nelson, vice chair of the board of port commissioners, agreed that if the region is going to see growth in exports then we need to see growth in infrastructure. The Port has in the works infrastructure improvements worth close to $100 million.

Robert Gleason, board chair of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, said that San Diego International Airport has a critical role to play in increasing export activity. That includes additional international non-stop service and increasing cargo capacity. An added benefit of more international visitors (which are also considered exports) is that they typically spend almost double what a domestic visitor spends on a trip.

Steven Weathers, president and CEO of World Trade Center San Diego, an organization that provides direct services to exporting companies, said that many people ask him, “What’s the big goal?” His answer? “Job creation – sustainable, diverse, job creation.”

photo left to right: Mayor Bob Filner, City Councilman Mark Kersey, Michael Masserman, Peter Cowhey, Bob Nelson, Robert Gleason, Elliot Hirshman, Steven Weathers

Access the full report: San Diego Metropolitan Export Initiative Market Assessment

Media coverage 

Region needs to boost exporting, report saysU-T San Diego
Local leaders push boosting trade, The Daily Transcript  
San Diego could be exporting more, Brookings Institution reports, KPBS