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The Big Picture San Diego Blog


The crucial role of big business in San Diego's small business economy

September 4, 2019

This op-ed was originally published in Times of San Diego, authored by Kim Becker, Jane Finley, and Chris Nayve.

More big business executives are shifting their corporate policies to include the needs of every stakeholder—not just the company’s shareholders, but all of its stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, customers, and community. The importance of this issue was magnified by a recent statement from the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs from America’s leading companies. In today’s world of widening economic disparities and rapid digital automation, it is critical now, more than ever, for large companies to go beyond checking the boxes of corporate social responsibility and actually create solutions for inclusive economic growth, which means prioritizing the success of small businesses in their community.

In San Diego, where small businesses make up 98 percent of firms, large corporations can play a crucial role in growing the economy—through supporting small businesses, especially those in “opportunity industries.” While the region’s highest-paying jobs come from innovation industries, a new study by San Diego Regional EDC indicates that opportunity industries offer alternative pathways to prosperity. These industries—such as construction, manufacturing, and logistics—provide good pay, benefits, and sustainable career paths, through quality jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree. The problem is that workers cannot get jobs where none exist.

To address these challenges, EDC launched an employer-led Inclusive Growth Steering Committee to drive an agenda that maximizes economic growth through inclusion. Guided by the findings of EDC’s latest study, the steering committee recently endorsed a regional goal to “create 50,000 new quality jobs in small businesses by 2030.” This includes supporting small firms in opportunity industries, which have a higher concentration of quality jobs accessible without a bachelor’s degree.

The steering committee also developed a set of actionable recommendations for how large employers can support local small businesses, through their procurement decisions and direct investment in small business support programs. These actions help small businesses increase revenue and, as a result, create more quality jobs.

According to a recent survey, the most difficult challenge faced by small businesses is attracting new customers. Though many large firms in San Diego procure goods and services from opportunity industries, local small businesses struggle to compete for their attention and often lose out to larger suppliers from outside the region. By establishing a more concerted effort to procure from local businesses, San Diego’s large companies could fuel local job growth without sacrificing quality of work.

No one understands the value of strong local supply chains better than San Diego’s anchor institutions. As locally-serving organizations deeply rooted in their community, anchor institutions have a vested interest in helping small businesses succeed. The University of San Diego understands the transformative impact an anchor institution can make by simply expanding partnerships with local service providers. The university’s director of procurement has set spending targets specifically for small and minority-owned businesses and hosts quarterly supplier diversity workshops. The university takes responsibility for strengthening the local small business ecosystem, so that more students can thrive in San Diego after graduation.

As an advocate for community health, Kaiser Permanente recognizes that economic opportunity and stability are essential to maintaining healthy residents. Kaiser Permanente recently funded a tuition-free training program for small business owners to help build capacity for sustainable growth. During its first year in San Diego, the program helped 55 small businesses grow revenues and create new jobs.

Through its Small Business Development program, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority ensures that small and disadvantaged businesses have the opportunity to work with the airport. Over the past decade, the airport authority has contributed $250 million to the regional economy in construction contracts with small businesses alone, and has benefited by increasing competition in the procurement process and gaining access to external talent. By demonstrating the value from these partnerships, anchor institutions, like the airport authority, can provide examples of effective procurement strategies that other large companies can adopt to benefit themselves and the region as a whole.

Like CEOs of the Business Roundtable, our region’s anchor institutions and large employers have an opportunity to play a central role in creating a better, more inclusive San Diego. By directly investing in local small businesses through procurement and support programs, large firms can help sustain these smaller companies and maximize regional economic growth, while still maintaining their bottom line. It’s time that San Diego’s largest entities work together to restore our corporate ecosystem and, ultimately, provide more San Diegans with access to quality jobs.

Kim Becker is the president and CEO of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. Jane Finley is the senior vice president and area manager for all Kaiser Permanente facilities in San Diego. Chris Nayve is the associate vice president for community engagement at the Karen & Tom Mulvaney Center of the University of San Diego. These organizations are all members of San Diego Regional EDC’s Inclusive Growth Steering Committee.