San Diego’s Changing Business Landscape: Turning the pandemic corner

Welcome to the second edition in EDC’s Changing Business Landscape Series, which will be published bi-monthly in the San Diego Business Journal and here on our blog. If you missed the first edition, read it here.

Surveying the changing business landscape in San Diego

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every facet of life, including how businesses operate. Companies in every industry are rapidly re-evaluating how they do business, changing the way they interact with customers, manage supply chains and where their employees are physically located. This has massive immediate and long-term implications for San Diego’s workforce and job composition, as well as regional land use decisions and infrastructure investment.

To identify evolving trends in local business needs and operations, ensuring their ability to grow and thrive in the region, EDC is surveying more than 200 companies in the region’s key industries on a rolling basis throughout 2021 to monitor and report shifts in their priorities and strategies. In addition, EDC constructed the San Diego Business Recovery Index (BRI)—a sentiment index to measure companies’ perceptions of current conditions, as well as expectations for the future across several factors such as business development, employment and commercial real estate needs. Review the BRI concept and methodology here.

These insights will help inform long-term economic development priorities around talent recruitment and retention, quality job creation and infrastructure development. Companies are surveyed on several topics, with varying emphases in each wave.

Here are three key findings from the second wave of surveying conducted in April 2021:

  1. The worst of the pandemic is behind us. Companies are very bullish about the next six to 12 months and, as a result, plan to accelerate hiring.
  1. San Diego’s innovation cluster is (mostly) booming. Life Sciences companies lead the way while Cyber and Aerospace firms are still working through pandemic-related challenges.
  1. Companies are seriously reevaluating their space needs. Smaller firms are looking to expand their footprint, while traditional Tech companies may be scaling down.

The worst is behind us

San Diego companies indicated that they think the worst of the pandemic has passed. With a BRI of 58.9 in April, regional firms noted that they plan to hire or rehire workers at a slightly faster pace than they have up to this point, while also expanding remote work capabilities going forward.

Last month’s index reading reflects bullish assessments of, both, present conditions (the present conditions subindex registered a value of 56.1) and expectations for the future (subindex of 65.4). Companies noted some lingering effects from a full year in lockdown, including difficulties with business development and job losses, and neutral to slightly negative feelings on remote work over the past year. Nonetheless, firms reported bright views on the current state of the regional economy and noted that San Diego businesses and key industries have adapted to the pandemic better that those in peer regions.

Regional companies were even more upbeat when it came to expectations for the future. All of the index’s expectations subindex values were north of 50, and companies overwhelmingly believe that the regional economy will have improved significantly in the next six months (subindex of 72.7) and even more so within the next 12 months (subindex of 86.2). This is important because many companies make decisions today based on their assessments of business conditions in the near future.

Most companies shared in the optimism, but to varying degrees. Small companies with fewer than 50 employees that were hardest hit during the pandemic held slightly dimmer, though still generally positive, views than their larger counterparts. In particular, smaller firms cited ongoing difficulties accessing new customers, managing suppliers and vendors, and hiring and retaining workers. Even so, assessments of current earnings trends were only slightly negative, and small firms held a sunny disposition when it comes to the current state of the San Diego economy and business climate.

Interestingly, however, companies with fewer than 50 workers had the highest level of optimism for the future across business size cohorts, which could signal an inflection point for the pace of hiring in the coming months. This bodes especially well for the jobs recovery heading into the second half of 2021, as 96 percent of San Diego’s businesses have fewer than 50 employees and small businesses have historically accounted for roughly half of all job growth.

San Diego’s innovation cluster is (mostly) booming

San Diego’s innovation cluster overwhelming expressed optimism entering 2021, as companies shifted toward meeting the demand for life-saving technologies, treatments and personal protective equipment leading to record venture capital investment and renewed job growth. However, a closer look reveals mixed results within the cluster. Industries like Cleantech, Software and Biomedical Device producers all held especially confident views (BRIs in the mid-60s), while Telecommunications, Cybersecurity and Aerospace each signaled ongoing challenges from the pandemic (BRIs ranging from 43 to 50).

Biotech and Biomedical Device manufactures hold strong expectations for the regional economy, with plans to increase their headcount and real estate footprint during the next year. In addition, they expect to increase their use of remote work over the same time frame. While this may seem contradictory, it reflects the modifications and enhancements that many companies are making to protect workers on the production floor, as well as those necessary to attract workers back into the office. Workers want to feel safe once back on company property and they also want to maintain the flexibility that working remotely has provided. To accommodate these needs, employers are preparing for a flexible or hybrid workplace once reopen. In addition, many companies are reconfiguring and even seeking new space to keep workers spread out, adapting space to be more comfortable in a post-pandemic environment. This includes ‘hoteling’ and ‘neighborhooding’ models to help reduce the flow of people and simultaneously allow teams to collaborate in person. Companies are preparing for a gradual return to the office to give workers adequate time to warm up to pre-pandemic routines. More on that below.

While Telecommunications and Cybersecurity firms all share this optimistic regional economic outlook with their Life Sciences peers, these industries are much more subdued about their own expansion plans for the next year. On net, they see their needs for space as unchanged, with some modest reductions in hiring compared to typical years. This reflects the challenges these industries have faced during the pandemic, namely with respect to increased difficulty with sales, hiring and, somewhat surprisingly, inefficiencies from remote work. Aerospace has not yet recovered from the initial impacts of the pandemic, still reeling from significant hits to both sales and employment, as well as disruptions in their supply chains from lockdowns and restricted international travel and transportation.

Smaller firms are looking to add space

After more than a year of implementing remote work and reduced onsite staffing, companies are beginning to plan for a return to the office. However, how much space awaits those returning to the office will vary by industry as well as firm size.

It is small- and medium-sized firms that are looking to expand their commercial real estate footprint over the next year rather than larger firms. In fact, the proportion of firms surveyed that expect to increase space by 10 percent or more of their current square footage is nearly double that of those planning to reduce their current space by 10 percent or more (16 percent to 8.4 percent, respectively). However, when you factor in the size of each company, those planning significant real estate growth represent only three percent of the jobs compared to 13 percent of jobs for those looking to reduce space significantly (companies surveyed collectively employ nearly 200,000 workers).

When we look at the innovation companies, we see some stark differences between traditional Technology and Biotechnology industries. Eight percent of respondents representing 22 percent of jobs plan to reduce their space by more than 10 percent—mostly in the Telecommunications industry. However, nearly 26 percent of respondents representing 41 percent jobs expect to add modest amounts of space less than 10 percent of their current footprint. Here many respondents are in the Biomedical Device and Biotech industries and likely in need of additional production or lab space.

Understanding these evolving and distinct trends is important because San Diego’s innovation cluster is leading the region out of this pandemic-driven economic downturn, just as it has in each past downturn. Each job added in the innovation cluster supports another two jobs elsewhere in the economy. Yet, these innovation companies do not necessarily need to be physically located in San Diego in order to operate. Making sure these companies have the infrastructure and access to talent that they need to flourish is critical to our region’s prosperity.

Stay tuned for more on San Diego’s changing business landscape. EDC will be back every other month with more trends and insights. For more data and analysis visit: sandiegobusiness.org/research.

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San Diego’s Changing Business Landscape: The next normal is here

San Diego Regional EDC is excited to kick-off our Changing Business Landscape Series, which will be published bi-monthly in the San Diego Business Journal and on our blog.

Surveying the changing business landscape in San Diego

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every facet of life, including how businesses operate. The San Diego region began the year with near-record high unemployment and widespread small business closures. Meanwhile, large companies across the globe have extended remote work well into 2021 and are even abandoning their corporate campuses. Companies in every industry are rapidly re-evaluating how they do business and changing the way they interact with customers, manage supply chains, and where their employees are physically located. This has massive immediate and long-term implications for San Diego’s workforce and job composition, as well as regional land use decisions and infrastructure investment.

To identify evolving trends in local business needs and operations, ensuring their ability to grow and thrive in the region, EDC began surveying more than 200 employers in the region’s key industries in January. Given the uncertainty of this moment in history, EDC will continue to survey these companies on a rolling basis throughout 2021 to monitor and report out shifts in their priorities and strategies. These insights will help inform long-term economic development priorities around talent recruitment and retention, quality job creation, and infrastructure development. Businesses are surveyed on several topics, with varying emphases in each wave.

Here are three key findings:

  1. Everything is different, yet the future is bright. The pandemic has fundamentally altered how businesses operate across key industries. However, most companies are optimistic about their ability to pivot and emerge even stronger.
  1. Remote working is no longer a perk or competitive advantage—it’s the standard. Most companies view remote working as here to stay. This is viewed as both a benefit and as a threat to employee retention.
  1. Long commutes have been replaced by a blurring of work-life boundaries. Companies are struggling in maintaining employee morale and engagement. While many are seeing signs of employee burnout and isolation, few report significant concerns with retention.

San Diego’s innovation cluster rises to meet the challenge

One year into a global pandemic, San Diego’s most innovative companies and industries are well on their way to economic recovery. In fact, high-wage jobs—many of which are concentrated in aerospace, life science, and technology industries—have more than recovered from the pandemic-driven recession. This is welcome news as these are key drivers of economic growth in the region. In fact, every “innovation” job supports another two jobs elsewhere in the economy.

Even though growth has returned to the innovation cluster, the pandemic has disrupted the way these companies operate. The overwhelming majority (83 percent) of companies surveyed agree that the pandemic has fundamentally altered their industry. Yet, nearly as many (81 percent) feel that their industry has been able to adjust and remain healthy. Even more encouraging, 87 percent believe their industry will emerge even stronger once the pandemic has ended after adopting new ideas and implementing new strategies. However, those in the aerospace industry express somewhat lower levels of optimism, as the industry faces continued uncertainty around travel safety and demand.

Confidence is somewhat lower among smaller firms. Only 77 percent of those with fewer than 50 employees agree that their industry would emerge stronger and 10 percent strongly disagree. This likely reflects the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on small businesses, regardless of industry. While those in leisure and hospitality have certainly been the hardest hit, even small firms in professional and business services, including scientific and technical services, are currently experiencing lower revenues compared to before the pandemic.

Yet, the strongest signal for optimism comes from the direct response in combatting the novel coronavirus. San Diego companies have been among those leading the fight in everything from personal protective equipment and diagnostics to therapeutics and vaccine development. The life-changing and life-saving companies have pivoted and innovated yet again, drawing in record levels of venture capital investment. In the fourth quarter of 2020 alone, the region received nearly $2.7 billion in venture funding—with almost three-quarters going to life sciences and healthcare companies—which is more than three previous quarters combined, and $2 billion more than Q4 2019. The surge in investment and jobs recovery has the majority of innovation companies confident in the region’s ability to grow in prominence, or remain steadfast as a global leader in tech and life sciences.

The war for talent has no bounds

Talent has always been San Diego’s competitive advantage. People come from all over the world to get educated and build meaningful careers in everything from software engineering and autonomous vehicles to genomics sequencing and cybersecurity. San Diego’s innovation industries are among the highest-paying and fastest-growing in the region. Despite a global pandemic, many of these industries are accelerating hiring. The information sector, including telecommunications and information technology services, posted 20 percent more unique job ads in December 2020 than the year prior.

However, top talent remains hard to find. And while many of the jobs in these industries have shifted to either partially or fully remote, there are mixed feelings about whether it is a benefit or a detriment to talent recruitment and retention. Perceptions are tied to a company’s approach to attracting remote talent (see below). On one hand, a majority of respondents think that their ability to hire and retain skilled talent will not be impacted by the pandemic because of remote work capabilities. Many have expanded their recruitment beyond San Diego’s borders and are willing to accommodate working from outside the region to retain the very best talent. These San Diego-based companies that view the world as their pool for talent are embracing a global workforce that can get the job done from anywhere.

Yet, there is also a large minority of companies that view the pandemic as impacting the way they hire and retain talent. Again, the shift to remote work is cited as the top reason, with an even larger proportion (35 percent) identifying it as the cause for their pessimism. In fact, 45 percent of survey respondents rate hiring new employees during the pandemic as either “difficult” or “more difficult” than before, compared to 18 percent who view it as “easier” or “much easier.” Furthermore, nearly half of respondents cite talent recruitment as an area needing assistance and 20 percent identify it as an “urgent need.”

The pandemic has leveled the playing field for markets aiming to attract the best and brightest knowledge. San Diego’s competition with companies and regions across the country has increased. The region’s high cost of living is by far the biggest impediment to talent attraction, with 44 percent of respondents identifying high home prices as the most negative attribute of the San Diego market. This is due in large part to housing production not keeping pace with employment growth. As a result, San Diego has the second highest median home price among the 25 largest metros in the U.S., behind only San Francisco, and home prices jumped another 11 percent in 2020. Ensuring San Diego is an attractive and affordable place for talent and business is critical to maintaining its regional competitiveness.

Responding to workers’ needs is top of mind for companies

Transitioning to a remote work environment has been challenging. Business leaders are acutely aware of the need to balance conducting business as usual and responding to the changing needs of a newly remote workforce. Survey respondents report signs of ‘zoom fatigue,’ blurred work-life boundaries, and isolation among employees. While it has not yet significantly impacted retention, a full 60 percent of respondents rated “maintaining employee morale” as more challenging during the pandemic.

Furthermore, respondents expressed concerns about returning to an in-person work environment, recognizing that not all employees will want to return to the office immediately or full-time. This next phase of work will bring about a new set of challenges and a need for new policies, systems, and support for San Diego workers. Many questions remain around how much space will be needed and how it might need to be reconfigured to accommodate a flexible work environment that is also responsive to new health and safety requirements.

Survey respondents rated individualistic factors related to professional growth and work-life balance as the most important attributes to a competitive market for talent attraction and retention. This differs greatly from perceptions from just four years ago, when top universities and an entrepreneurial spirit were more top of mind. The desire to adapt and respond to the most pressing needs of its workforce, reinforces the notion that San Diego businesses value talent above all else.

Stay tuned for more on San Diego’s changing business landscape. EDC will be back every other month with more trends and insights. For more data and analysis visit: sandiegobusiness.org/research.

Take the next survey here

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Release: EDC study finds one in four local firms engaged in AI

EDC study quantifies impact of artificial intelligence, machine learning

San Diego industries that are embracing artificial intelligence (AI) support an estimated 175,680 jobs and $33.3 billion in annual gross regional product, according to a study released today by San Diego Regional EDC. Underwritten by Booz Allen Hamilton, “Measuring the Future: AI and San Diego’s Economy” is the first in a series of reports that will identify key industries and clusters where AI and machine learning (ML) have been implemented, and ultimately quantify the impacts of these technologies on San Diego’s regional economy.

The study—available at SanDiegoAI.org—includes a historic timeline, cluster map, and cross-references AI patent language with job postings to anticipate the future impacts of AI and ML on the job market.

AI and ML technologies have swiftly infiltrated most every facet of our lives as computing power and speed increase. Self-driving cars, algorithmic trading, customer experience bots and AI assistants like Siri and Alexa have become commonplace tools used by people at home and at work.

“The proliferation of AI and ML technologies promises to be a transformative force for businesses worldwide—and like in many innovative industries—San Diego is at the forefront. With this report, the EDC Research Bureau helps paint a picture of the impact of AI, proving its potential to grow jobs and even help narrow gender and racial wage gaps,” said Mark Cafferty, president and CEO, San Diego Regional EDC.

Contrary to popular belief and despite current economic conditions, three in five AI developers (62 percent) expect to see the number of employees specifically engaged in AI-related work grow over the next 12 months. This means locally based AI talent could help meet growing demand across the U.S. as employers try to hire workers in earnest that possess skills readily available from San Diego AI. Notably, job postings data in Sun Belt metros like San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Tampa and Miami show that employers are struggling to fill positions requiring facial and speech recognition skills—key specializations of AI developers in San Diego. Meanwhile, predictive and forecasting AI could help alleviate hiring difficulties among firms in major economic and financial centers, including New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. More than eight in 10 AI developers in San Diego specialize in machine or deep learning technologies, a fundamental building block for predictive AI.

Large local companies in San Diego like Booz Allen Hamilton, Northrop Grumman Corporation, ResMed and growing startups and small businesses like Lytx, Lockton, Traits AI and Semantic AI are helping to lead the charge in AI—enabling people and firms to operate more quickly and efficiently. Specifically, the use of AI or ML technologies largely supports four areas of firm activity: the development of new products and services, improved efficiency and productivity, reduced costs and an increase in business revenues.

“Booz Allen Hamilton is at the forefront of AI adoption, development and implementation, and we believe that San Diego’s companies can leverage this technology to meet their missions, attract talent and fuel economic activity,” said Joe Rohner, a Booz Allen director and leader in the firm’s analytics practice and AI services business. “We are energized that EDC’s report findings show local respondents see AI as truly helping the San Diego economy by creating more jobs—not eliminating them. People are essential to the ethical application of AI, and this technology will enable organizations and their workforce to increase productivity, quality and efficiency—in San Diego and globally.”

Despite AI’s productivity-boosting, job-creating power, a number of challenges remain. Top of mind for most local employers is the inability to source qualified talent. However, COVID-19 and the subsequent increase in remote work has expanded the talent pool for San Diego County’s AI and ML employers.

“Rapidly developing machine learning/artificial intelligence technology that enhances the work our men and women in uniform do every day is critical to the future of defense. Northrop Grumman is well positioned to continue to grow the local talent pipeline through our San Diego-based education programs so businesses in our community have the right skill sets available to support this important and rapidly evolving field,” said Alfredo Ramirez, Vice President of Northrop Grumman’s San Diego Autonomous Design Center of Excellence.

OTHER KEY FINDINGS

  • Average salary in AI/ML-concentrated industries is $127,960—3.9 percent above the national average for these industries and more than 70 percent above San Diego’s average worker salary.
  • For every 1,000 jobs gained in this cluster, another 1,400 jobs are created in other industries.
  • Survey proves AI adoption is creating job opportunities in the region:
    • 66 percent of firms agreed that the use of AI and ML has created new job opportunities
    • 54 percent of firms agree that AI and ML are increasing the need for more workers at their business
  • 31 percent of jobs in AI-concentrated fields require only a high school diploma and pay an average of $22.42 per hour
  • The boost to productivity and efficiency from AI and ML should lift wages in traditional or population-serving industries, which employ a larger share of women and non-white workers than other sectors, and could therefore potentially reduce gender and racial wage gaps as these technologies are adopted.

The report was produced by San Diego Regional EDC, underwritten by Booz Allen Hamilton, and sponsored by Northrop Grumman Corporation, ResMed, Lytx and Lockton.

Read the full study at SanDiegoAI.org

For more research from EDC, click here.

San Diego at Work: Gary Lovely, Viasat

Through San Diego: Life.Changing. EDC works to attract and retain talent as a way to tell San Diego’s authentic story. This is the latest – check out SDlifechanging.org for more. 

We might be a little biased, but we think San Diego is a pretty special place. It’s full of passionate forward-thinkers who somehow find the perfect balance of both working hard and playing hard. So what’s San Diego’s secret formula? Simply add life-changing companiesnearby mountains and beaches, and friendly, driven people, and a great work-life balance will come naturally. Here, it’s almost impossible not to have it all – and telecommunications heavyweight Viasat is all about this harmony.

Meet Viasat.

Located in the growing tech hub of CarlsbadViasat is a global communications company that enables high-quality, affordable internet connection for new markets. Viasat innovators design solutions to provide Wi-Fi for commercial aviationmilitary technology, and underserved areas. We met Gary Lovely, a lead front-end engineer (now promoted to development manager) who moved to San Diego from the Bay Area. At Viasat, he helps connect communities to internet access, enabling more opportunities for people around the world.

“San Diego has actually given me a new lease on life, to be able to understand that I can, in a way, have it all,” he said. Even with this critical work, Gary still finds time to take advantage of Viasat’s indoor and outdoor collaborative spaces, and enjoy its basketball and beach volleyball courts. “[Before San Diego,] I didn’t realize that work-life balance was something that existed. Coming from the Bay Area, everyone always preached about it, but no one actually lived it.”

To learn more about how Viasat employees solve important problems while enjoying life, watch Gary’s video below. You’ll discover how San Diego enables a life in balance and, most importantly, why Gary loves coming to work every day. “When we’re able to solve a problem that impacts a large mass of people, it brings us a lot of joy to know that we’re doing the right thing for the community and the world as a whole,” he said. Transforming lives, including your own – it doesn’t get more #SDlifechanging than that.

Qualcomm: Creating technology and an economy San Diego loves

San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation released a study— Qualcomm’s Contribution to San Diego’s Economy, showcasing how the company’s investment in the community has impacted the industry, economy and region as a whole. Since its humble beginning in 1985, Qualcomm has been at the forefront of innovation, entrepreneurship and research and development (R&D.) It settled with a home base in San Diego, providing a significant economic impact and tremendous contributions to our region since its founding.

Qualcomm is not only a technology industry leader in our region; it also engages the marketing, accounting, legal services, consulting, environmental and engineering industries in San Diego, in-turn creating jobs and opportunities along every step of the company’s tech journey. Just in 2018, Qualcomm had an economic impact of approximately $4 billion in the San Diego economy. To put that into perspective, it’s the equivalent of 41 Breeder’s Cup World Championships, 27 San Diego Comic-Cons and 3.6 San Diego Convention Centers.

Further, in 2018, Qualcomm created approximately 1,600 job postings, recruiting top-tier entrepreneurial talent while continuing to dedicate resources to strengthening our communities and educating the next generation. To its core, Qualcomm understands the importance of investing in the workforce of tomorrow. They have done just that through an interactive tutorial program called Thinkabit Labs, which engages students from different backgrounds and inspires them to be the next generation of inventors – combining science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for an educational and hands-on learning experience. Through Thinkabit, students mature by learning real-world problem-solving skills, collaborate in teams and motivate creativity on a myriad of levels. Qualcomm has hosted students from 107 schools across San Diego, inspired close to 22,000 local students and helped them create more than 5,000 inventions. Over the course of this program, Qualcomm has expanded and collaborated with 20 school districts and organizations.

Just as Qualcomm has invested into our youth, it has equally invested into our local communities. Since 2000, Qualcomm has donated more than $355 million to the San Diego community from both Qualcomm and the Qualcomm Foundation. Just in the last five years, Qualcomm employees have donated to more than 1,000 local organizations, requested matches for more than 17,900 organization and contributed more than $26 million to local communities. Qualcomm truly is a trailblazer for local philanthropy.

Many people think of Silicon Valley as the premier technology hub in America, however Qualcomm is working tirelessly to bring that title to San Diego. It’s no secret that Qualcomm is one of the leaders in 5G and also a premiere leader in creating technology the world loves. More than 130,000 patents and patent applications have come from Qualcomm in the past year. While it couldn’t have been done without our San Diegans, this type of technology and innovation is something that should be celebrated. Roughly 12 percent of the region’s total tech talent is employed by Qualcomm. To break down the impact on local jobs, Qualcomm has created: 10,170 induced jobs, which come from the result of local spending of labor income; 7,680 indirect jobs, the effect of local, inter-industry or B2B spending through existing economic structure; and 10,030 Qualcomm employees, which all adds up to an outstanding 27,880 total jobs. Because of this, for every job at Qualcomm, an additional 1.8 jobs are supported elsewhere in the San Diego economy. It truly is the job multiplier – integrating other companies and industries to provide support and collaboration that leads to industry-leading technology.

Our economic study “Qualcomm’s Contribution to San Diego’s Economy” shows some of the great contributions that Qualcomm has given to the San Diego region, but it wouldn’t be possible without the people. Thank you to the communities, employees and organizations that are helping build San Diego.

**Read the full economic impact assestment.**

*Qualcomm sponsored this study and provided employee data for EDC’s impact analysis.*

Study: One in five tech firms in SD County is located along the 78 Corridor

The technology cluster along the San Diego region’s 78 Corridor spans 70 different industries and 200 unique occupations. Encompassing the North County cities Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos and Vista, this well-established and diverse tech cluster is expected to grow by 5 percent over the next five years, according to a study released by Innovate78 today.

Study highlights include:

  • The 78 Corridor’s tech cluster has a $6.1 billion total economic impact annually, representing nearly 25,000 jobs.
  • North County’s technology cluster has a competitive advantage in precision manufacturing – specializing in the production of biomedical devices, telecommunications equipment and defense-related products.
  • The 78 Corridor’s tech cluster is 1.4 times more concentrated than the nation.
  • Biotech and biomed devices has been the fastest growing segment in the tech cluster, with a 9 percent increase in employment since 2011.

Read the executive summary and full study here.