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.