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The Big Picture San Diego Blog

Economic Development 101

April 19, 2013

The Sunrise Powerlink is a 117-mile, $1.88 billion 500kV electric transmission line from Imperial Valley to San Diego. At the recent regional economic forum Michael R. Niggli, SDG&E President & COO, presented a case study on the Sunrise Powerlink project detailing the economic impact of the project and some of the ways in which the project worked to protect sensitive species during construction. The project was the largest infrastructure project in SDG&E's history. Completed in June 2012, it has already made a tangible difference in system operations and is crucial to alleviating the summer capacity shortages that threaten the area due to the ongoing outage at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

Economic impact:

  • It's a veritable “renewable energy superhighway” that delivers 1,000 megawatts of power – enough energy for 650,000 homes
  • Generated an astounding $3.2  billion in economic activity and 23,000 jobs for California
  • Injected $1.7 billion into the U.S. economy - $1.1 billion of which was spent in Southern California
  • Catalyst for renewable energy construction; local projects currently under construction generating more than $5 billion in spending and 3,000 jobs

Protecting sensitive species:

  • Created a 13-mile construction free zone for bighorn sheep lambing season from January 1 – June 30
  • Established no-fly zones of more than 4,000-feet around golden eagle nesting sites from December 1 – June 30
  • Relocated hundreds of flat-tailed horned lizards relocated Imperial Valley construction yards and protecting them with specially-designed exclusion fencing
  • Installed special fencing to protect arroyo toads in project locations
  • Preserved in perpetuity more than 11,000 acres of scenic habitat for future generations to enjoy

Sunrise Powerlink enhances reliability, accesses renewable energy and significantly boosts economic development. Businesses are looking for a healthy, reliable power supply. Sunrise Powerlink provides that - while at the same time it is encouraging renewable projects and promoting cleantech industries.

April 15, 2013

Photo Credit: Tony Manolatos

On the plane ride from Coronado to the U.S. Navy’s secluded San Clemente Island, more than one person made a reference to the hit dramatic series “Lost” and the eerie remoteness the TV show shared with our destination. From the plane you could see there wasn’t much to look at on this rugged and narrow stretch of land about 70 miles northwest of San Diego.

San Clemente Island is a place few civilians know about and even fewer see, but it plays a critical role in preparing the Navy to protect and serve. Every Navy SEAL, including the ones who took out Osama bin Laden, trains here at some point. Two “towns” have been built to resemble communities in the Middle East. It’s here where the SEALs, who train for two years before their first combat mission, practice missions at night. Snipers firing at moving targets inside buildings is just one of numerous clandestine training operations carried out routinely on the island.

At the far south end, Navy ships fire ashore while helicopters zero in on targets below. The U.S. Marines also use the island to conduct amphibious assault training and the FBI works there with Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams.  

The 21-mile island is just part of the story; to the west, an ocean area the size of California is where Naval ships and aircraft practice maneuvers.

No one lives on the island year-round and on off days you’ll find less than 100 people. The convenience store is stocked with chewing tobacco and is next door to the lone bar - the Salty Crab. All of the common areas, including the mess hall and the gym, are spotless. The Navy acquired San Clemente Island in 1934. Before that, it was home to goats and farmers.

Today, it is the Navy’s only remaining ship-to-shore live firing range, but it’s facing potential cutbacks due to sequestration. The Navy recently invited a Photo Credit: Tony Manolatoshandful of San Diegans to the island so we have a better understanding of the role it plays in military preparations.

During our visit, we heard just as much about the environment and wildlife as we heard about training exercises. On one part of the island, SEAL hopefuls were on Day 2 of “Hell Week” - which wasn’t even an afterthought among the biologists and botanists working to protect native plants and wildlife.

If the Navy encounters endangered species it stops training until the animals are safely removed from the area - a process that can take months and cost millions of dollars.

From a recent U-T San Diego story:

“The Navy spent more than $7 million last fiscal year to protect the island’s endangered or threatened species, which include 10 federally listed animals and plants.

"Now the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering delisting or downgrading the status of three protected species - the Island Night Lizard and two plants - because they are flourishing, said Sandy Vissman, the federal agency’s coordinator for the island.”

Adm. Dixon Smith and Capt. Gary Mayes led our visit of the 56-square-mile island on Tuesday (April 9), and we couldn’t have asked for better hosts.

These two men, and other men and women we met, care deeply about San Clemente Island, the training missions and the plants and animals who flourish there. They took the time to talk to each of us individually and answer all of our questions.

These are difficult times financially for the Navy and other military branches, but leaders like Adm. Smith and Capt. Mayes make it difficult for you to focus on the negative. We are fortunate to have such exceptional people committed to serving America.

As we said our goodbyes and left the island, we were again reminded of the TV series "Lost.”

The show frequently made viewers aware of one of life’s great lessons - it’s easier to succeed, and survive, with the help of others. Lost’s fascinating cast of characters constantly found themselves in need of support from others - in both obvious and unexpected ways.

On the plane ride home from San Clemente Island, we realized we now have a role in supporting the men and women on this remote patch of land. It was clear to us that it was our job to bring you their story, to write about our experiences, to do what we could to support the fascinating cast of characters we had just met. 

April 10, 2013

What Makes San Diego an Ideal Home for Your Business?

Moderator Randy Frisch addresses a packed room at the Forum

Six private sector executives told 300 forum participants about their experiences doing business in San Diego. The panel was part of the 2013 Regional Economic Development Forum sponsored by San Diego Gas & Electric, Wells Fargo and the Morgan Family Foundation. San Diego’s regional forum is the first of 15 forums gathering input that will culminate in the California Economic Summit in Los Angeles in November 2013.  Broad questions touching on successes, challenges and the ubiquitous Why San Diego? brought mostly positives from the panelists. Bottom line: we need more of what we’ve got – more talent, more capital, more support for entrepreneurship. The only thing we need less of is regulation – actually the panelists’ companies are willing to comply with regulations – but they uniformly called for better coordination among regulators.


Craig Bartels, vice president of technology for Hydranautics, described how his company has to keep changing and reinventing, citing that 30 – 40 percent of their sales are from products introduced within the last three years. San Diego has the talent and the know-how to innovate so Hydranautics can stay on the leading edge of their industry, which is providing technology for reverse osmosis water treatment.

Joseph Mahler is CFO of Synthetic Genomics, a company using genomics to create sustainability for food and fuel. The company is currently focused on algae biofuels. Mahler calls it “intellectual capital,” and says San Diego has what it takes to anchor a core in genomics and that we should focus on leveraging the talent here to build capacity in the industry.

Panelist from a diverse range of businesses discuss why they chose San Diego

Brick Nelson is the corporate lead executive for Northrop Grumman Corporation in San Diego.  As someone who was transferred to San Diego, with peers around the country in similar positions, he said that San Diego has no equal in the country in terms of partnerships and the spirit of collaboration. Nelson reiterated the need for “smart, young folks,” and mentioned STEM education as very important in an industry where many employees will soon be aging out of the workforce.

Matt Raine, executive vice president of business development at Evolution Hospitality, brought the perspective of the tourism industry to the panel. His company provides hotel management services to a range of hotel properties, including 10 in San Diego. Raine described the three pillars of San Diego’s tourism industry as groups, leisure and government business. However, one area where San Diego trails other major cities is the number of individual business travelers. He stressed the importance of marketing the destination.

Don Rockwell is the CEO of Aqua Lung International, a company that develops, manufactures and distributes sports and defense equipment. Rockwell described San Diego as a hub for dive companies – even the industry association is located in San Diego. When asked what San Diego can do for his business, he mentioned water quality as a concern.

Tom Tullie, president and CEO of ecoATM, talked candidly about the challenges of raising capital from local sources. While he thinks San Diego has a good angel community, entrepreneurs must still look outside San Diego to raise significant venture money. His company, which provides automated, self-serve kiosks for recycling electronics, has benefited from the support network provided by CommNexus and their incubator EvoNexus, and CONNECT.

Check out the complete briefing book from the forum that gives an overview of regional priorities and continue to join the conversation on twitter #Caeconomy

April 8, 2013

As an inveterate reader of the New York Times (online 24/6 and thick, wonderful print copy on Sunday) I was thrilled when I saw the Travel section was going to highlight San Diego in one of their “36 Hours in …” profiles.

Imagine my dismay when from the very first sentence I felt like the writer was describing a bad cartoon, poorly illustrated and lacking a solid punch line. Why should this matter to an economic development professional? Because not only is San Diego's convention and visitor industry the third largest industry in San Diego, it is also one of the ways we attract talent.  As one of the top 10 visitor and meeting destinations in the U.S., with more than 30 million visitors a year, it is no surprise that many of San Diego's knowledge workers first visited the region as a tourist or convention delegate.

So you can imagine that sentences that start with “If San Diego has an identity at all…” and a comparison to the movie Pleasantville (where two teens are sucked into their television into a black and white 1950's world which they slowly transform into color) would set a local’s teeth on edge.

I’d love to hear from the biotech entrepreneurs and the wireless communications wizards if that’s how they saw San Diego when They Came Here. And by the way, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, which is mentioned in the article, is across the street from some of the most advanced medical research facilities in the world. Believe me, the researchers love running the beach and the trails at lunch – year round.

Set aside for the moment whether the characterization is true or not (it’s not) and think about whether this kind of description would make you want to visit any location. Even Sioux Falls, South Dakota would want to be described in a more flattering way.

San Diego’s tech community has a reputation as open and welcoming and that’s one reason we’re successful at attracting the best and the brightest to work in our diverse technology clusters that range from defense to sports innovation, life sciences and clean tech.

Maybe it’s part of the California culture but it’s more than just “easy, breezy Southern California casualness.”

April 3, 2013

What Makes San Diego an Ideal Home for Your Business?


Regional leaders will convene soon to participate in a unique process designed to determine priorities for the region that will ultimately "roll up" to help set a state-wide agenda to revitalize California. The forum, sponsored by San Diego Gas & Electric, will highlight projects that illustrate how local assets, policies and economic development tools led to successes and job growth. The audience will use interactive voting devices to prioritize policy matters in the areas of workforce, innovation, infrastructure, regulatory process, and capital. The discussion and findings will be summarized into recommendations that will inform the development of a regions-driven shared agenda for state action through the California Economic Summit process.

The event is one of 16 local forums taking place across California. The California Economic Summit uses a "triple-bottom-line" model based on economic, social and environmental factors that affect prosperity. Prosperity is defined as a function of good jobs, rising incomes, and community health. Good jobs offer opportunity for upward mobility. Rising incomes for all Californians demonstrates that prosperity is widely shared. Community health includes quality of place, health and environment. Maintaining and enhancing the productivity of natural resources - both as ecosystems and economic drivers - is key to maintaining California's vitality now and in the future.

With input from the San Diego region (which includes San Diego County and Imperial County) and the other regional forums, a steering committee will identify widely shared priorities and convene action teams to work on specific plans to address the priorities.

As part of the forum, a case study on the Sunrise Powerlink will be presented to illustrate how one project can impact job growth throughout an entire mega-region.

For more information about the California Economic Summit, see the San Diego Forum Briefing Book.

March 12, 2013

175 projects. 6, 215 jobs. What a year 2012 was. Check out our annual report, detailing some some of the highlights and programs from last year.

To all of our investors, partners and the rest of the San Diego business community, thank you for helping us carry out EDC’s mission is to maximize the region’s economic prosperity and global competitiveness. 

February 28, 2013

If you ask most U.S. sports fans to identify the fiercest rivalry in professional sports, many would quickly say, “Yankees and Red Sox.” Fans for both teams are incredibly loyal, united both in their regional pride and mutual distaste for the competition. But when you look closer at the actual numbers, it isn’t really a rivalry at all…in the past century, New York has clenched 27 World Series compared to four for Boston.

As a native Bostonian (side note: he now considers himself a proud San Diegan), Mark made it clear today at a breakfast forum hosted by the San Diego Press Club that this is very similar to California’s “rivalry” with Texas. In this scenario, California is the New York of job creation. Although both sides may have loyal contenders, when you look at the success Texas has had poaching jobs from the Golden State, there is no comparison. The numbers speak for themselves. California is leading the nation in private sector job creation. It is No. 1 in biotech, agriculture, high tech, entertainment and tourism.

As California and San Diego continue to face criticism from out-of-state politicians, the press and others for its “anti-business” policies, we must remember one critical fact. Time and time again, studies have shown that short-term economic incentives do nothing for long-term job growth. Yes, it’s fair to say that California could benefit from more business-friendly policies, but in San Diego, our traded economies –– military, tourism and innovation – are anchors for our growing economy.

All of that said, Mark told s crowd of about 40 local business leaders today, it’s not Gov. Perry’s $24K media buy that worries us, but some actual reforms/legislation (or lack thereof) that does:

●     TMD controversy— Removing ourselves from the legal side of this battle, we are looking at the sheer importance of these dollars for regional economic development. San Diego’s tourism industry is responsible for $18.3 billion in economic impact and employs 160,000 San Diegans. In 1993, Colorado eliminated its TMD, resulting in a 30 percent drop in its share of the U.S. travel market over four years.

●     Enterprise Zone Reforms—Although poaching jobs from other states and grandiose economic incentives don’t help long term growth, the EZ is a powerful growth tool for California helping companies like Soitec and the Wheat Group.

●     Sequestration/ Military Cuts—With the highest concentration of military in the world and 60 percent of California’s military assets, sequestration will be a devastating blow to San Diego’s economy, with approximately 30,000 jobs at stake. Many people also don’t realize the impact it would have on the high-tech and life sciences industries as well.

As Mark told the Press Club at the New School of Architecture + Design, at San Diego Regional EDC, our job is to attract, retain and expand businesses in the region. Everything we do, whether it’s advocating for certain policies or implementing strategic programs, is to grow jobs across the region.

And create jobs we do! In 2012, San Diego Regional EDC worked on 175 projects, creating 8,550 jobs in the region.

In addition to releasing the job numbers today, Mark stressed that San Diego needs to do more promoting and less comparing. Too often, San Diegans get caught up in comparisons with New York, Chicago, San Francisco and other great cities instead of focusing on the fact that San Diego is one of the very best places in the world for families and businesses.

He closed with one wish for San Diego: “gaining a little bit of confidence and whole lot of swagger.”

January 2, 2013


A message from our President & CEO:

With 2013 already under way, and some elements of the fiscal cliff addressed and/or postponed through last minute actions in Washington D.C., we wanted to take a moment to share what we still foresee as significant challenges for San Diego’s economy in the months ahead.

While both chambers of Congress did eventually approve a deal to fend off certain elements of the fiscal cliff, their plan postpones decisions about sequestration; the $110 billion in spending cuts that would deeply affect the military and many other sectors of the economy that receive funding from the federal government. As we have been noting over the past year with our colleagues at the San Diego Military Advisory Council (SDMAC), here in San Diego this could most notably impact our military/defense sectors as well as the research that is the backbone of our technology industries.

According to today’s Washington Post, “The legislation, which President Obama supports but had not signed as of Tuesday night, would delay across-the-board budget reductions known as sequestration for two months, setting up likely fights in Congress over the federal debt ceiling over the same period. The fiscal-cliff deal would offset half the cost of a delayed sequestration with cuts to discretionary spending split evenly across defense and non-defense programs. The other half would come by way of new revenue raised.” 

Even when a deal is reached regarding sequestration we will still see significant reductions in funding that will have big implications for our region. These reductions could have far reaching impacts to workforce, infrastructure, and research.  In the days ahead we will continue to provide you with the best and most up-to-date analysis we can on what all this will mean for our economy. In the meantime, we wanted to remind you all of the layoff support and aversion services that EDC, Manpower, San Diego Workforce Partnership and all of the sub-regional EDCs (North, South and East) can provide to companies that are faced with staffing reductions.  All of these services are free to the business community and are available year-round.

For any companies you may know of that are currently filing WARN notices, informing staff of possible layoffs and/or in the midst of downsizing, please forward them to our website to learn more about the Rapid Response services available to them.

In all ways we look forward to a strong and productive 2013 for our region. Together, by being informed and prepared, we can stand strong in minimizing the impact of sequestration to our economy and in developing new plans for job creation, industry growth and economic prosperity.

December 18, 2012

Despite tumultuous times for the industry, 2012 marked a banner year for clean technology in San Diego. Numerous organizations within the region’s cleantech cluster – from startups to multinational brands- made significant strides in continuing San Diego’s leadership in the global advanced energy economy. SDREDC Partner CleanTECH San Diego, a regional non-profit member organization dedicated to advancing cleantech innovation and adoption, picked a few of the highlights from a long list of local achievements as we say goodbye to 2012.

1. US Defense Department Awards $30 Million to San Diego Companies to Install Cluster of Three Microgrids

In November, the Department of Defense Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) awarded Power Analytics, OSIsoft and Viridity Energy a $30 million grant to create a secure cluster of microgrids at three San Diego military bases. These best-in-class pioneers will install smart grid technology systems creating the first centrally managed microgrid cluster in a US military environment. This project was selected by the ESTCP and stands out as one of only five technology awards out of more than 750 submitted nationally. The proposal submitted by these three companies was cited as a "must-fund" demonstration for its ability to significantly reduce energy consumption and improving the security of electrical supply for the all three naval facilities. This esteemed selection by the DoD is an illustration of the proven “gold standard” microgrid solution from these technology partners, which is currently deployed at UC San Diego's world-renowned microgrid.


2.San Diego Approves Development of Tule Wind Project and Signals Leadership in Renewables

On August 8, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of Iberdrola's Tule Wind Power Project, a wind farm proposed on federal, county, state and Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay tribal land in wind-rich McCain Valley. The Board’s supportive vote shows the region’s commitment to local renewable energy generation and represents a significant stance in welcoming utility-scale renewable energy development in the County. The Tule Wind Power Project will generate up to 200 megawatts (MW) of clean power, enough to serve approximately 60,000 local homes, and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 250,000 metric tons per year. The project will also provide the County with approximately $3.5 million in annual property tax revenue – totaling $105 million over the project’s 30-year life –as well as supporting more than 915 jobs in the San Diego economy and $30 million in sales and use tax during the year of construction, and roughly $1 million per year in lease payments to local landowners.


3.San Diego Accelerates Electric Vehicle Adoption and Charging Station Infrastructure

Today more than 2,000 privately-owned electric vehicles (EVs) are passing you on the roads of San Diego County. The city launched in early 2012 the nation’s first all-electric EV car sharing service through car2go, a Daimler subsidiary. The program boasts more than 12,500 members and more than 200,000 trips in the smartfortwo electric vehicles. Additionally, the California Energy Commission awarded UC San Diego a grant with charging manufacturers RWE and ABB to build the world’s largest and most diverse campus EV infrastructure. The grant provides for 26 Level Two chargers and three DC fast chargers and will further complement both the car2go and private electric vehicle footprint and uptake.

4.California Votes for Proposition 39; Enabling Statewide Energy Efficiency Upgrades

Last election day, Californians overwhelmingly voted to pass Proposition 39, an initiative that will close a corporate tax loophole for out-of-state companies that generated an annual $1 billion revenue loss for the state. Proposition 39 will boost San Diego’s economy, creating thousands of  quality jobs with half of the revenues generated by closing the loophole dedicated to funding energy efficiency and clean energy programs at schools and municipal buildings. By upgrading old heating/cooling systems, replacing old windows, inefficient lighting and other energy solutions, this investment will dramatically lower public energy costs, saving cities and taxpayer money for years to come. It will also reinvigorate the local construction and contracting industries performing these retrofits.


5.Smart City San Diego Unveils Solar-to-EV Project at San Diego Zoo

On November 27, San Diego Mayor Sanders joined Smart City San Diego – a collaboration between GE, SDG&E, UC San Diego, City of San Diego and CleanTECH San Diego –  to dedicate the historic Solar-to-EV Project in the San Diego Zoo parking lot. The nation’s first system of its kind, harnesses energy from the sun to charge plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs,) store solar power and provide renewable energy to the electrical grid. This project features 10 solar canopies producing 90 kilowatts (kW) of electricity (enough energy at peak capacity to power 59 homes) powering five EV charging stations, with one station located in a nearby ADA-accessible parking space. Utilizing new battery technology, the Solar-to-EV project’s 100-kW energy storage system is charged by the solar canopies and used to offset power demands on the grid to charge the electric vehicles. When the battery is at full capacity, the excess solar energy is distributed onto the grid to improve reliability and benefit the surrounding community.  With more than 3.5 million annual visitors at the Zoo, this project serves as an example of the Zoo’s commitment to sustainability and the region’s excellence in collaboration.


6.SDG&E Energizes Sunrise Powerlink

On June 18, SDG&E flipped the switch to its Sunrise Powerlink, a 500,000-volt, 117-mile transmission line linking San Diego to Imperial Valley. The Sunrise Powerlink Project, a $1.9 billion investment chiefly designed to transport renewable energy from the solar and wind-rich Imperial Valley region, will bring more than 1,000 megawatts (MW) of additional imported power to San Diego, enough energy to serve more than 650,000 homes. The project – characterized as one of the most complex and challenging in SDG&E's history – is a result of more than five years of environmental review and permitting as well as 18 months of construction. With the nearby San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station shut down through the year, the Sunrise Powerlink proved timely and invaluable as it provides essential support in maintaining electrical reliability during heat waves.


7.San Diego ‘s Solar Adoption and Cluster Unparalleled

In 2012, San Diego County solar installation exceeds 132 megawatts (MW), with the City of San Diego’s total installations nearing 50 MW. The region is home to more than 200 solar companies, ranging from panel manufacturers like Kyocera and Soitec to installer and leasing firms such as Sullivan Solar Power and OneRoof Energy. Kyocera announces it surpassed production of 2 million solar panels while Soitec opened its utility-scale concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) manufacturing facility in Rancho Bernardo. The Soitec plant will have a 200-MW annual production capacity and create 450 direct jobs and 1,000 indirect regional jobs.  

OneRoof Energy – the nations’ first residential solar company to work directly with roofers to sell and install its systems – launched in San Diego and hires more than 100 people as it expands operations. Sullivan Solar Power enjoyed tremendous growth in the, completing large-scale solar projects across military bases, university campuses, commercial sites, and residences. Its CEO, Daniel Sullivan voted San Diego Business Journal’s Most Admired CEO and made the finalist list for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year. Meanwhile, global companies like Everest Solar Systems and KACO New Energy have entered the San Diego solar scene to provide solar equipment supplies to this frothy marketplace.


8.Consortium Expands Curricula and Training Program to Support Local Biofuels Industry

The EDGE (Educating and Developing Workers for the Green Economy) Initiative – a regional consortium developed to help meet current employment needs in the growing biofuels industry – completed two years of workforce training and placing hundreds of workers in internships and permanent jobs. The EDGE Initiative created both curriculum and career-focused tools aimed specifically at unemployed, underemployed and transitioning workers looking to make the move to a high-growth industry. Since 2010, the program trained more than 300 participants and placed more than 100 in permanent positions. Currently, the curricula developed for EDGE is being expanded to other industry associations and academic institutions across California, and potentially the globe.

9.City Launches Competitive Market for Commercial Property Retrofits

This fall, San Diego City Council voted to allow several Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program options for commercial property owners, making San Diego one of the most robust commercial-scale energy retrofit markets in California. The programs – administered by vendors including CaliforniaFIRST, Figtree Energy Resource, Ygrene Energy Fund and Renovate America – allow commercial property owners to use municipal bonds to finance energy efficiency improvement projects, using their properties as collateral. Owners then pay off the retrofits through assessments added to their annual property tax bill. Private financing is used to supply the upfront capital for the retrofits so that local government budgets are unburdened while property owners benefit through no up-front costs for improvements, increased building values and efficiencies, and reduced energy costs.


10.Honeywell Moves Its International Green Boot Camp to San Diego

This summer, Honeywell broke from tradition and moved its annual Green Boot Camp from New Jersey to San Diego, bringing 70 internationally selected middle school teachers to San Diego. The Green Boot Camp is a five-day workshop that focuses on best practices for teaching environmental and sustainability concepts. This workshop, part of a partnership with CleanTECH San Diego, SDG&E, California Center for Sustainable Energy and the Urban Corps of San Diego County, engaged teachers in a variety of interactive experiences such as designing and building a solar house and wind turbine, which equipped them with new teaching methods and sustainability concepts to share with their students and incorporate in their school curriculum for the next generation of sustainability leaders.