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The Big Picture San Diego Blog


October 16, 2015

This is part of an ongoing series on the recipients of the MetroConnect Prize, presented by JPMorgan Chase, a grant awarded to 15 companies looking to expand into new foreign markets.

Earlier this week, EDC released the Economic Impact of San Diego’s Research Institutions. The study found that the region’s non-profit research institutions impact roughly 37,000 jobs and have a combined economic impact of $4.6 billion. This equates to hosting 34 Comic-Cons or 33 U.S. Open Golf Championships every year.

 “When it comes to the strength of the region’s life sciences cluster, San Diego has long been a top competitor with other cities across the globe,” said Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of San Diego Regional EDC. “However, no other region has the strength and depth of San Diego's research institutions. As our recent study shows, San Diego-based research is not only leading the way in terms of scientific discovery, but it is also driving company growth and creating jobs.”

Although the industry affects jobs and provides a significant economic impact, it does not tell the whole story. The tech transfer and commercialization of the research produced at these institutions is significant to region’s strong life sciences cluster, ranking 4th as a global life sciences hub by Jones Lang LaSalle.

One prime example of this commercialization of technology is MetroConnect winner AirStrip’s wireless heart rate monitor system for babies and their mothers – Sense4Baby. The Sense4Baby platform was originally researched at the West Health Institute, who then licensed the technology to Sense4Baby, Inc. Then, in 2014, AirStrip acquired the assets of Sense4Baby and has since been featured in the Apple product launch to showcase how wireless devices like the Apple Watch can utilize AirStrip-developed platforms to enable doctors to remotely monitor patients.

“San Diego provides a perfect location to easily connect globally, and is known for many biotech startup companies,” said Alan Portela, CEO at AirStrip. “The region provides access to a number of world-class research institutes.”

The success of small businesses is critical to the region’s future, and increasing their global reach is crucial to that success. Through the MetroConnect Prize, companies such as AirStrip received $10,000 grants to assist with their next step in going global.

“The MetroConnect prize funds provided to date are now being used by the AirStrip Sense4Baby team to help identify supply chain cost savings, and will be applied to raise the international profile of Sense4Baby over the long term,” said Portela. “The resulting economic effect was immediate, lowering the cost of assembling, packaging and shipping the final product by 90%. In addition, the funds have been earmarked for language translation of the Sense4Baby page on the AirStrip website and of funding the translation of its Sense4Baby collateral into Dutch, French and Chinese for use by its international sales and distribution partners.

Since the acquisition of Sense4Baby, AirStrip has announced distribution agreements with partners in the U.S., Europe, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. It is further targeting China and the Netherlands.

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October 13, 2015
Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, San Diego Regional EDC and numerous business and civic leaders revealed the results of “The Economic Impact of San Diego’s Research Institutions” – the first study to comprehensively measure San Diego’s scientific R&D cluster. In total, San Diego’s scientific non-profit, research institutions have a $4.6 billion total economic impact on the regional economy – the equivalent of hosting 34 Comic-Cons annually.

As part of his efforts to better understand the breakthrough scientific discoveries in San Diego, Mayor Faulconer convened the research institutions in December 2014 for an informal meeting. While the Mayor was astonished by the global impact of San Diego’s scientific discovery, there was not concrete data that explained what this unique, scientific hub meant for the region’s economy.

“From Ebola to Alzheimer’s to HIV, San Diego’s research institutions are developing breakthrough therapies that are advancing healthcare and quality of life on a global scale,” said city of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “With this study, for the first time, we not only understand the impact these research institutions have on global well-being, but the way they drive job creation and impact our economy. I look forward to continuing the work with these scientists, entrepreneurs and research institutions to ensure San Diego remains a global pioneer in scientific discovery.”

Understanding the impact: the nucleus of San Diego's innovation economy 

EDC – with the guidance of numerous research institutions including West Health Institute, Salk Institute Biological Studies, The Scripps Research Institute and many others – completed the most comprehensive analysis on San Diego’s research institutions to date. Highlights of the report concluded:

  • Research institutions impact roughly 37,000 jobs and have a combined $4.6 billion total impact on the region’s GRP every year.
  • The $4.6 billion economic impact of research institutions equates to that of 4 San Diego Convention Centers, 34 San Diego Comic-Cons, 6 aircraft carriers, or 33 U.S. Open Golf Championships every year.
  • Independent research institutes in San Diego receive more NIH research funding and generate more patents than counterparts in any metro area of the U.S.
  • All scientific R&D, including for-profit enterprises, generates $14.4 billion annually in economic impact—roughly equal to the region’s visitor industry. San Diego is the most concentrated R&D market in the U.S.
  • An estimated $1.8 billion in federal and philanthropic research funding flows to the region’s research institutions every year.

In order to assess the scale and impact of the cluster, the study looked at independent, non-profit research institutes (e.g. Scripps, J. Craig Venter Institute, West Health) and university research centers (e.g. UC San Diego, San Diego State University), which are collectively referred to as “research institutions” in the study. Not only do these research institutions drive philanthropic efforts in the region, but they also create job opportunities across a wide-spectrum of skill-levels.

“What is perhaps most impressive is the ripple effect our research institutions have on job opportunities throughout the region,” said Mary Walshok, vice chancellor of public programs and dean of extension at UC San Diego, who also served as a study advisor. “This isn’t just about high-paid scientists. Our research economy also fuels the demand for good construction, office, technical and management jobs.”

“There is often a misconception that academic institutions like the Salk Institute are too removed from everyday business to be a relevant economic driver. But that’s the furthest thing from the truth. The discoveries, technologies, medicines and highly trained people emerging from San Diego’s research sector are vital to the economy of the region—a fact that the EDC report makes very clear,” stated Dr. William Brody of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

A call to action

In order to capitalize on the economic impact and grow San Diego’s R&D cluster, the study calls for the following actions and strategies: build supporting coalitions with industry leaders and institutions; drive the economic development opportunities to retain, expand and attract the types of companies and investment our research community needs to compete globally, and address workforce needs by further developing technical training programs and interactive laboratories. A coalition of research institutions and civic organizations will be working with key elected officials to advocate for funding and ensure San Diego’s research narrative is carried to Sacramento, Washington, D.C. and across the globe.

“I am proud to serve as Speaker of the most visionary and innovative region in the country,” said Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. “This study serves as testament to the drive and success of San Diego’s 100,000 individuals working in the R&D cluster – all of which improve not only the industry and economy, but also the quality of care received around the world. It is case in point how California, and more specifically San Diego, is changing the world."

Read the executive summary and full report here. 

The economic impact study was supported by a grant from the Gary & Mary West Foundation, with additional sponsorship provided by UC San Diego Extension, The Scripps Research Institute, Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Alexandria Real Estate.