San Diego is well known for its year-round warm weather and picturesque sandy beaches, but when more than 30 local C-level executives recently convened for LEAD San Diego’s INFLUENCE program, an intensive three-day exploration into the unique opportunities and challenges facing our region, one theme became clear – San Diego now truly embodies a “climate of collaboration.”
For a region preparing to grow by another million people and create more than 500,000 new jobs by 2050, our cohort learned how strong collaborations and a rich variety of industries are critical to our success. Combined with effective planning, improved transportation infrastructure and diverse educational offerings, we can responsibly prepare for this anticipated growth, while ensuring San Diego remains highly competitive and at the forefront of innovation.
Over the three-day period, the cohort was fortunate to hear from several highly respected business, community, military, educational and elected leaders representing a broad section of industries and viewpoints. Each offered a unique perspective, shared industry-specific insights, and challenged us to further explore our own passions and consider what each of us could do to more positively impact our communities. But all agreed that one of San Diego’s biggest strengths is its collaborative culture.
In the past, many San Diego organizations often worked in silos, myopically focused on addressing the needs of their specific cluster, but it became clear that today organizations and government leaders are actively sharing resources and information. This has led to business growth, improved regional planning, better understanding of salient issues and has become a selling point for companies that have identified this collaborative climate as a benefit for locating or expanding here.
For many regions, success depends on a single core industry sector. San Diego is fortunate to have three traded economies – military, innovation and tourism, all of which contribute greatly to the overall local economy. Among the wealth of information gleaned by the cohort was that one in every four jobs in the San Diego region is related to military spending, there are now more than 850 clean technology companies in San Diego, and nonprofit arts and culture organizations in San Diego are pumping nearly $600 million annually into the local economy.
These growing job clusters are combined with the support and resources of city and county government leaders working together to ensure that economic growth is balanced with a focus on our quality of life, improved health and wellness and a commitment to supporting the less fortunate.
Another compelling message, shared by numerous speakers, was the notion that we must stop thinking of San Diego alone, but instead consider the Cali-Baja Mega Region, which includes our neighbors to the south in Mexico. Collectively, this means thousands of additional skilled workers and provides extensive opportunities for local businesses to expand and prosper by keeping jobs and manufacturing nearby, rather than overseas. The challenge is the border crossing, where delays relative to growth and expansion coupled with long wait times are costing our region an estimated $1 billion annually in lost economic impact.
There is also much to celebrate. Whether it’s innovative research emanating from our top colleges and universities, the vital collaboration between the U.S. military and the San Diego community, the rapid growth of our burgeoning clean technology and biotech industries, or the essential and growing ties between San Diego and Tijuana, exciting opportunities are everywhere.
For three unforgettable days, LEAD San Diego afforded us a behind-the-scenes look at all that is great about our region and the important work still to be done to showcase San Diego’s attributes to the world. Individually, we all have so much to offer our communities and should take time to step back and consider the role we each play in this process. Collectively, San Diego’s future is limitless.