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Tuesday, Jul 16, 2024
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Regional Economy’s Movers, Shakers Embark on Process to Improve Competitiveness

Just as Socrates stated that the path of wisdom comes from knowing thyself, San Diego’s movers and shakers are embarking on an exploratory path they hope will lead the region to a stronger economic position.

The San Diego Partnership for the Global Economy will bring together leaders from key business clusters, local government and academia in a “facilitated dialogue” on the region’s economic character and what it should be going forward.

The process was launched July 9.

“It’ll be an analysis of who we are today and what we need to do to be competitive in the future,” said Julie Meier Wright, chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., the nonprofit that thinks about those issues all the time.

Wright is familiar with delving into what makes this region tick, and developing a set of regional improvement goals.

In 1999, the EDC led a similar process that identified several initiatives that came to fruition, including the founding of UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management; and private sector support for Proposition A, an extension of the local sales tax to pay for regional transportation projects.


Notable Goals

There were also some notable goals that failed, such as converting the Miramar Navy airfield into a commercial airport.

This time around, the emphasis is on the positive results that can happen when leaders from different industries get together to brainstorm.

The fact is that other regions are conducting similar self-evaluations all the time, and taking steps to improve their competitive edge in attracting new businesses and skilled workers. To think that this region’s economy will keep humming by itself without goal setting is tantamount to giving those other regions a huge advantage, Wright said.

“When you sell a place, the place becomes the product, but if the product is not the state of the art or is flawed, then you lose market share,” she said.

In the next two months, the partnership intends to hold forums from six industry core clusters driving San Diego’s economy.

These are life sciences, information technology, health care, hospitality, advanced manufacturing, and construction.

The clusters share a few characteristics: They are growing at healthy rates (with five having growth rates exceeding those of the rest of the nation); show higher wage growth; and with at least 40 percent of the jobs within the cluster paying middle level wages, according to the report done for the partnership.

A seventh cluster not as large but intrinsic to the growth of the other industries includes innovation and professional services. These are the traditional sectors of accounting, marketing and legal services.

Attending last week’s launch of the partnership were several elected officials, business executives, and one think tank leader. They included San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders; Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox; Hank Nordoff, CEO of Gen-Probe Inc.; Dan Sullivan, executive vice president of Qualcomm Inc.; and Steve Francis, chairman of the San Diego Institute for Policy Research and former chairman of AMN Healthcare Services Inc., who now heads up the local think tank.

Nordoff said he was involved in the last partnership collaboration in 1999 that led to establishing the Rady School at UCSD.

Nordoff said the inspiration for the school came when several of his employees at Gen-Probe wanted to obtain a master’s degree in business, and couldn’t find a world-class school here. The employees ended up going elsewhere for their MBAs and never returned to his company, he said.

Nordoff said bringing people together to do a strength analysis of the regional economy should result in new ideas and collaborations that could benefit the area.

“I think every company and every entity should undertake this sort of process of evaluating where you are today, and where you are in relation to other cities, and try to make some improvements,” Nordoff said.


Mainly CEOs

The process will mainly involve CEOs, as well as a considerable number of midlevel managers. They will come together to develop a series of recommendations to be presented to a leadership group. From that point, action teams would be formed to develop specific recommendations the region should address, and finally, the adoption of a new regional economic development strategic plan that would be presented to the public in January.

Is this process all about catapulting San Diego into a place where it could compete with the likes of such world-class cities as London, New York, Paris or Tokyo?

“No,” said Wright. It’s really about identifying the best of what this region does, building on that, and determining some things that can be done to keep the region competitive, she said.

“What we have here is a unique niche at the cutting edge of innovation,” she said. “When we compete globally, we’ll be competing with ideas and innovation, so in that sense we can be as good as anyone else.”

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