San Diego companies, particularly those in high-tech manufacturing industries, continued to benefit from a surge in global trade.
While selling to faraway markets has been the norm with larger, better-capitalized companies like Qualcomm Inc., Solar Turbines and Sempra Energy, exporting also has become an essential component for many small and medium sized companies.
ViaSat Inc., a Carlsbad manufacturer of wireless and satellite networks, saw its revenues rise for the past fiscal year to $71.5 million, helped in part by sales to overseas customers.
“On the commercial side, satellite communications lends itself to international markets because many of these countries do not have as good of a wire infrastructure or any infrastructure at all,” said Bruce Rowe, ViaSat spokesman.
Last June, ViaSat announced it won a $6 million contract with Star Cruises, one of the five largest cruise lines in the world and based in Malaysia.
Although about 85 percent of ViaSat’s sales was from defense-related contracts, the company was gradually making a shift to more commercial contracting. Within two years, the commercial side should make up half its sales, Rowe said.
Things were going well at the company, which recently consolidated its operations at a new 180,000-square-foot complex near McClellan Palomar Airport. Staffing has expanded to about 400.
Tuned In To Headsets
At San Diego-based Jabra Corp., a maker of headsets for cell phones, its international sales once made up between 30 to 40 percent of its total, said Bill Skelton, director of sales.
That ratio may decrease a bit this year because there’s been a focus more on the domestic market, but the company was seeing fairly good sales in such far-flung markets as Europe, South Africa, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The firm’s sales are booming, driven by recent efforts by governments to prohibit the use of cell phones while driving, and publicity about the health risks associated with the radiation emissions from cell phone’s antennas.
The 6-year-old company’s products, which are manufactured in China, allow drivers to use the phones and keep both hands on the wheel, and keep the cell phone at a safe distance.
Jabra’s sales for its first year were about $2 million. This year, they may reach $30 million. “Next year, I’d like to say the sales will double,” Skelton said.
Such success was being duplicated in varying degrees by hundreds of small to medium sized businesses, many of which were not even looking at international markets just several years ago, said Kathy Ward, president of the San Diego World Trade Center.
Ward said San Diego’s growth trend in exports continues to impress. For 1998, the most recent year figures were available from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the amount of exports flowing out of its ports grew by about 10 percent to $8.59 billion. That put San Diego as the fifth fastest in terms of export growth in the nation.
“Although exports to Asia fell that year because of the economic downturns in that region, many companies shifted their focus to new markets in Europe and South America, and showed significant gains,” she said.
The biggest markets for local firms remains Mexico, which is the destination for $3.79 billion, or 44 percent, of the total trade amount. Canada, the other NAFTA trading partner, was San Diego’s second biggest trading partner with more than $1 billion worth of goods shipped there.
The commerce report was somewhat deceptive, Ward noted, because it did not include the value of consulting work, legal, accounting, and other essential services provided to the many maquiladoras located south of the border.
The most common products coming from San Diego remained electronics and electronic equipment, with a good deal of that generated in the form of components going to the Mexican plants.
While these plants and business along the border continued to expand, there were also casualties. In December, Rhode Island-based