San Diego can capture some of the international trade that now regularly bypasses it, but only if it expands and improves its airport, rail lines and other transportation infrastructure.
So says Steve Erie, a UCSD associate professor, at an Oct. 29 economic summit held at the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina.
The summit, sponsored by the South San Diego County Economic Development Council, the Urban Land Institute and the Tijuana Economic Development Corp., included a seminar on binational infrastructure.
Erie, a member of Gov. Gray Davis’ infrastructure committee and frequent critic of local leadership on this issue, said the region is at a point where it can expand and upgrade its transportation facilities and grab more of the burgeoning international cargo trade, all with the blessing of its main competitor, Los Angeles.
For years, L.A. has stood in the way of any efforts to expand San Diego’s Lindbergh Field, but the powers that be up north have come to a complete reversal on the issue, Erie said.
“Los Angeles welcomes what we’re doing here because they’re approaching capacity at all their trade infrastructure,” he said.
Erie said he is encouraged that San Diego is finally in position to improve itself, but much depends on the cooperation of the region’s various government agencies, which often seem to be at odds, if not at war, with each other.
The divisiveness that once permeated the relations among these agencies is giving way to the realization that the region better do something soon or it might be too late, he said.
On the same panel with Erie was a representative from one of the key local agencies, the San Diego Unified Port District.
Ralph Hicks, director of land use and planning for the port, described the port’s dual-track plan for upgrading Lindbergh Field while examining the potential of an alternate site for a new airport.
The region’s planning agency, the San Diego Association of Governments, is conducting an economic study of the potential impacts of a fully developed Lindbergh Field, compared to an alternative new airport.
Hicks said the results of that study should be completed within six months, giving leaders some idea of which way they should go.
But one thing is clear: If the region’s leaders decide not to seek an alternative airport site, or decide not to take any action, the demand on Lindbergh will continue. By 2020, it will reach its capacity even if the port implements the first track of planned improvements, Hicks said.
Also on the infrastructure panel, and giving updates on their respective projects was Carlos Jauregui, marketing director from the Port of Ensenada, and Steve Castanada, an airport consultant who studied a possible airport connector terminal in Otay Mesa linked to Tijuana’s airport.
Erie concluded his remarks by advising that the region should improve its transportation links going east to west.
While the north/south routes are more natural and developed because of San Diego’s maquiladora trade, unless there is more east/west flow, trade will move from cul de sac to cul de sac, Erie said.
Moderator Patrick Osio, a local trade consultant, warned while government leaders were finally waking up to this region’s infrastructure deficiencies, the tendency has been to spend money on studying issues rather than taking a comprehensive planned approach to solving problems.
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Binational Economy: The economic summit was the ninth dating back to 1991 and drew some 450 attendees, its biggest turnout ever, from both the private and government sectors, said Doug Perkins, president of the South San Diego County EDC.
“This thing has been growing and it’s become a little more high-profile every year,” he said.
From the beginning the event tried to solicit opinion makers from Mexico in addition to those from the United States, reflecting a truly binational approach to solving critical issues, Perkins said.
“The idea was to bring people together to talk about issues in the binational economy we have between San Diego and Tijuana, and to find some common ground and answers to issues that concern people on both sides of the border,” he said.
Before the summit, Perkins joined with representatives of the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce and the California Trade and Commerce Agency to publicize a marketing campaign for the San Diego/Tijuana region.
The goal is to heighten the awareness of this region’s importance by bringing together demographic and other economic data.
For example, while the population of the San Diego metropolitan statistical area ranks it the 17th-largest in North America, when it is combined with Tijuana’s and Imperial County, the figure rises to more than 5.1 million, making it the ninth-largest metropolitan statistical area, Perkins said.
By publicizing this and similar economic data, it would boost the profile of the region, and cause people “to start thinking differently about us,” he said.
Making Connections: The Connectory, a business Web site aimed at fostering business contacts among manufacturers, buyers and sellers, has been around for about two years, and growing like gangbusters.
Jo Marie Diamond, a development specialist with the East County Economic Development Council, reports the current count on the site is about 1,500 companies, covering 10 different industry sectors.
The fastest-growing one, by far, is technology, which includes firms engaged in a core technology and those that are doing manufacturing as well, Diamond said.
Among the other sectors on the site are manufacturing; software; environmental; technical services; industrial suppliers; printing/publishing; construction and trades; agri-business; and mining and raw materials.
Since the site was launched with a minimum investment from a few grants, sponsorships, and lots of volunteer labor, so has the scope of its purpose.
Originally the site was intended for only East County manufacturers but has since expanded to include firms from all over the county, including a good number which are focused on cross-border trade and the maquiladora industry, Diamond said.
Success stories resulting from the site’s use are growing as well. One involved a buyer from a Tecate plant looking for a metal stamping supplier. He was referred to the site, and within seconds of the call he tapped into the site. He was so excited he hung up the phone, saying it was the best tool he had ever seen, Diamond said.
“We didn’t hear from him again, but I have no doubt that he found what he was looking for.”
The listing, which receives about 900 hits a month, is free to county firms. The site’s address is (http://www.connectory.com).
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Another Trade Web Site: The California Chamber of Commerce has launched a Web page aimed at maintaining the state’s prominence as the nation’s largest exporter.
Among the data contained on the site are information on California’s international trade exports; trade issues and how the chamber helps its members in dealing with such issues; proposed legislation relating to trade issues; and links to other state, federal, regional and international trade sites. The site’s address is (www.calchamber.com/international.html).
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WTC Gets Grant: San Diego World Trade Center was awarded a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce recently. The nonprofit expects to use the grant funds to research price and materials used by maquiladoras in anticipation of NAFTA tariff changes, and helping San Diego suppliers sell more of their products to these plants.
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Trade Winds: The World Trade Center holds its annual awards dinner Nov. 9 at San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina. The Department of Commerce hosts a seminar on linking IT firms with international buyers Nov. 12 at its offices. SDSU’s Center for International Business Education and Research hosts a luncheon and panel discussion Nov. 30 on NAFTA, the first five years at the Doubletree Hotel in Mission Valley.