With the year winding down, San Diego market forecasts are ramping up. Among them is an overview of what’s happening in the region’s booming South County, courtesy of Marney Cox, chief economist for the San Diego Association of Governments.
The labor force in San Diego’s South County is growing twice as fast as the region as a whole , creating an economic opportunity for new industries and the higher paying jobs that come with them, he reported.
“Over the last couple of decades, it’s been North County where high-tech has occurred,” said Cox. “In the future, all that shifts. In the coming couple of decades, how South County positions itself to take advantage of that growth will determine its prosperity, and therein lies the challenge.”
It all comes down to tapping into the major commercial clusters that are driving San Diego’s economy, he said, including the biosciences, high-tech, defense, transportation, agriculture, travel and hospitality.
“What South County has to do, and Chula Vista is trying to lead the way on, is positioning itself to take advantage of emerging tech clusters,” said Cox. “Once a presence is created down there, other like businesses will follow. But they must act aggressively at the beginning.”
Some more tidbits on South County, courtesy of Cox:
In 2004, the population was 364,402, some 12 percent of the region; 50 percent of South County residents have some college or above, compared to 65 percent for the county as a whole; the 2004 median household income in South County is $59,153, compared to $64,273 for the whole county.
The ethnicity and age of South County’s population is shifting too, said Cox, and eventually it will lead the county in the number of seniors.
Meanwhile, the debate over affordable housing vs. employment land continues to brew in Otay Mesa.
“Otay Mesa always has been envisioned as an industrial center,” said Cox. “There is pressure to take away industrial land, and convert it to residential. Residential near employment sites is important, as long as it’s done in a format that recognizes employment is the first priority, and makes sure you mitigate problems and don’t interfere with jobs that can occur in Otay Mesa.”
Cox is especially concerned about the lure of residential development to industrial landowners.
But Guy Asaro, senior vice president of McMillin Land Development, a division of the Corky McMillin Cos., is hoping for a fair balance.
“Otay Mesa has a unique opportunity, because it’s still largely undeveloped,” he said. “We as a private industry, and the city as a regulator, still have the opportunity to create a balanced community there. If it’s solely industrial, I imagine there would be a great need to find homes, because homes are where the jobs sleep.
“A plan can be created in Otay Mesa that retains the employment base, but layers in other assets that will make that community more viable in terms of balance , residential, retail, parks, schools and community facilities.”
There is another benefit, said Asaro.
“This will bring in needed infrastructure to the area,” he said. “With industrial buildings, there are not a lot of dollars associated with capital improvement projects, such as sewers and parks. A more balanced community, with better economic viability, will bring in that infrastructure.”
Infrastructure remains the key to all development, and timing is important, said Cox.
“There has been a willingness of individual cities, especially Chula Vista, to allow development to occur, and to plan and prepare for it,” he said. “They did a good job of handling infrastructure to facilitate activities there. It’s a different approach than the North County groups, fighting growth. They haven’t planned for it, and got into a real mess.”