Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was here Feb. 11 to visit Carlsbad-based Invitrogen Corp. to see firsthand what the company’s stem cell lab was all about.
What was it about the governor seeing for himself that jobs are being created in a prickly economy?
The job market in the biotechnology sector is growing statewide.
The state’s unemployment rate has topped 6 percent for the first time in years, but Invitrogen has been growing at 5.5 percent during the past year.
In addition to 200 new employees, the company is expanding its manufacturing space by 50,000 square feet, and that was worth a visit by a governor looking for answers to stimulate the state’s economy.
California has more than 240,000 folks employed in 5,500 life sciences firms.
The stability of the industry attracted more than $3.2 billion in venture capital investment in 2007.
Perhaps the governor was looking to replicate jobs instead of drugs or medical devices.
In a press conference later in the day, he said he was pleased with the tour of Invitrogen.
That is the good news from North County; the bad news that needs to be discussed is about water.
No matter how any industry grows, without water, all industries will fail.
A lot has been said about the solid growth during the past decade in North County that has helped stabilize our regional economy.
In order for that growth to be sustained, something has to be done about the water availability in the region.
The San Diego County Water Authority is implementing plans for tighter conservation. If that doesn’t work then rationing is in the offing. One industry has already felt the belt-tightening.
Agriculture was given a mandatory 30 percent water reduction on Jan. 1 of this year, which impacts more than 5,000 growers.
It appears to be only the beginning if something isn’t done to cope with the years of dry weather that have plagued the state.
In North County, something is being done. Carlsbad and its partner cities are pressing to get the last approvals for the construction of the privately funded water desalination plant being built by Poseidon Resources Corp.
The plant will produce 50 million gallons of drinking water per day.
Carlsbad will use 25 million gallons and the rest will be sold to contracted partner cities in North County.
In addition to guaranteed water for Carlsbad, the plant will put 8 percent to 10 percent more water into the current import supply.
This project has been under the approval and discussion phase for years. The need has continued to increase and the monitoring agencies have continued to drag their feet.
The California Coastal Commission staff is opposed to granting an operating permit to Poseidon because, “It would open the gates for other cities to come forward with plant permit requests.”
The commission admits that desalination is a main ingredient in the water production process for the future, yet they have delayed this process for years and years.
Finally, last fall the commission , over the objections of its staff , gave the company a 9-3 vote of approval.
The staff, still wanting to block the plant, put more stipulations into the permit granting process in hopes of further delaying construction.
The governor and nearly every elected official on all sides of the aisle support this project, but the politically appointed commission members continue to concede to the wishes of their stonewalling staff, allowing them, in spite of the vote of the commission, to continue to place hurdles in the way.
Hopefully, Poseidon will present the answer in July to the latest blocking tactic of the staff and construction can begin this year.
In addition to this project, the state also is battling another appointed group of players, the District Court, which blocked the needed pumping of water to Southern California because of an endangered fish.
Now, the state Fish and Game Commission (yes, appointed) has ordered additional pumping restrictions on the State Water Project to protect another fish, the longfin smelt.
Once again, I say the only endangered species that we should really concern ourselves with is us! Without water, we are very endangered!
With all of this having been said, you could ask what impact does this one desalination plant have on the bigger scheme of things?
Without something triggering the cure for the water shortage, the bond markets, Wall Street, investors, business owners and just about everyone in the state will freeze in fear of moving ahead.
We can talk forever about this issue, blame appointed commissioners, elected officials and the courts, but unless we cinch up our belts and fight for this plant by applying pressure at all levels, we will eventually signal the beginning of a depression, not just a recession.
California has and will continue to lead the world in innovation, but without this simple commodity everything grinds to a halt.
Ted Owen is president and CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.