San Diego Business Journal

The high-tech economy is San Diego's rose. The garden around it, though, is not that pretty. Those are the conclusions of two studies released by very different sources late this summer.

The first report, issued by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, says high-tech and biotech employment reached record levels by early 2000.

The second report, issued by the San Diego-based Center on Policy Initiatives, suggests people are being left out of the high-tech boom, and that non-high-tech jobs are growing faster than high-tech work.

Employment in San Diego's technology industries reached record levels in early 2000, the chamber reported. High-tech, aerospace and defense work employed 125,000 people in early 2000, and biotech industries employed another 30,000 people, according to the chamber report. The report, published in the chamber's August Economic Bulletin, relies on data compiled by the chamber's Economic Research Bureau and Alexander Publishing, a division of Downtown-based Alexander X, Inc.

High-technology industry employment, excluding biotech, grew 13 percent from 1999 to 2000, going from 110,285 to 124,532 workers, the study reported. It was the fourth consecutive year of growth since 1996.

Biotech and biomed employment grew slightly more than 20 percent between 1999 and 2000, when a work force of 25,047 increased to 30,121. It was the largest percentage jump in the past decade.

Ripple Effect

New technology jobs also produce a "rippling effect" and promote employment in other sectors, according to the chamber.

Alexander Publishing reported more than 850 high-tech companies and 301 bioscience firms operating within San Diego County.

The Center on Policy Initiatives calls its own study "the most comprehensive analysis to date of the region's leading post-Cold War industrial economic clusters." And while it agrees that the number of high-tech jobs is growing, it says the number of low-wage jobs is growing faster.

While high tech industries added 36,794 jobs between 1990 and 1998, the study says, non-high-tech sectors added 71,079 jobs in the same period.

Many jobs in the latter category are in the service and visitor industry sectors, said economist Sundari Baru.

Among other things, the study says:

- The majority of local workers are experiencing stagnant wages and declining benefits.

- Median wages are decreasing for all San Diego workers, high-tech included, even while average wages increase.

- Some 33 percent of San Diego County's workers have no health insurance, although employer-paid coverage is slightly higher in high-tech sectors.

Limited Impact

The organization maintains only 18 percent of the local work force benefits from local planning efforts to promote high-tech businesses.

"High-tech growth can be a catalyst for the region's economic development," Baru said in a prepared statement, "but our data show that the majority of the region's employment growth is in sectors not affected by planning efforts. Clearly planners must address these jobs if they are to impact the growing inequality in our region."

The study is titled "Planning for Shared Prosperity or Growing Inequality? An In-Depth Look at San Diego's Leading Economic Clusters."