San Diego Business Journal

Armed with a new snapshot of San Diego’s tech cluster, local officials have pledged to make cybersecurity a bigger part of the region’s economy.

Some are starting to refer to the cluster as the Cyber Center of Excellence, pointing to a critical mass of universities, private businesses, defense contractors and workers at the U.S. Navy’s information-technology command.

Government and private backers of the initiative have put Holly Smithson in charge of the partnership, and Smithson is talking about growth.

The region has an estimated 102 cybersecurity-related companies employing 3,550 people, according to a study released March 20. And including 3,095 computer security specialists at the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the region has 6,645 cyber professionals.

Smithson said the center of excellence will use that as a benchmark to measure how the cluster grows.

The recent study — titled “Cybersecurity in San Diego: An Economic Impact and Industry Assessment” — was commissioned by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and is available at bit.ly/QilhVB.

The study’s authors concluded that San Diego’s cybersecurity cluster is poised to grow much faster than the overall economy. Cybersecurity firms expect 13 percent growth during the next 12 months, and they plan to increase their staffs by 25.7 percent. That compares with modest growth in the economy as a whole. San Diego employers expect 2.2 percent growth, though a second estimate calls for just 1.2 percent growth in 2014. The latter is from Economic Modeling Specialists International, a unit of CareerBuilder LLC.

The strength of San Diego County’s cybersecurity cluster is not news to people in local technology circles, said Darin Andersen, who is CEO of San Diego-based cybersecurity firm CyberUnited and a leader of several nonprofit cybersecurity initiatives, including the Cyberhive incubator in Middletown. The study and the formal naming of the cluster “validates what we’ve known for half a decade,” he said.

There is synergy between San Diego’s defense institutions and its innovation economy, said Larry Blumberg, executive director of the San Diego Military Advisory Council, a group that brings local civic and military leaders together.

On that note, the Pentagon plans to spend $23 billion on cybersecurity in the five years ending in 2018, the recent economic impact study said. That’s good news for San Diego’s cyber cluster, which is focused heavily on federal work. At the same time, the study’s authors advise not to place all the region’s emphasis on defense, saying the community may do well to take on work in the private sector.

The December data breach at Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT), where hackers took bank card information for 40 million customers and contact information for 70 million customers, shows there are problems looking for solutions.

When applying a multiplier formula, study authors estimate the cybersecurity cluster pumps $1.5 billion to the region’s economy annually. That equals 3.3 Super Bowls or 8.5 Comic-Cons.

The recent cybersecurity economic impact and industry assessment report was prepared by the National University System Institute for Policy Research, the San Diego Association of Governments and BW Research Partnership Inc. Last year, BW Research prepared a report that measured San Diego’s sports and active-lifestyle cluster.

Smithson, who will lead the center of excellence, is an executive with Sentek Global Inc. Until recently she was president and chief operating officer of CleanTech San Diego.

San Diego is not the only city to have a center of excellence for cybersecurity. Federal and Maryland state officials recently joined to establish a national Cybersecurity Center of Excellence in the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C.