San Diego County’s cybersecurity cluster is an economic giant and a growth engine.
Cybersecurity accounts for 24,349 jobs across 874 firms, and has a total economic impact of $3.5 billion annually, according to an economic study released late this month.
The new report, titled 
“Securing the Future: AI and San Diego’s Cyber Cluster,” was assembled by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and San Diego’s Cyber Center of Excellence. It was underwritten by defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
The 874 businesses mentioned are not all pure-play cybersecurity firms. The total includes firms that employ cybersecurity professionals but whose core work is something other than cybersecurity.
The economic impact of the cybersecurity sector is the same as nine Super Bowls or 23 Comic-Cons, report authors said. Furthermore, that impact does not stay bottled up. Each cyber job generates one more job in other industries in the region, report authors said.
Against this backdrop, San Diego companies are doing more work in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Report authors assert the trend will be good for employment, and will not take away jobs.


Employment Opportunities
Employment growth in the cyber industry has outrun that of the San Diego region as a whole.
The region’s cyber employment grew 40% during the seven years since the first quarter of 2014. With the arrival of COVID-19 and the associated job losses in the general economy, total nonfarm employment in the first quarter of 2021 was roughly what it was in 2014.
According to the study, growth in cybersecurity continued steadily as other industries lost jobs during the first half of 2020.
Today, cybersecurity is where the jobs are. Some 61 percent of cyber businesses plan to hire workers during the next year, according to the study.
In the last 12 months, unique postings for cybersecurity jobs stood in the range of 1,400 to 1,600 per month.
Talent, however, can be hard to find. Some 80% to 90% of local cybersecurity companies interviewed said they had difficulty finding qualified workers.
Indeed, companies are looking outside the region for help. The percentage of remote positions at those companies has grown from less than 1% in the spring of 2017 to more than 9% in in the spring of 2021.


Government Contracts Abound
Nearly 3 in 5 cybersecurity firms work directly or indirectly for the federal government, including the U.S. Department of Defense, and 32% focus exclusively on federal contracts.
In 2020, the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (or NAVWAR), the local U.S. Navy command focused on information technology, awarded roughly $1.6 billion in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence contracts within the San Diego region. (Overall, the command awarded a total of $7.1 billion in contracts related to cyber and AI.)
 Such spending has fed the growth of San Diego’s cybersecurity cluster. Report authors said that $1.6 billion is equal to 46% of the total economic contributions of San Diego’s cyber cluster, “presenting an enormous growth opportunity if taken advantage of.”


Artificial Intelligence on the Ascent
Much of the report covers the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, and their role in cybersecurity.
Such technology has helped the industry, which is short on labor, by automating tedious and repeatable tasks. That has freed workers to spend their time on other pressing tasks.
Report authors assert that artificial intelligence and machine learning are creating and enhancing jobs, rather than eliminating them.
Productivity in the cybersecurity cluster has grown 7.5% since 2018, nearly triple the average for all San Diego industries. Report authors attribute that to the development and adoption of AI.
“By utilizing the vast resources at their disposal, local cyber firms can ensure continued strong growth in the years and decades ahead,” the report concludes. “The need for cyber workers, products and services shows no sign of abating anytime soon, and San Diego is uniquely positioned to lead the way.”
The report was funded in part by the Department of Defense.