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Friday, Feb 3, 2023
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San Diego Can Be More Than a Contender

Mayor Filner is now governing a city with enormous modern day assets, a leading high-tech sector, robust tourism and military sectors including an economy significantly enriched by our cross-border location. San Diego is clearly poised to be a great 21st century city, and the new mayor has an unprecedented opportunity to take us there.

I recently returned from an innovation summit in Nashville where civic leaders grappled with how to create what we already have.

A dynamic American city best known for country music, Nashville is in the process of renewing itself as an innovation hub. Local leadership seeks to integrate public and private resources central to building a globally competitive regional economy. This includes using world-class research discoveries to spark local entrepreneurial businesses, as well as create talent development pipelines to equip citizens to be able to work in emerging technology sectors.

What struck me as I addressed the innovation summit is how well positioned San Diego already is for the global challenges confronting economies, and how we are already well on our way to becoming the kind of great 21st century city so many others are trying to emulate. The good news is other cities want to be like San Diego. The not so good news is San Diego has much to do to fulfill its promise.

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Poised to become great American cities of the 21st century are places such as Seattle, Portland and San Diego. It is no coincidence these are hotbeds of innovation on the Pacific Coast. All three have leveraged abundant advantages.

What are the essential features which would merit status as a great 21st century city? The short list includes world-class research, commercialization advocates, experienced entrepreneurs and investors, resources to develop the talent pool, being an attractive place to live, and increasingly ready access to manufacturing assets.

Leadership’s Role

The new regime at City Hall could stimulate the region’s rise to 21st century city greatness by focusing on the following:

Advocating for our abundance of world-class research in diverse fields: UC San Diego, Salk Institute, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and the other research centers along the Torrey Pines Mesa receive about $3 billion annually from the federal government and we need to grow that base.

Promoting our abundance of commercialization platforms: Connect, EvoNexus, BioCom and dozens more groups enable product development and new business creation, giving us one of the highest startup business rates in the country.

Encouraging our abundance of experienced entrepreneurs and investors: These have been spawned by the early successes of companies such as Linkabit and Qualcomm, SAIC and Titan, and Hybritech and Biogen Idec.

Enabling our abundance of essential talent development resources: San Diego is blessed with great universities, community colleges and highly responsive Extension services along with one of the most innovative workforce development partnerships in the United States.

San Diego has a history of inventing, creating and innovating. We develop new products the world needs and wants because of our combination of research advances, business know-how, and workforce talent. Our border location gives us an export advantage. In short, we are what other cities hope to be.

Our new mayor must celebrate and leverage this abundance moving forward. Our economic vitality depends on it.

Mary Walshok, UC San Diego associate vice chancellor for public programs and the dean of Extension.

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