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Blue Economy Set to Grow, Generating New Jobs

What do shipbuilder General Dynamics Nassco, undersea robot maker SeaBotix Inc., and a maker of membranes for removing salt from seawater, all have in common?

All play parts in the “Blue Economy,” a portion of the San Diego economy that employs 46,000 people.

The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and two partners recently issued an in-depth look at this economy, reporting that it generates $14 billion in direct sales. The figure does not include induced or indirect spending.

The report’s other two sponsors were the San Diego Workforce Partnership and the Maritime Alliance. ERISS Corp., a woman-owned business from Carlsbad, collected surveys from more than 230 businesses, compiled data and assembled the final product.

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The report reveals a mix of traditional waterfront industry and cutting edge technology.

The traditional: Shipbuilding and repairing employed 6,100 people in San Diego in September 2011. Businesses in the Port of San Diego employ nearly 15,000 people.

The cutting edge: Makers of desalination technology employ some 3,000 people in San Diego County. So says the report, adding that the market is export-oriented and poised to take off. Citing figures from Global Water Intelligence, the document states the worldwide market for desalination technology will grow from $10 billion in 2010 to $30 billion by 2016.

Forecasting Jobs

“San Diego is an ideal location to set up a desalination and clean water technology center of excellence that could serve as test bed for local companies, as an incubator, and to attract scientists and companies from around the world,” the report states.

Or consider ROVs. Those are remotely operated underwater vehicles, such as those produced by SeaBotix. The worldwide ROV market may easily double, growing to $3.4 billion between 2010 and 2014, the report says, citing research from Douglas-Westwood, an energy industry research group.

Part of the report’s function is to forecast the job openings of tomorrow, and make recommendations on career training. In the next decade, the report sees 12 percent growth, or almost 6,000 new jobs added, in the maritime industry.

The report is bullish on the growth of weather and observation science, forecasting a growth rate of 20 percent between 2011 and 2020. Climate change is the biggest driver of growth in the tech-heavy ocean science and observation sector, the report notes, followed by offshore energy exploration as well as defense and security.

Growth in Aquaculture

The report forecasts that boatbuilding and shipbuilding, as well as robotics and submarines, will both grow 10 percent in the coming decade.

One in-demand occupation in the coming decade will be plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters. The report states there were 922 of those tradespeople working in the area in 2011. And it predicts that in the next 10 years there will be a need for upward of 200 plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters — jobs with salaries in the range of $55,000 to $78,000.

Though it did not cite any businesses by name, the report said that many technology businesses with local roots in the military or in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography do not have a customer base in San Diego. Some of those businesses are now part of national or multinational corporations.

Local ties may be fraying, the report warns.

“Unless the region strengthens industry connections it may be at risk of losing some of the more successful firms with the weakest local business ties,” the report states.

Other observations from the report: The commercial fishing industry — which is well down from its historic levels — has the potential to double in size over the next 10 years. And aquaculture, or fish farming, could add 5,000 jobs to the region.

ERISS, the firm that prepared the report, is owned by CEO Barbara Nygaard.

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