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Friday, Mar 31, 2023

Sports, Fitness Industry Is Growing, But Has Weak Bench

Amateur sports and fitness is a growth industry in San Diego County but one that faces challenges in areas such as logistics and workforce skills, according to a new study commissioned by the San Diego Workforce Partnership.

And while the cluster offers better-

than-average growth, as well as some exhilarating ways to spend leisure hours, that corner of the economy does not offer much in the way of pay. The recent study, which provides a snapshot of what its authors call the “sports and active lifestyle” sector, estimates that the cluster employs 22,900 people in San Diego County, has a payroll of $793 million and has a direct economic effect of $1.35 billion.

The study — titled “San Diego County’s Sports & Active Lifestyle Industry: An Economic Impact and Workforce Needs Assessment” — predicts 3 to 5 percent growth during the next 12 months in the sector. That beats the economy as a whole, which is expected to grow at 1 to 2 percent.

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Some 39 percent of businesses indicated that endurance sports were a primary focus expected to grow in the coming year. That includes pursuits such as running, swimming and biking, both on- and off-road.

Startup activity is strong in this cluster; some 43 percent of the 1,200 businesses in it have been started since 2008.

The Workforce Partnership paid $43,000 for the study, conducted by BW Research Parternship, which has offices in Carlsbad and Massachusetts.

A Big Net

Some of the study’s conclusions and recommendations don’t seem to apply to all types of businesses within the sports and active lifestyle cluster, which the study’s authors defined broadly to include a wide range of activity.

The cluster includes sports manufacturing, notably San Diego County’s substantial golf equipment industry. San Diego County’s golf manufacturers — concentrated in the Carlsbad area — include Callaway Golf Co.; TaylorMade Golf Co. Inc., part of the Adidas Group; Titleist, part of Acushnet Co.; and Aldila.

Added to that are makers of action sports gear and apparel.

The study counts 134 businesses and 4,074 employees in sports-related manufacturing — including apparel. The study says San Diego has the second-largest number of jobs in the nation for sporting and athletic goods manufacturing, behind only the Providence, R.I., area.

San Diego County is also home to Aqua Lung International, a North County-based unit of Air Liquide, a diving equipment maker that has expanded to related swim gear. Aqua Lung has 150 employees in Vista and 225 more a short distance away in Mexicali, Mexico. The county includes Sector 9, a maker of skateboards, as well as Tower Paddle Boards. The maker of stand-up paddleboards, which has backing from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, had 2012 revenue of $1.64 million.

Retail and wholesale businesses are also counted in the cluster, as are places where people golf; work out, including yoga studios; and take part in less athletic leisure activities such as bowling.

Meanwhile, San Diego County is populated with businesses such as the Competitor Group Inc., a media group and race organizer, which has expanded its Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series overseas.

Study participants said they were more likely to focus on supplier and vendor relationships outside of San Diego County.

Improvement Needed

San Diego has areas to improve to ensure continued growth throughout the business cluster, according to study authors.

Decision-makers who responded to the survey expressed concern about the cost and inconvenience of moving packages, including unspecific concerns about San Diego’s airport. In the past, some community leaders have cited Lindbergh Field for not having enough capacity.

Study authors said the region’s workforce was a concern for many survey respondents. In that regard, young people need to be more proficient in English, basic algebra and the so-called STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math — at least in certain sectors. Also, employers expressed a “high level of frustration” with applicants’ communication skills, teamwork, work ethic and other nontechnical skills.

Getting What They Pay For?

But while survey respondents clamored for higher-skilled workers, they reported salaries more in line with low-skilled labor.

Almost half the jobs counted in the study were low-paying jobs at amusement and recreation centers. These included golf courses and country clubs, which employ 4,100 people in San Diego County at an average salary of $24,418; fitness centers and other recreational centers, which employ almost 5,000 people at an average salary of $17,289; and bowling alleys — the study counts 11 of them — which employ 491 people at an average salary of $15,949.

Seventy-three percent of the jobs in the entire sports and active lifestyle cluster pay $34,000 a year or less. One third paid between minimum wage — roughly $16,000 per year — and $23,000 per year, while one in five jobs pays more than $60,000 per year.


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