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Window Open For North County Development

Window Open For North County Development

BY JOHN OSBORNE

Special to the Business Journal

The window of opportunity for high-impact, long-term economic development in North San Diego County is open wider than many realize. But surging population growth, locally and in bordering Riverside County, is producing unique challenges for the region’s leaders.

The 2000 Census showed 10-year population growth rates for North County’s four largest cities , Oceanside, Escondido, Vista and Carlsbad , increased at 22 to 25 percent. These rates outpaced the county average at 13 percent, but were trumped by neighboring Riverside County where the population grew by 32 percent.

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North County is strategically located to take advantage of the markets to the south and the north, including Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties , with easy rail access and two interstate freeways in either direction. Commercial air service to Phoenix and Los Angeles is available via Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport, and North County business travelers use it as a convenient alternative to Lindbergh Field.

More than 1 million people live in North County. The region’s neighborhoods are in close proximity to the quality services and attractions that make San Diego County such a desirable place to call home. However, a typical three bedroom, 2,000-square-foot home in San Marcos currently lists for $90,000 less than a comparable property in San Diego.

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Growth, Housing

“North County has growing employment centers such as Idec Pharmaceuticals’ planned facilities in Oceanside. It also has more affordable housing choices than comparable homes in central San Diego,” said Kevin Ham, economic development director, City of Vista.

Ham continued, “North County residents can work close to where they live, and employers benefit with more affordable housing for their work force.”

For many similar economic and quality of life reasons plus the fact that Oceanside had suitable land for a 60-acre industrial-commercial development, the city was able to attract Idec. Now Oceanside officials are counting on the Idec facility as the catalyst that sparks a local biotech cluster in the city, bringing more jobs and higher salaries to the city.

North County cities are vying for a piece of San Diego County’s promising technology and biotech sector whether the strategy is to attract a large tenant such as Idec or support technology park and business center development near major arteries and freeways.

Joe McDermott of Coldwell Banker Commercial, North County Properties said, “North County is in a great position to be competitive for small to large land users with our biggest opportunity for growth in raw land for development.”

Close to 700 acres of raw and industrial finished land ranging from the 125-acre Bressi Ranch site in Carlsbad to Quail Hills in Escondido at 80 acres will be available for businesses in the next one to three years.

North County cities are also pursuing the tourism business. Oceanside recently experienced a disappointment when trying to secure an amendment needed at the state level to permit Manchester Resorts to build an oceanfront resort in the city.

Earlier this year, Escondido was working to woo a hotel to complement its California Center for the Arts, Escondido on the defunct Montgomery Ward property across the street. The property is now slated for a stadium-seating style theater and eateries.

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Downside of Growth

Transportation is an issue across the county, and North County is no exception. New road and freeway projects are underway and the North County Transit District is finalizing plans for a commuter rail link between Oceanside and Escondido.

This summer, if legislation is passed in Sacramento, the North County Transit District may have its road and transit planning authority rolled into a new countywide transportation or regional planning agency. The intended impact of this legislation is to produce more coordinated planning efforts for transportation and other major public works in the county.

Two major Caltrans projects announced this year include completion of Highway 56 linking the I-5 and I-15 between Carmel Mountain and Carmel Valley and the expansion of the 5/805 merge at Sorrento Valley. Both will alleviate traffic congestion for North County commuters.

The 5/805 merge in Sorrento Valley is the gateway to one of the biggest employment centers in the county and the traffic mess there serves as a cautionary tale to economic development champions in North County that infrastructure should not lag growth.

Widening efforts will bring the merge to 23 lanes across while further north on the I-5 at Del Mar Heights Road, it will be 12 lanes, and yet further north at Via de la Valle, eight lanes. This $182 million project will not get any more cars off the road, and critics say it will only serve to push the bottleneck further north.

Avoiding this traffic nightmare was one of the main attractions reported by executives of North County technology companies. Executives from ViaSat, Objectiva Software Solutions, Taylor-Made adidas, AirPrime and Biota at a recent high-tech industry group meeting also praised North County for its quality of life, more affordable commercial rents and residential housing prices, access to a qualified work force, and proximity to Orange County and Los Angeles.

All of these companies had chosen to site their offices in North County from a list of competing regions in San Diego County, the Bay Area and beyond.

Last year, Gateway Inc. moved its headquarters from San Diego to Poway in order to save an estimated $140 million over 10 years.

Economic development initiatives in North County have also been impacted by California’s energy crisis.

Heading into the last half of 2002, the looming challenge facing North County and the rest of San Diego County may soon be the fall-out from the state’s forecast budget crisis. Fortunately, this part of the state is well positioned to weather a rainy day.

Osborne is chair of the North County Economic Development Council, a coalition of the private and public sector with an interest in enhancing the economic vitality and quality of life in North San Diego County.

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