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State Controller Hears About Promising Industry In San Diego

California State Controller John Chiang told San Diego business and political leaders Thursday that creating new jobs is key to maintaining a state budget surplus. His speech at the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce focused on one industry that has tremendous potential to create well-paid jobs.

Aired 1/11/13 on KPBS News.

California State Controller John Chiang told San Diego business and political leaders Thursday that creating new jobs is key to maintaining a state budget surplus.

State Controller, John Chiang, addressing business and elected leaders at a meeting of the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce. Jan 10th, 2012

Chiang told the ballroom full of San Diego leaders, many newly elected, that California is the world’s ninth largest economy and it’s turning around.

“The good news is that California generally is recovering faster than the rest of the country,” he said.

Chiang said to pay the state's bills, he’s been borrowing from funds like the state’s disaster response fund to avoid borrowing from outside sources. But this year, he said, he’ll be able to pay 188 school districts their money on time for the first time in years.

However, Chiang said the state has only regained about half the jobs it has lost since 2007: about 600,000 gained compared to 1.3 million lost. Creating more jobs is key to the state’s recovery, and Chiang said he is focused on paying down the “wall of debt” the state is facing. He said the tax code needs to be restructured to encourage promising industries.

One of those industries was highlighted at the meeting.

According to a recent report by the National University System Institute for Policy Research, production of unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, has brought an estimated 1.3 billion dollars a year of federal defense dollars into the San Diego economy, generating over 7,000 jobs. Salaries are much higher than in the hospitality industry, averaging about $88,000 a year.

The issue of public mistrust of UAVs, or drones, was raised as a potential hurdle to the developing industry. Speakers acknowledged that regulations need to be hammered out to protect privacy for domestic applications.

Joe Ahn from Northrup Grumman, San Diego’s leading UAV producer, said spending on unmanned aircraft is predicted to double worldwide over the next decade and that 70 countries now have UAV programs. But, he said, 55 percent of procurement will be in the United States.

However, Debra Rosen, president of the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce, said other states are gearing up to compete for these lucrative jobs. Speakers at the meeting stressed the importance of creating a good business environment - with low taxes - to avoid losing the industry to places like Oklahoma, Florida and South Dakota.

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