North County Economic Summit Spotlights Burgeoning Industries

Thursday, April 13, 2017
By Alison St John

Biomedical devices, craft beer and drones are among the key products that keep North County’s economy ticking.

Approximately 400 business leaders attended the fourth annual North County Economic Summit at CSU San Marcos Wednesday, hosted by the North County Economic Development Council.

Josh Williams of BW Research said middle-wage jobs make up only 40 percent of the job market now, compared to 80 percent before the recession.

Though middle-wage jobs gained ground in the last couple of years, in the long-term, higher paid jobs and lower-wage jobs are growing faster, Williams said.

A key theme at the summit was the importance of a challenging education to keep up with the rapidly changing job market, so those pushed out of the middle-wage job market move up, rather than fall behind.

Williams said education levels in North County vary widely: 30 percent of North County coastal residents have a college degree, while 20 percent of North County inland residents have less than a high school diploma.

"Innovate 78" report

In 2012, the mayors of the five cities along state Route 78 — Escondido, San Marcos, Carlsbad, Vista and Oceanside — jointly invested in an initiative called “Innovate 78.”

At the economic summit, Kirby Brady of San Diego’s Regional Economic Development Corporation delivered a report on high-tech jobs along Route 78.

Brady said biotech and bio-med, telecommunications and defense manufacturing generate 24,685 jobs that pay double the average wage: close to $100,000 a year.

“Seventy percent of what we’re calling 'tech' falls into manufacturing,” Brady said. “So what we’re finding is a majority of these jobs — entry level — do not require a four-year degree.“

However, to move up to higher paying tech jobs requires further training and education. The study shows the tech sector makes up just 8 percent of total employment along state Route 78, but generates $12 billion in sales.

Top industry clusters

Defense contracts created a job spike in Poway, Williams said, and craft brewing is another fast-growing sector with above average wages. His 2017 report shows that the craft beer industry in North County has grown almost 90 percent since 2010.

“We have seen real big growth in drones and DOD money, craft beer has seen such growth: will that growth continue?” he asked. “And will life sciences, and communications continue to be a key driver in the area?“

Housing prices and transportation are hurdles for job growth. Almost half of renters pay more than a third of their income in rent. And more than a third of North County residents spend more than half an hour commuting to work.