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San Diego Could Be Exporting More, Report Finds

Dole cargo unloading in San Diego
Port of San Diego
Dole cargo unloading in San Diego
San Diego Could Be Exporting More, Report Finds
San Diego's exports are far behind where they could be, a new report from UC San Diego finds.

San Diego's exports are far behind where they could be, a new report finds.


San Diego Metropolitan Export Initiative: Market Assessment
The San Diego Metropolitan Export Initiative market assessment compiled by UC San Diego's School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.
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Although San Diego is the 17th most populous U.S. metropolitan area and 17th biggest producer of goods and services in the country, it ranks 55th in the share of the U.S.'s gross domestic product it exports, the analysis found.

San Diego was one of eight U.S. cities selected by the non-profit think tank Brookings Institution to examine the role exports play in national job growth. That study was undertaken because of President Barack Obama's plan to to double the country's exports by 2015. The School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at UC San Diego carried out the study.

"This is not a problem with fiscal stuff, it's not a problem with technology, it's a problem of focusing our community's attention and having the political will and leadership to carry it out," said Mayor Bob Filner, one of the speakers at a press conference at UC San Diego announcing the study's results.


Filner said long waits at the border between San Diego and Tijuana and the lack of maritime traffic at the Port of San Diego inhibit San Diego's ability to export.

"When you go to New York or LA or San Francisco or Seattle, you see ships coming in and out of the harbor," he said. "We are getting better, but you don't see that here. We need to change that. We have the infrastructure to do it."

More than 350 local companies were surveyed by the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies to show the San Diego region’s export strengths and weaknesses. This is the first time San Diego has had comprehensive export data, according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.

The analysis found regional infrastructure, meaning the airport, port and cyber infrastructure, can serve as a "severe bottleneck" to exporting.

“The Brookings data validates that the port's two marine terminals are essential to San Diego's export capability," said Port Commissioner Bob Nelson. "We're working to provide competitive facilities for local exporters."

It also found that San Diego lacks the larger companies that boost exports in other cities. Small- and medium-sized businesses could help boost San Diego's exports, but those businesses need to expand their business strategies to think internationally, said Peter Cowhey, the dean of UC San Diego's School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.

"One of the ways to do that is to bring our various immigrant communities in as a resource for export knowledge," he said.

“Clearly San Diego has the opportunity to enhance its global footprint by capitalizing on our existing strengths,” said Steve Weathers, CEO of San Diego's World Trade Center. “This analysis shows us where we can expand our trade reach to grow the local economy by focusing on exports.”

Exporting supports 113,400 jobs in the San Diego area, and the weak growth of exports impacts the overall economy, the report found.

The five biggest local export industries are computers and electronics, transportation equipment, chemicals, business services and royalties, which account for 64 percent of all of the region's exports, the analysis found. Over the past 10 years, San Diego's exports have shifted from the Atlantic to Southeast Asia, East Asia and Latin America.

The city of San Diego will now work with the port, the airport authority, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation and other organizations to make a final plan for improving exports, according to a San Diego EDC statement.

Corrected: March 28, 2023 at 8:05 PM PDT
This story incorrectly described the role of the Brookings Institution in the study. It has since been corrected.