The Ocean: San Diego’s Greatest Asset

The Oceans and the Economy of San DiegoThe recent 2013 Regional Economic Development Forum included a Mega-Region Economic Development Panel, six business leaders charged with discussing “economic development tools and regional assets” that have led to their firms’ successes. While not an intentional outcome of the session, five of the six panelists demonstrated that the ocean is important to their firms’ presence in the region. Between them, they represented San Diego’s manufacturing, research, military, tourism and marine sectors.

Craig Bartels, vice president of technology for Hydranautics, a maker of reverse osmosis filtration systems used globally, said the firm was in San Diego because of the availability of the Port’s facilities and the access to seawater for their products.

Northrop Grumman Corporation, represented by Brick Nelson, corporate lead executive, is located in San Diego in part because of its U.S. Navy contracts.

Matt Raine, executive vice president of business development for Evolution Hospitality, credited beaches and resorts that draw tourists as important to the success of his hotel management business.

Don Rockwell, CEO of Aqua Lung International, said this international manufacturer of scuba diving equipment (founded by Jacques Cousteau) is located in the region because of the large diving community and great diving.

Joseph Mahler, CFO of Synthetic Genomics, said the company founded by Craig Ventner is located here because Ventner is a surfer.

At the start of the event, County Supervisor Greg Cox also recognized the importance of the ocean by highlighting the region’s “Blue Economy.” The ocean has historically been and continues to be critical to San Diego’s economic development.

In 1984, a group of San Diego ocean leaders in science, industry, fishing, tourism, and environmental protection founded the San Diego Oceans Foundation in the belief that San Diego was an international “ocean capital” and that the ocean’s environmental value was matched by its value to our economy. They felt that the ocean was San Diego’s greatest asset.

In a television show produced by the Foundation in 1988, the show’s narrator, Walter Cronkite, reported on the value of protecting San Diego’s ocean environment because of its value to the regional economy, focusing on San Diego Bay.

“The waters of the sea are life’s blood to San Diego, and the bay is at the very heart of all the activity. The Navy represents almost $5 billion dollars of business to San Diego, representing almost a fifth of the County’s revenue, and much of that revenue comes from bayside activities.  Tourism contributes more than $2 billion to the local economy; the bay is one of the most popular attractions. Boating and fishing are multimillion dollar industries, employing tens of thousands of us. Cruise liners are using it as a port of call, and the San Diego Convention Center, recently completed for $165 million dollars, will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Clearly San Diego Bay is our number one economic asset.”

The ocean continues to be valuable to San Diego, as well as to the state, the nation and internationally. According to recent work by the National Ocean Economics Program, the ocean provides nearly $5 billion to San Diego’s gross domestic product and more than 73,000 jobs.  More than 400,000 jobs are directly related to the ocean in California, and nationally the ocean’s contribution to gross domestic product is $222.7 billion.

So, as the findings of the 2013 Regional Economic Development Forum are integrated with the work of 15 other regions across California at November’s California Economic Summit, it is important that San Diego representatives conveyed the value of the ocean to our local economy and future, and impress upon other delegates that the same holds true for California, the nation and the world.

Carl Netlteton operates Nettleton Strategies LLC, a San Diego consulting firm.  He is also the founder of OpenOceans GlobalThis article first appeared in the April 29, 2013, issue of the San Diego Business Journal.

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