How San Diego’s Blue Economy could help elevate state’s jobs and economy

610 200 Rafael Castellanos

(Photo: Port of San Diego)

Everyone can agree that California needs more great jobs. What if some of those jobs are blue jobs?

Great jobs come from strong socially responsible companies that locate or grow in California. Lawmakers often talk about the importance of pro-economic development incentives to create job growth, such as recent legislation that granted tax breaks to major businesses looking to move to California. These efforts are proving effective. A 2015 Study from Beacon Economics and the California public policy research group Next 10 found that in the last decade, California has produced new businesses at one of the fastest rates in the nation and in 2013 ranked 4th among states in terms of net job creation.

The best businesses, however, are those that bring not just jobs but good jobs – those that enable Californians to buy a house, raise a family, and pursue the American Dream. Manufacturing, construction, professional services – these industries can all provide good middle-class jobs. But are there enough of them in our rapidly changing technology-driven economy? According to the Pew Research Center, after more than four decades of anchoring our economy, the middle-class is no longer the country’s economic majority.

Maximizing good job opportunities in existing businesses is one thing. But what about the middle-class jobs in businesses that are just now getting a foothold? I’m referring to jobs in newer industries – those that don’t yet have a track record in California. Industries like aquaculture, marine robotics, desalination, and clean water technology – all of which correspond to the booming sector known as Blue Tech, and which is part of the water-centric Blue Economy.

The San Diego region is already a leader in the Blue Economy. The Port of San Diego's working waterfront alone provides almost 13,000 maritime industrial jobs with a $70,000-a-year average wage, and a $2.5 billion annual economic impact. According to the 2012 San Diego Maritime Industry Report, the projected total rate of growth for San Diego’s Blue Economy ranges from 6 percent to 20 percent per year through 2020. That’s a growth industry!

Those are great numbers, but every successful economy requires strategic action and investment to make sure it thrives. The Port of San Diego is doing just that because we see the tremendous potential of the Blue Tech sector. In 2016, the Port established a Blue Economy Incubator to assist in the creation, early development, and initial scaling of new Blue Economy business ventures on the San Diego Bay, with a focus on aquaculture and blue technology.

Unlike traditional incubators, which typically only offer office space and shared administrative services, the Port’s Blue Economy Incubator provides a launch pad for innovative projects and new ideas by removing barriers to entrepreneurs and providing key assets and services such as pilot project facilitation, permit-ready infrastructure, entitlements, market access, and strategic funding. The Port has even hired scientific and industry experts to assess our Bay for future opportunities.

In fact, our Board of Port Commissioners believes so strongly in the potential of Blue Tech – and this sector’s ability to create good jobs and major economic impact – that we put our money where our mouth is by establishing a seed money fund. The Port of San Diego will distribute $5 million over five years to targeted, promising, blue technology start-ups. The Aquaculture and Blue Tech team will actively seek to generate revenues and find grant opportunities to support infrastructure required to accelerate the Blue Economy Incubator.  

Since the launch of the incubator, the Port has received several inquiries and official proposals. In June 2017, our Board approved four pilot projects to demonstrate:

Of these four projects, pilot tests of Swell Advantage’s mobile application and San Diego Bay Aquaculture LLC’s shellfish nursery operation are already underway. The Aquaculture and Blue Tech team is now evaluating the second cohort of business proposals to continue growing the Port’s Blue Economy Portfolio.

We believe our efforts will bear fruit (and shellfish too!) and provide the well-paying, middle-class jobs that our city and state need. The more these business ventures grow, the more the demand for skilled workers within the Blue Tech sector will grow.

Deep-sea explorers, marine spatial planners, underwater robotics technicians – these are some of the great blue jobs of the future. We can't even begin to imagine some of the other great blue jobs that will be created. We encourage other government agencies to follow the Port’s lead to catalyze emerging industries to bring new opportunities to our vibrant state. And we urge lawmakers to both create new policies and reform existing policies, as necessary to create the jobs of the future, today. 

Rafael Castellanos is vice chairman of the Board of Port Commissioners, Port of San Diego

Elevate CA is a conversation about how to lift 18 million Californians who live in or near poverty into the middle class. A policy strategy to increase upward mobility will be developed at the California Economic Summit November 2-3 in San Diego. To register for the Summit, click here


Rafael Castellanos

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