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Why North County Cities Continue To Grow And Attract High-Paying Jobs

Each of the cities in North San Diego County is a piece of a larger, cohesive puzzle that has made this a fast-growing, economically progressive area.

Why North County Cities Continue To Grow And Attract High-Paying Jobs
Vista Mayor Judy Ritter with Allen Matkins partner Heather Riley, who served as moderator

Allen Matkins partner Heather Riley, moderator at Bisnow’s Future of North County San Diego event, asked the five North County representatives why people want to live or work in their cities. The mayors highlighted lifestyle and economic attributes that have helped to bring new residents, employers and jobs to their cities.

Vista Mayor Judy Ritter cited its Moonlight Amphitheater, and the city's bragging rights to having the most 70-degree days and microbreweries per capita in the U.S.

Escondido Mayor Sam Abed said Escondido is a beautiful, historic, 129-year-old city that has transitioned from an agricultural community to a modern, vibrant city, with plans to urbanize the downtown core with 7,000 residential units. He said the city has 35 significant projects, valued a $1.2B, moving through the approval process. It also is home to the second- and third-largest North County destinations, Safari Park and Stone Brewing Co., as well as the Westfield North Shopping Center.

Why North County Cities Continue To Grow And Attract High-Paying Jobs
San Marcos Mayor James Desmond, Oceanside City Councilman Chuck Lowery and Escondido Mayor Sam Abed

Oceanside City Councilman Chuck Lowery said Oceanside’s natural environment, which includes the Pacific Ocean and beaches and pier — the second-longest pier in California at 1,971 feet and the longest in Southern California. He said Oceanside’s unique dynamics include its walkable community west of Interstate 5 where 20,000 people reside, and a focus on various modes of transportation, which encourages residents to use mass transit and bicycles to get around.

San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond said San Marcos is North County’s education hub.

“Our mission has been to attract young, educated individuals and young families to North County. We supply the talent pool,” he said.

He said the 78 Corridor area includes Mira Costa College, San Diego State San Marcos, which is opening a School of Engineering this fall, Palomar College, Saint Katherine College and the University of Saint Augustine.

“So it’s great [to] come and get an education and then get into the workforce here along the 78 Corridor and a great place to live and raise a family,” he said. “What’s great about all of us along the 78 Corridor is we’ve got all the amenities and what’s nice about all of us along the Corridor is we’re easy to get to and we share our resources.”

Why North County Cities Continue To Grow And Attract High-Paying Jobs
Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall and San Marcos Mayor James Desmond

Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall prefaced his dialogue by telling the audience to relax because it would take 15 to 20 minutes to describe everything great about Carlsbad.

“It starts with seven and a half miles of beaches, so if you like to swim, surf or fish, it’s a great location. It truly is a place where you can live-work-play. When I say play, think Legoland, great parks, great bikeways — there’s so may ways to recreate in Carlsbad,” he said.

Hall said the city recently completed $1M in improvements to the El Norte Swim Complex and rehabbed its libraries. Most important is the business community.

“What we’re known for is businesses that start out with one, two or three people,” he said. “We have proven more than once that we can build a life science company like Thermo Fisher Scientific or Genoptix, a business started in ’06 or ’07 and was sold in 2011 for almost $400M."

Hall discussed Carlsbad's business-friendly atmosphere.

“When I first walked through the door to ViaSat in 2010, I was told they were not going to invest in California anymore, that it was just too tough to do business here,” he said.

The company was expanding and wanted to build a larger facility and had decided it would take too long due to local and state regulations.

Hall told them it would only be 22 months from the dream to the ribbon-cutting, but the ViaSat executive said he could go anywhere else in the U.S. and get it done in 14 months or less.

Hall instructed his staff to pick up the pace, because this was a 100K SF building with 400 jobs. As a result, the project was through approvals and built within 10 months. He said a few years later that relationship led to an additional 485K SF building with between 2,000 and 2,500 jobs that pay on average more than $100K annually.

Why North County Cities Continue To Grow And Attract High-Paying Jobs
Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall, San Marcos Mayor James Desmond, Oceanside City Councilman Chuck Lowery, Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, Vista Mayor Judy Ritter and moderator Heather Riley, a partner in Allen Matkins' San Diego office

Mayors from the five cities created a collaborative hub, Innovate78, to drive talent and creative capital to North County cities along State Highway 78 — known as the 78 Corridor — to ultimately boost economic prosperity in all North County cities. Innovate78’s website provides resources for businesses, from development opportunities to information on starting a business, information on job openings, schools, housing, public transportation and things to see and do for residents.

Riley said Innovate78 recently reported businesses along the 78 Corridor generate a $6.1B economic impact annually and 25,000 jobs, of which one out five jobs are tech jobs that pay twice as much on average as other jobs. The corridor also has experienced a 9% increase in jobs since 2011. These cities would normally be competitive, she said, asking about the genesis of this collaboration.

Ritter said the cities began collaborating to figure out how to get more money from the San Diego Association of Governments for transportation in North County.

“From there, we began talking about how we could work together on economic development in the Corridor,” she said.

Ritter said the cities all share employees, so if a business cannot expand in her city, she wants to it to go to a neighboring city, so employees can stay put.

Why North County Cities Continue To Grow And Attract High-Paying Jobs
Networking at Bisnow's Future of North San Diego County

She said Vista’s business park has about 900 local, national and international businesses with about 27,000 employees.

“We have a large business park, but the vacancy rate is below 3%,” Ritter said. “So we don’t have a lot of room for more businesses, but we want to bring businesses to North County along the 78.”

Abed said the five cities have been working together for five years. It was not always easy, but the five cities have had unprecedented success in collaboration, with all levels of city government meeting regularly, he said.

Abed said collaboration has extended to other stakeholders, like the chambers of commerce, private businesses and educational institutions. He said the greatest successes resulted after departure from a competitive mindset, when cities began pooling resources for the greater good, which resulted in all five cities attracting new businesses and creating more jobs.

Desmond said collaboration has improved communication between businesses and educational institutions, which have launched new courses of study to meet business talent needs. An example is the engineering program Cal-State San Marcos is launching this fall.

It is hard to attract talent from other regions of the country when home prices start at half a million dollars, he said.

"One of the things this has allowed us to do is grow our own talent. There’s also ‘engin-brewing,’ vineyard and hospitality courses now because we’ve been able to talk to the colleges, to influence that, so they create the talent pool … that attracts businesses,” Desmond said.