07/12/12

North County study provides regional blueprint for economic development

At long last, a broad swath of North County has a regional blueprint to enhance economic development and other quality of life assets in much of the county’s northern region. 

Finalized this week, the 85-page Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy document, mercifully shortened to CEDS, completes the first phase of the Prosperity on Purpose program, a multi-agency effort that focuses on Escondido, San Marcos, Vista, Oceanside and Carlsbad, the unincorporated areas of the county’s 5th Supervisorial District, and the region’s eight Indian reservations. 

The program is being led by the San Diego North Economic Development Council (SDNEDC) and county Supervisor Bill Horn, whose $236,000 in county discretionary funding financed the overall program, along with contributions from some of the cities and Indian tribes in the study area. 

The $45,000 CEDS study was prepared by the Carlsbad-based BW Research Partnership and includes several months of extensive input from area stakeholders. The document scours the study area’s geography, population, labor force, environmental resources, infrastructure and other factors. It then examines the strengths and deficiencies of the region’s present industrial, education and training, and infrastructure assets and recommends improvements as well as new approaches. 

For example, the report’s industry overview highlights the ample inventory of transportation, entertainment, recreation and quality of life assets but notes a lack of younger, skilled and educated workers; incubator facilities and other infrastructure to serve emerging businesses; access to venture capital and micro-financing resources, stability in electricity and water rates, and regional branding that makes it attractive to locate in North County. 

The region’s education and training assets include a shared mission to work together among educators in K-12, community colleges, California State University San Marcos, private universities and colleges. 

The study notes several existing pilot programs are in place to help under-served students graduate from high school and pursue a post-secondary education aimed at meaningful employment. At the same time, there’s the lack of a university-level engineering program in the region and a lingering emphasis on educational resources to support “mature” industries rather emerging and technologically advanced industries. 

Also noted is the need to focus more on retraining programs for those transitioning to a new career. 

Infrastructure strengths include the Tri-City Medical Center and soon-to-open Palomar Medical Center on opposite ends of the Highway 78 corridor as well as a strong water infrastructure, good freeway and light rail transportation amenities and a “fully competitive” telecommunications marketplace. 

The needs aren’t peculiar to North County, but they include developing new sources of water, streamlining regulations to achieve better access to recycled water, improving municipal permitting of additional telecommunications facilities, finding money for additional transportation resources and dealing with solid waste disposal issues. 

Several strategies from CEDS document will now be incorporated into a Prosperity on Purpose work plan, including developing the following resources: 

* A regional technology institute that combines technology incubator facilities; applied research facilities; an educational consortium with programs in engineering, science, medicine, and law to support start ups and expansion of specialized manufacturing firms; 

* a SDNEDC panel working with public agency decision makers to improve the region’s regulatory environment; 

* a career and technical education consortium to bring employers and educators together in order to offer improved applied training programs; 

* expanded career programs and services for veterans and active duty military families; 

* a regional approach to support under-served students; 

* regional recommendations to improve regulations pertaining to using recycled water and related infrastructure, including desalination; 

* improved coordination among San Diego health care organizations to emphasize better outcomes in health care delivery; 

* a regionally standardized process for expanding telecommunications infrastructure, including cell towers on public properties; 

* land use policies and financial incentives for businesses and residential builders to develop transit-oriented developments (TODs) and supportive projects, and; 

* infrastructure improvements to increase from two to three the number of Sprinter trains per hour in each direction. 

The study calls for monitoring progress toward the objectives outlined in the plan, including tracking the number of Innovation and Specialized Manufacturing businesses being added to the study area; the region’s jobs-to-housing ratio; student graduation and retention rates; the number of students completing two- or four-year programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; water and electricity rates and stability; fire protection, telecommunications, and waste management services as well as rapid transit ridership and service data. 

With its completed CEDS study in hand, North San Diego County is now eligible for federal economic development grants; a benefit that surely won’t go unnoticed by participating cities and the program’s organizer. 

A public review and comment process on the CEDS study is under way through Aug. 15 at www.sdnedc.org/prosperity-on-purpose. All submitted comments will be attached to the final CEDS document. 

Meanwhile, participating cities, educational institutions, Indian tribes, the county, and other stakeholders can begin to look for key descriptors to fulfill the region’s need for a branding campaign. Cooperation and collaboration come to mind. 

Daniels, principal consultant of Dick Daniels Public Relations, has been a public relations practitioner for 34 years and was an Escondido city councilman from 2006 to 2010.