Jobs are at the heart of many local policy debates, including the convention center expansion and the “jobs tax.” These hot-button issues routinely grab headlines and the attention of candidates and elected officials, while many of our region’s long-standing economic drivers receive far less attention.
The San Diego Zoo is a perfect example. The Taxpayers Association recently released a study estimating that San Diego Zoo Global — the nonprofit that operates the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park (previously known as the Wild Animal Park) — has an annual economic impact of more than $875 million to San Diego County. Perhaps more importantly, they are responsible for 7,400 local jobs.
Most business activity, like grocery and pharmacy purchases, are generally limited to the demand of local households. If a new store opens in an adequately served area, for example, its sales are offset by fewer sales at existing area grocers and pharmacies. Put another way: More stores do not necessarily mean more jobs. From a job-creation perspective, the distinction between local-serving businesses and nonlocal-serving business is an important one.
Our community leaders are overwhelmingly supportive of maintaining and improving San Diego’s competitive advantage in the industries that have clear job-creation benefits. These have been come to be known as San Diego’s “traded economies” of innovation, military and tourism; each one supports local jobs by serving a larger market.
Qualcomm employs more San Diegans because it serves a global market. NASSCO employs thousands of civilians locally to build and maintain ships to meet the nation’s military needs. The San Diego Zoo generates thousands of local jobs by attracting an international array of tourists.
Our study estimated the regional economic value of San Diego Zoo Global using the results of the San Diego Tourism Authority’s visitor-spending survey as well as operations data. We estimated that almost 10,000 jobs and more than $1.2 billion of economic activity in the county are linked to San Diego Zoo Global.
Through supplier relationships, employee spending and attracted tourist dollars, San Diego Zoo Global is economically connected to industries that you might not expect. Over 1,000 of the jobs linked to the zoo are in professional services, including scientific, technical and financial jobs. Almost 500 jobs are in performing arts, in part because some tourists see a play or live music while they are visiting.
In addition to economic impact, the San Diego Zoo Global has a positive fiscal impact on state and local governments that continue to face difficult financial situations. The increased economic activity results in an estimated $76.1 million of additional tax revenues to state and local governments.
The “traded economies” have a tremendous impact on the labor market in San Diego. The increased demand for labor results in a healthier job market that leaves more San Diegans employed and pushes up wages. The business attraction, retention and expansion efforts centered on “traded economies” impact the whole region.
This is the context in which we should view the local labor market and the regional economy. An understanding of the unique importance of organizations that support additional jobs, such as San Diego Zoo Global, is often the piece of the picture that’s missing. It’s easy to overlook that these economic impacts benefit us all.
Karafin is San Diego County Taxpayers Association’s interim president and CEO.