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SD to be featured as a National Geographic 'Smart City'

City of San Diego stakeholders have helped fund the international, widespread distribution of a National Geographic Channel documentary highlighting the city’s innovation, technology and people that make the city vibrant.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer unveiled the promotional trailer Friday morning for the National Geographic Channel’s “World’s Smart Cities” series.

San Diego is one of 18 cities worldwide to be featured, the only one city in North America, and it is the subject of a one-hour documentary that premieres April 25 in 60 countries.

“This is a great deal for our region to be promoted like we’re going to be,” Faulconer said. “This is big news. And it’s going to give us the type of international visibility that we’ve never seen before.”

Cities were considered for a documentary based on a number of factors -- population size, demographics and cultural diversity, livability, economy and business climate, educational institutions, leadership and community, among other factors.

Other cities already featured in a documentary include Bucharest, Romania; Adelaide, Australia; and Durban, South Africa. The documentary is 46 minutes plus advertising.

Partners -- including the city of San Diego, the San Diego Tourism Authority, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., the county of San Diego, and additional companies and organizations -- fundraised $1.5 million for the promotion of the documentary, while National Geographic funded about $4 million for the production.

“The project itself was National Geographic’s project. They invested over $4 million in producing the project,” said Joe Terzi, president and CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority. “But our hope was that we could get really broad distribution internationally. One of the areas that we think San Diego has some work to do is its image and reputation internationally. That’s one of our key objectives over the next couple of years is to really work hard to get San Diego in some of these international markets. So this is a perfect fit for what we had already decided to do.”

Mark Cafferty, EDC president and CEO, said he was struck by how the documentary focuses on the people that make up the region, and how their stories will be relatable to a worldwide audience.

“It’s constantly told through the stories of people, and I think that’s what the rest of the world is going to take away, just the fascinating people who are doing scientific work at SeaWorld, the fascinating people who are powering our craft beer industry through science, and the very diverse nature of the population here,” Cafferty said.

Among those profiled in the documentary are Neva Parker, the director of laboratory operations at White Labs, which develops brewer’s yeast used in many of the county’s 100 craft breweries.

“We’re constantly striving to do new things and innovate where innovation is not necessarily a thing,” Parker said. “No one thinks about brewer’s yeast as an exciting topic, but for us it is. We’re talking about it all the time. What new things can we do? What new products can we create? What else can we really do to drive beer to this heightened place? That’s kind of what we’re always looking at.”

Additional segments in the documentary focus on the revitalization of the downtown center and design of the new Central Library; the colorful neighborhoods of Little Italy and Barrio Logan; local chef Su-Mei Yu discusses the city’s culinary scene; sailing captain Troy Sears highlights San Diego Bay; and professional surfer Rob Machado talks about the healthy, outdoor lifestyle, along with many others.

The documentary is hosted by Andrew Evans is a writer, explorer and TV host for National Geographic.

National Geographic approached San Diego about the Smart Cities distinction about 19 months ago, Terzi said, after spending several weeks in the city.

Malin Burnham was the first person to sign on to help fund the project, Terzi said, and municipalities also agreed.

“Then we started to look at some of the companies that we felt were appropriate; companies that would look at this as a good opportunity for them to get exposure. And that’s where SDG&E, Illumina, Qualcomm and some of the others came in and said, 'We’d love to help you, we’d love to support this, and we’d be happy to help fund the distribution.'"

While San Diego and its partners made suggestions as to who may be featured, National Geographic made the selections for which companies and individuals it wanted to showcase.

The fundraising for the $1.5 million in distribution costs also was designed in such a way that no one had complete control over the documentary, Cafferty explained.

Terzi said National Geographic reminded San Diego officials that it was to be a National Geographic documentary, not one directed by San Diego.

The city will own the rights to the documentary, and will likely produce a 30-minute version along with shorter vignettes that companies may use in their own messaging. There are many potential uses for the clips, such as on incoming flights.

The project comes during a year of touting San Diego as a global hub for tech innovations and investment.

On a whirlwind tour of the East Coast in February, Faulconer made the rounds on TV stations and at conferences, and last month, San Diego published a comprehensive global trade and investment plan called Go Global San Diego.

“We’ve talked about our passion for collaboration, we’ve talked about our passion for technology, passion for our unique neighborhoods and really we talk about innovation and opportunities -- opportunities throughout the region," Faulconer said Friday. "The world is starting to take notice.”

As part of the documentary’s launch, the Tourism Authority and the Economic Development Corp. are traveling to three key cities in the next few weeks to continue discussions with leaders in education, business, hospitality and civic arenas, along with investors, regarding San Diego’s strength in areas including genomics, stem cell research, unmanned aerial systems, IT, communications, tourism and more.

Special events will be held April 21 in San Diego; April 30 in Washington, D.C.; May 6 in London; and May 20 in Tokyo.

Partners in the distribution include the San Diego Tourism Authority/San Diego Tourism Marketing District; San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.; city of San Diego; county of San Diego; Legler Benbough Foundation; Malin Burnham; Northrop Grumman; Port of San Diego,;Qualcomm Inc.; San Diego County Regional Airport Authority; The San Diego Foundation; SeaWorld San Diego; Sempra Energy; and the University of California, San Diego.

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San Diego Tourism Authority

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750 B St. Ste., 1500
San Diego, CA 92101

San Diego Tourism Authority Executive(s):

David Peckinpaugh

  • Chief Executive Officer, President

Joe Terzi

  • Chief Executive Officer, President

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