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Maritime and blue tech impact our local economy

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San Diego’s maritime industry employs 46,000 people and had a total revenue of more than $14 billion in 2011, according to the 2012 San Diego Maritime Industry Report. These employees work in traditional maritime, high technology (the blue tech cluster representing the largest and fastest growing segment), and in traditional non-maritime industries with maritime-specific expertise, together comprising the “blue economy.”

Understanding the importance of this industry to San Diego’s economic health, McKinney Advisory Group reached out to maritime businesses leaders to get their take on the state of the San Diego maritime condition.

Peter Quinn, Maritime Alliance 501c(6) board member and corporate real estate advisor at McKinney Advisory Group, believes a strong educational partnership with universities will help promote jobs and grow the San Diego economy.

“It is as important for all parties to work to retain blue tech and maritime-related jobs in the region as it is to create new ones,” Quinn said at a recent meeting of maritime leaders. “Part of the challenge in retaining jobs is to make sure that our colleges and universities are providing the necessary training to prepare students for the jobs being created. It is also vital that our policy makers are encouraged to avoid creating unnecessary obstacles to job retention and creation.”

The mission of The Maritime Alliance is promoting blue tech and blue jobs. The Maritime Alliance is the cluster organizer for the San Diego maritime technology community and fosters maritime business and technology innovation through collaboration around the United States and the world.

University of San Diego Professor of Real Estate, Norm Miller, Ph.D., cites California’s revised state budget for helping all business in the region grow. Professor Miller is optimistic that a new San Diego mayor will work with City Council and business leaders to help existing businesses as well as new projects get off the ground.

David Millar, president of Fugro Pelagos, said he has added jobs in the last year and plans to add more in 2014 as well. He sees that business is benefitting from consumer confidence, however the maritime industry has been impacted negatively from tightened government budgets. “Most of the work we do tends to be for government or funded by the government and there has been significant tightening of budgets in this sector. However, our international business is more robust,” he said.

Chris Ward, the Director of Global Business Development at SonTek/Xylem Inc., mentioned other changes helping the maritime industry specifically. Ward credits the growth in offshore oil drilling and maritime cargo handling for expanding his company’s sales. However, he cautioned that immigration policy and access to talent could limit the growth of the maritime sector. Further concern has developed surrounding health care costs associated with employees.

SeaBotix president Rick Timm echoed this worry. “[The Affordable Care Act] is just one more financial burden that makes us less competitive in the world market.” Timm noted that if his company’s projection for health insurance premiums prove correct employees may be asked to share in the cost. This concern is softened slightly by SeaBotix’s 24 percent increase in employees -- increasing their workforce from 55 to 68 in 2013 alone.

Timm also highlighted the tension that the maritime industry may have with the tourism and service sectors. His company needs more space, however, the building they would like to move into is owned by a landlord holding out for a restaurant tenant who will pay a premium rental fee. Currently, there is little effort to lessen the inter-industry competition and promote general San Diego maritime growth.

Many strides have been made in the last year in support of the blue tech and maritime companies. When discussing the vibrancy of or economy, business and political leaders are, more often than not, including blue tech and maritime with biotech and telecom into the conversation. The necessary awareness of maritime and blue tech on our economy is the first step. Universities, City Hall and other industry leaders in San Diego are starting to support and promote San Diego growth through maritime and blue tech job creation.

A recent success story is that of MiraCosta College, which in 2013 was awarded a $2.7 million grant from the Department of Labor to develop a Technology Career Institute specifically to address maritime technology and advanced manufacturing. Working closely with industry, the new center will provide 12-week training courses designed to get students into high-wage paying jobs with the skills and readiness employers desire. Linda Kurokawa, director of community services and business development at MiraCosta, credits the inclusion of blue tech in her application as a contributing factor in winning the award.

Moving forward, businesses are optimistic for San Diego maritime and Blue Tech in 2014. However, there is still a lot of work to be done. For additional information, visit the Maritime Alliance website at themaritimealliance.org or contact Peter Quinn at pquinn@mckinneyadvisory.com.

-Submitted by McKinney Advisory Group.

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