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Survey finds high-tech workers live countywide

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San Diego County's high-tech and biotech companies tend to cluster together geographically, but their workers live throughout the county, a new survey by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. has affirmed.

The just-released results of the 2004 "Where the Tech Workforce Lives" survey mirror those from a similar study conducted by EDC in 2001.

Technology companies tend to locate near one another, to take advantage of collaborative networks and interaction with academic research facilities, among other factors. EDC's report on its latest survey says 43 percent of local high-tech and biotech firms are located in just five communities: Sorrento Mesa, Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, Poway and Torrey Pines.

That fact notwithstanding, the survey found that tech workers reside throughout the county. Only the city of San Diego, with 43 percent of the county's total population but 62 percent of the tech work force, has a clear numeric advantage over all other communities.

"We found only limited changes in the geographic distribution of workers (from 2001)," the report said. "There was no marked increase in the number of high-tech and biotechnology employees living in the South County area, even though this area has seen at least 10,000 new homes built in that area since 2001."

The lack of high-tech work force change in South County, despite very strong household growth, might warrant a more detailed study in the South Bay-Otay Mesa region, to see what jobs new residents there are taking, the report said.

High-tech employment is an increasingly important component of the San Diego County economy. The survey report, quoting figures published this year by the San Diego Association of Governments, noted that high-tech jobs grew by almost 80 percent between 1990 and 2002, reaching 98,388 positions. That compares with only 21 percent growth in overall employment.

The growth rates for individual high-tech clusters in that time period include software and computer services, 174 percent; biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, 132 percent; and communications (such as wireless technology), 116 percent. Only computer and electronics manufacturing saw a decline in jobs during the same years.

Jobs in these four clusters are economic drivers -- their combined median wage of $72,252 in 2002 was 47 percent above the county median for all jobs, according to Sandag.

As in 2001, this year's survey was conducted by mailing a questionnaire to high-tech and biotech firms, 109 of which responded. (EDC conducted its first high-tech workforce survey in 1986 using a different methodology, so results from it are not directly comparable to the 2001 and 2004 studies.)

EDC drew three main conclusions from its 2004 study: First, that since the work force is dispersed throughout the county, all communities have a stake in the success of high-tech clusters. Second, that a closer look at the population changes in South County might be beneficial. And lastly, that sufficient transportation infrastructure, particularly in the North City area of San Diego where employees are most concentrated, is key to efficiently getting the work force to and from its jobs.

The study was sponsored by Grubb & Ellis|BRE Commercial.

The San Diego Regional EDC is a public/private partnership focused on the key economic issues of business expansion, housing and infrastructure, work force and education, and capital formation. For more information, visit www.sandiegobusiness.org.

San Diego Regional EDC works in partnership with, and receives significant funding from, the city of San Diego. Additional funding comes from the county of San Diego, San Diego Unified Port District, the city of Chula Vista and other cities in the region, and more than 250 private-sector investors.

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