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Border 'mega-region' waiting to be tapped

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The message at the Urban Land Institute’s October breakfast meeting was clear: Investing in the resources of the largely untapped Cali-Baja Mega-Region is the key to climbing out of this economic recession and establishing San Diego and Tijuana as a premier global city.

Steve Williams, founding partner of SENTRE Partners and moderator of the discussion Tuesday, stressed the economic urgency of developing a collaborative partnership between San Diego, Imperial County and Tijuana, the three regions comprising the mega-region. He cited a study by the San Diego Association of Governments that found 100,000 people wait upward of two hours to cross the border at San Ysidro each morning, at a cost of $5 billion to the region every year.

“That’s a $1,000 pay raise per person -- man, woman and child -- if we could create a smart border tomorrow, from a dumb border today,” Williams said. “That border is our cash register, and we’re making everybody wait two hours without a SENTRI pass. We have the world’s largest, dumbest border.”

Aside from easing the border-crossing process, working together to leverage each area’s strengths was touted as another means to bolster the economies of the mega-region. In San Diego, the military, tourism and innovation industries drive growth, while Imperial County boasts clean technology and renewable energy generation, agribusiness, and logistics and international trade clusters. San Diego Gas & Electric investment tops $4.5 billion in power purchase agreements in Imperial County, which also has land and water to offer San Diego’s sectors.

Tijuana has the largest manufacturing concentration of medical devices in North America, and is in talks with Biocom to develop a Memorandum of Understanding that would make the area the largest medical device cluster in the world. Aerospace, electronics and clean tech are also industry drivers below the border.

Christina Luhn, director of the Cali Baja Mega-Region Initiative, said using the strengths of all three regions to attract businesses and create job growth in any one area would benefit the other two as well.

“We understand that there are limitations in San Diego County for industrial expansion, so what if we drew a circle around the whole area and said ‘OK, this is our region.’ If a company can’t find what they need here in San Diego, I don’t want them going to Texas. I don’t want them going to Nevada,” Luhn said. “If they stay in Imperial, if they stay in Baja, they still spend money here, so it’s part of the region, and we all benefit from this.”

David Mayagoitia, a founding member of Tijuana’s Economic Development Corp., said there are many benefits to San Diego and Imperial counties from nearshoring to Mexico versus off-shoring. Aside from a lower cost to market than China, the short supply chain with minimal disruptions and the education level of workers make nearshoring the more viable option.

President and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., Mark Cafferty, also highlighted the importance of Mexico’s work force in attracting businesses to the mega-region.

“As a state and as a country we have decimated vocational education,” Cafferty said. “We’ve decimated the kinds of training programs that bring people up so that they can do advanced manufacturing. But they haven’t in Mexico. So what we have on the other side of the border is an incredibly high-skilled work force that immediately can start doing the kinds of advanced manufacturing that’s drawing European companies and Asian companies back to this region all the time.”

Williams said this process of bi-national cooperation is not only important for the mega-region, but is also vital to the economic success of both countries.

“San Diego and Tijuana working together with their individual strengths could create so many jobs and so many opportunities for people on both sides,” Williams said. “We are not going to climb out of this recession until we can do one thing really well: compete. Globally.”

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Mark Ost 6:04pm October 10, 2012

Dr Luhn: Has over the previous several years has developed this impressive concept, and deserves a great deal of credit for her accomplisments - almost single handedly! Many cudos to her and her efforts!