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Report: Qualcomm spurs more growth than the Olympics

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Each year, Qualcomm Inc. generates more economic impact in San Diego than one and a half London-sized Olympics games, according to an economic impact analysis of the company released on Friday by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and the San Diego Workforce Partnership.

Qualcomm’s direct and indirect economic impact totals $4.5 billion per year, or about 3 percent of the county’s gross regional product, said the study, which was unveiled at a meeting in Qualcomm’s headquarters in Sorrento Valley.

But the study added that high-tech companies like Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) are finding it harder to hire qualified workers in the region. Qualcomm executives and civic leaders said that if the region hopes to draw or keep such companies in the area, it will need to take a variety of steps, ranging from improving the education system to reducing the cost of doing business.

“We all know how important Qualcomm is,” said Mayor Bob Filner. “But this study really provides a blueprint for how to continue building the environment that allowed a company like Qualcomm to grow.”

Qualcomm was founded in 1985, when founder Irwin Jacobs took what had been a military communications technology and converted it to civilian use.

The study credited Qualcomm with being a principal driver of the local telecommunications and information technology industry, which directly employs 65,000 workers in the region and indirectly supports an additional 114,000 jobs.

Qualcomm alone employs 11,775 workers in San Diego County, representing nearly a third of local telecommunications workers. The EDC report estimates that every job at Qualcomm generates about 2.3 jobs in the region and that every $1 generated locally by Qualcomm results in $2.30 worth of economic impact.

In addition, Qualcomm has been a major contributor to local charities and cultural organizations. Between 2000 and 2011, Qualcomm and its foundation donated $85 million to charities in the county, partly through matching the contributions made by its employees. In 2011 alone, Qualcomm workers donated $20 million locally and volunteered an estimated 165,000 hours at charitable organizations, worth an estimated $4.1 million.

“If Qualcomm employees were a charitable foundation, they’d be one of the biggest games in town,” said Mark Cafferty, chief executive at the EDC.

But the study suggested that the growth of the telecommunications and high-tech industry in San Diego is being impeded by a number of obstacles – especially the challenge of hiring skilled workers. Nearly 60 percent of local IT and telecom companies say it is difficult to find qualified and experienced job applicants and 44 percent said it was even hard to find entry-level workers.

“At a time when unemployment is still so high, there’s an obvious mismatch between the people who are looking for jobs right now and the jobs that are available,” Filner said.

Bill Bold, who manages government affairs at Qualcomm, said he hopes the study will lead to more focus on improving the quality and availability of education at local schools, colleges and universities.

“As a nation, we have to do a better job of involvement in these institutions,” he said.

Newly elected Rep. Scott Peters said he plans to push for changes to tax, patent and immigration laws to make it easier for high-tech firms to grow. Peters said one of the major disadvantages of current tax laws is that they drive some businesses to keep their profits overseas – a longstanding complaint at Qualcomm.

Filner said the region also needs to focus on a variety of programs that would make it more attractive to workers, including more affordable housing, a better transportation network and a more vibrant arts and cultural center.

“Arts and culture is a major issue,” Bold said. “There are a host of factors unrelated to technology that are involved in creating a better technology environment.”

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