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For the last few weeks, I have been posting these e-mail Q&As with local thinkers. I solicited quite a few of them and I just wanted to drop a note to those who haven’t seen theirs run, I’m on it.
It’s clear readers enjoy these so there’s no problem on my end to keep rolling them out.
To catch up on what I’m doing, you can read the intro here along with the interviews with: Marco Li Mandri, Marco Gonzalez, Lorena Gonzalez, Dianne Jacob, Gil Cabrera, Tom Shepard, Carl DeMaio, Kathy Keehan, Murtaza Baxamusa and Walt Ekard.
So who’s up today? Kevin Carroll, the regional director for Southern California for TechAmerica.
There are many people in San Diego who believe that the region’s fortunes and future lie in technology. Not exclusive of other sectors, but it is one area where we can control our destiny. Entrepreneurship in the technology industry offers the possibility of growth.
What do I mean? Well, look at San Diego’s other industries. The military is dependent on political decisions and our efforts to protect that industry come at the expense of other parts of the country. We compete with other regions to influence a bunch of military leaders and members of Congress.
The visitor industry is nice, but it, again, is a competition. It makes us build things that are nice for visitors — sometimes at the expense of residents. Look at the convention business. There’s only a set amount of conventions out there. Our effort to attract them is equivalent to an effort to get a larger slice of a pie that is, some say, not only not growing, but shrinking.
The benefits of the Convention Center and the people who visit it are obvious. But again, like the military, ultimately it’s out of our hands. There’s a set amount of money, a set amount of conventioneers, and we’re just vying for our share of them.
But entrepreneurship in tech and biotech offer something different. Think about what attracts technology companies and innovators to a community: good schools, universities, culture, good parks, good public transit and good infrastructure as a whole — all nice things that everyone enjoys. You see what I’m getting at?
Add to it that technology companies offer well-paying jobs and the promise of a better more comfortable future. There’s a reason people are attracted to alternative energy projects, curing cancer, and mobile communications — they offer the prospect of a cleaner, healthier, more connected world. Finally, tech innovation offers the prospect of sustainable growth. It is not a set pie from which we hope to get a slice. Its pie, with the right ingredients, can grow.
Carroll articulates this stuff well. But he also has the unenviable job of trying to bridge the gap between the tech community and the broader public in San Diego. And he hasn’t made much progress.
I thought it was time to check in with him about how it’s going.
What do you think San Diego could do to get its tech industry more involved in local civic affairs and politics?
There needs to be an understanding by the tech community of how participation affects civic affairs. We can’t lay the disengagement of the tech community all in the hands of our elected officials. A broader participation by the tech community in civic affairs would result in a more positive environment for tech companies in our region.
If San Diego decided that the technology and biotech industry really was its great hope for the future, what would it invest in?
I think there are several things the region can do:
1. And one can argue that we already have parts of it, a prominent campaign that lets students know that if you decide to pursue a degree in tech or biotech that you will get help. Clustering is about the availability of a skilled workforce and the more companies see a regional commitment to that issue the more likely they will be to operate/expand in the region.
2. A general recognition of the importance to the regional economy that the tech/bio clusters provide. Symbolic of this might be a transit system that better serves the tech workforce. Many of the transit plans seem to be modeled on San Diego’s past instead of its future. When regional decisions are made, the tech community should be taken into account, even if it does mean some extra outreach.
What decision will you be paying attention to the most in the coming year and who will be making it?
I am more concerned with what might be done to erase budget deficits, many tech companies are in a very precarious position and any revenue generating schemes from state or local government could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for many regional tech companies.
Who is the most promising leader in San Diego these days and what do you think he or she might do in 2010?
I have been very impressed with California Assemblyperson Nathan Fletcher. Nathan understands the importance of the tech economy and has been a very vocal proponent of the tech/bio clusters. Nathan has also reached across the aisle which we have not seen enough of in Sacramento. Nathan has true leadership qualities that Sacramento is in desperate need of.
Carroll’s ranking of the following major projects in order of priority for San Diego:
An Expanded Mass Transit System
A New Wastewater Recycling System
A Different Airport Infrastructure
A Performing Arts Center — this might seem like an odd placement, however Irwin Jacobs, among others, has spoken to me many times about the importance of culture in developing a world class tech cluster.
A New City Hall
A New Central Library
A New Stadium
An Expanded Convention Center
And his ranking of local civic problems:
Water Reliability Concerns
School Budget Shortfalls
Mass Transit Shortcomings
Municipal Budget Shortfalls
Library Cutbacks or Eliminations
Parks and Recreation Cutbacks
Local Ecological Damage
Fire Protection Shortfalls
— SCOTT LEWIS