San Diego’s Innovation Economy, and What it Takes to Recruit “The Young and Restless”

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live where they can rely on their network of peers to find another job—and where technology clusters provide an abundance of jobs requiring similar knowledge and skills.

That means San Diego’s life sciences sector, with close to 600 biotech and medical device companies (not to mention scores of biomedical research centers), should continue to serve as a magnet for young biologists, chemists, and other life sciences workers. But San Diego’s struggling software sector, with its paucity of capital and disconnected islands of expertise, could be a different story.

“It’s fairly difficult to get something started when you don’t have the critical mass,” says Cortright. And unlike the lumber or steel industries, Cortright says, IT and communications workers can live just about anywhere.

Compounding the challenges for the software sector in San Diego are what Cortright calls his urbanist bullet points—the community characteristics and amenities that talented young and restless workers are looking for in a city these days. For example:

—Young, educated workers are increasingly shunning the suburbs to live closer to downtown, particularly in urban neighborhoods within a 3-mile radius of the urban core. They like neighborhoods that feature a mix of different types of housing and an interesting mix of local shops, restaurants, and bars.

—They are driving less and tend to view automobile ownership as costly and impractical. They increasingly prefer “walkable” and “bikable” neighborhoods with convenient mass transit options. (Housing affordability has become a key factor in this trend, Cortright says.)

—They look for neighborhoods with income, ethnic, and social diversity. They view diversity as a characteristic that makes a place more interesting.

Cortright says these emerging themes are supported by evidence from the census and other sources. For example:

—In 1980, young adults were about 10 percent more likely to … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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2 responses to “San Diego’s Innovation Economy, and What it Takes to Recruit “The Young and Restless””

  1. Kevin Ball says:

    This article has a lot of important points, but I think it is important to note that there are areas of San Diego that do fit what young, talented people are looking for: Downtown, plus the uptown stretch of Hillcrest, North Park, and University Heights.

    These areas are walkable, have reasonable public transit, and the uptown areas in particular contain a wonderful mix of local shops and restaurants.

    The problem is that most of the tech office space in San Diego is up in North County, inaccessible by public transit and far from the areas where this generation wants to live.

    There are, however some promising trends.

    There has been a proliferation of new coworking spaces like the AI Center on Convoy, 3rdspace in University Heights, and the rumored new EvoNexus space downtown. And there are startups sprouting up in those spaces… a recent map of San Diego Startups by Bastos Ventures (see showed a strong cluster downtown.

    The tech meetup scene has also been booming; in the last 2 years the Tech Founders meetup group has at least doubled in size, the SD Ruby meetup group has gone from 1 meetup a month to 3, and new groups like the San Diego Javascript meetup group have gotten going. At all of these events, recruiters trying to hire outnumber available engineers many to one.

    There’s a flurry of positive activity… the question to me is how to sustain and accelerate it, and for that we’ll need more visibility outside of the region to attract more funding and get rid of that “two-step move” perception.