San Diego’s Global Trade and Investment Initiative

This initiative to boost the region’s global competitiveness acknowledges the important connections between foreign direct investment (FDI) and international exports and the mutually reinforcing roles they play in supporting regional economic development.

October 2015 | by David Delaney

In an increasingly integrated world economy, more strategic global economic engagement will prove crucial to San Diego’s sustained economic competitiveness. San Diego must leverage international exports and foreign direct investment (FDI) to create jobs, increase competitiveness, and boost the region’s global identity. Achieving these objectives will require a strategic and collaborative approach drawing on the relative strengths of dedicated government, industry, and academic partners.

Given the region’s size and geography, San Diego does not live up to its export potential. The benefits of exporting abroad are clear, however only a small fraction of companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, actually export. Despite San Diego being the 17th largest metro area by GDP and population in the United States, the region ranks 61st in export intensity (percent of GDP exported abroad). Ongoing urbanization and the growing middle class across the globe ensure that export markets will continue to grow. Similarly, global FDI has increased more than five-fold between 1991 and 2011 to over $25 trillion, but San Diego ranks 49th among the 100 largest metros in the share of employees in foreign-owned firms.

The Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Are In Place

Improving San Diego’s global engagement requires civic and business leaders to work together to advocate at the local, state and federal levels for policy priorities and recommendations that will leverage the region’s strengths in the global marketplace.

Businesses identified San Diego’s infrastructure assets among the key barriers to global engagement. To ensure San Diego’s regional infrastructure catalyzes and supports global economic activity, rather than hinder it, policies which dedicate funding to expanding and improving infrastructure should be established. The first step in this process is prioritizing infrastructure projects that help move goods and people around the world, namely the U.S.-Mexico border crossing, the Port of San Diego, and San Diego International Airport. Business and civic organizations have two crucial roles to play: first, to advocate for the most effective improvements and second, to build broad-based community and business support for these massive multiyear projects. 

Full funding for inspection services and customs at all ports of entry can reduce wait times and increase international activity, especially at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border crossings and the airport. Further promotion of trusted trader and traveler programs will promote further international travel and reduce wait times. Expanded use of technology will improve the efficiency of the region’s borders, and further funding for commercial crossings will further promote economic activity across CaliBaja. Government can further support infrastructure investments by facilitating the development of public-private partnerships (PPPs) that are cost-effective for government and potential vehicles through which partners can attract foreign investment for infrastructure projects. PPPs will complement the other infrastructure funding sources, such as TIGER grants, and should be fully funded each year, if not expanded, to meet growing infrastructure needs. California should continue to leverage the I-Bank as a tool for infrastructure financing, and the region will advocate for the federal government to put in place a similar program. Similarly, as federal policy makers consider taking action on the repatriation of profits, they should consider removing penalties and fees for funds used for infrastructure and job creation activities.


Executive Editor

Ms Anna Sullivan

Ms Anna Sullivan