San Diego's role in the new century

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

San Diego's attraction is not just the climate, but also the proximity to Mexico. Without the right attention to new-century technology investment, San Diego might just become a satellite city across the border from its fast-growing neighbor to the south.

The original version of this article was published
on Sunday, 30 December 2001 by

San Diego Union archives
The San Diego Union Tribune

The first year of the new century and millennium, has come - and gone. On the surface, the world continues to turn - but there are significant changes and differences everywhere.

On September 11 2001, the new century woke up to an event that is being compared with Pearl Harbor. That previous event brought America into World War II; this one has taken our fighters, bombers and troops into what has the potential to become another major conflagration.

San Diego is still a Navy town, so our heartstrings are twanged when our local fighting men are shipped off to fight far away. And, although we still have had no anthrax in our mail, we have indeed been sensitized to the possibilities of terrorism by the recent alert regarding Coronado Bridge being a target.

These hard realities bring the recognition that a new society is emerging - new demographics, ideologies and problems. Things will be quite different from the society of the late 20th century and different from what most people expect. Much of it will be unprecedented. Most of it is already here, or is rapidly emerging.

Experts predict that, in all developed countries, the dominant factor in the new century will be rapid growth of the older population and rapid shrinking of the younger generation. The population of Japan and many European countries will be significantly reduced by the latter part of this century.

The American population will continue to grow - primarily because of immigration and the higher birthrate of immigrants. Politically, immigration will become an important - and highly divisive - issue in all rich countries. Unlike Japan and most other developed countries, America has learned to accommodate and thrive with immigrants. And San Diego is ground zero for this issue.

Mexico’s population is the 11th largest in the world, ahead of any single European country; it also has the 11th largest GDP, ahead of Canada. While our own economy is siphoning off a lot of time, talent and money into fighting terrorists, a new, charismatic Mexican leadership is marshalling resources to take their country into a new century. Have you noticed the strength of the peso relative to the dollar recently?

Mexico has a lot of natural resources and money. Hitherto, the money has been deposited in American banks along the border - Miami, Houston, Phoenix and San Diego. Have you notice the number of rich Mexicans who attend the banker’s banquets? Soon, a lot of that money will be waking up for investment at home in Mexico. With its attractive proximity to the US, Mexico’s NAFTA advantage has already caused the movement of a lot of production from Canada. And it is quickly developing increasing sophistication to match its production prowess.

In an increasingly upwardly mobile and knowledge-based society, artificial boundaries between rich and poor countries are antiquated and increasingly burdensome problems that will not go away - indeed this will get worse. If the number of US border-patrol people were multiplied a hundred times, that would still not be adequate for long.

Unlike the other technology centers in the US, San Diego has a special position. It is situated right next door to Mexico, the door to a significant labor pool and the important business of maquiladoras. As the next century progresses, this proximity will have major effects on our city and our sister-city south of the border.

Recent increased San Diego border delays have caused devastation to the local businesses on both sides. Technology is attempting to speed up the processing for legal crossings - recent laser-tag ID-cards and fast lanes for pre-approved automobiles are a good start, but can that handle the growth-rate? One wonders how the border crossing will be controlled fifty years from now, when Tijuana, like Mexico City, becomes one of the largest cities in the world, dwarfing its US neighbor.

Tijuana’s has a different brand of local political infrastructure and relatively uncontrolled growth. San Diego and Tijuana must work together to cope with the twin challenges of the new century - immigration and upward mobility of a population that is growing in knowledge, technology and business sophistication.

The Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and other San Diego business development agencies are well organized to attract more Gateways and Sony’s to America’s finest City. We should recognize that some of San Diego’s attraction is not just the climate, but also the proximity to Mexico. Not for much longer will Mexico remain just a place where labor-intensive products are assembled. It is not only mariachis and taco-shops anymore, but is fast becoming another Japan - transitioning to genuine business acumen and technical talent that deserves our attention and investment.

San Diego has a lot of resources and organizations that stimulate technology incubators and startups. But, in the inner circles of venture capitalists and investment bankers, it is still an old boys club with a lot of inbreeding that locks out new talent - its still who you know rather than what you know. Without the right attention to new century technology investing, San Diego might just become a satellite city across the border for its fast growing neighbor to the South.

San Diego - get ready for change! Stop the myopic fascination with more ballparks and new stadiums. Stop drifting forward from the past and start moving into the future. Gird your loins for technology growth and move forward into a new century and millennium.

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