San Diego Region Prepares for Increased “Reshoring” Opportunities

On June 25, 2012, the South County Economic Development Council released the “San Diego Regional Manufacturing Sector Report,” funded by a grant from the San Diego Workforce Partnership.  The purpose of the report was to identify challenges and opportunities for local manufacturers in order to provide the necessary resources as a region and recommend actions “to capture previously lost manufacturing opportunities that had gone overseas.”

Manufacturing is returning to the United States because “overseas production has become increasingly more costly due to high transportation costs, expensive reverse logistics to correct product defects, and increasing labor costs.”   The report states “San Diego County is poised to reap the benefits of the return of manufacturing to America.  Just-in-time, product oversight, and cost efficiencies are bringing manufacturers back to the U.S.  There is a unique advantage for manufacturers with San Diego’s prime location along the international border and on the Pacific Rim. This allows for easy shipping of products and co-producing products with Mexico.”

To prepare for the influx of manufacturing opportunities, South County Economic Development Council (SCEDC) and its partners surveyed 283 manufacturers between October 2011 and June 2012 about conducting business in the San Diego region. The survey included questions on business history, growth projections, employment level, business challenges, labor climate, business location, markets, products, and capabilities. The report summarizes and analyzes data gathered from those interviews.

The U. S. as a whole lost 5.7 million manufacturing jobs from 2000 – 2010, and the San Diego region went from 128,738 down to 90,205 in the same period for a loss of 33,533 jobs…  California lost over a half a million in the same period.  Job creation and new hires during this period slowed considerably resulting in a seriously slowing manufacturing industry in San Diego County.   The results of the survey for level of employment were mixed ? 36% had fewer employees than in 2002 and 32% had more employees.  However, 50% indicted that a reduction in employees had occurred within the last 12 months showing that the recovery from the recession is fragile.  On the plus side, 54% have hired in the past year, 26% are currently hiring, and 36% plan to hire in the next 12 months.

The survey reveals that a large percentage of San Diego’s manufacturers specialize in prototype development, low-volume production, and just-in-time delivery. “Moreover, many of the products that are made in the San Diego region offer the customer better oversight and more opportunities for collaborative approaches to product development. This makes “near shoring” a viable option (as opposed to ‘off shoring.’)” More than one-third of the manufacturers surveyed stated that customers have brought product manufacturing back from Asia.

The vast majority of manufacturers indicated they were pleased with their current location. Of the 283 companies surveyed, 238 business owners indicated they are pleased with their location. They cited a historical presence, family ties, customers and suppliers located nearby and quality of life as the reasons they liked their location. When asked about their location challenges, the top four were:

  • Government regulations ? Manufacturers felt they were overburdened by regulations: overlapping and complex regulations, employment laws, including cost of workers’ compensation insurance, burdensome hiring laws,  numerous regulations governing employees, stringent compliance requirements, and the multiplicity of agencies was cited as putting them at a disadvantage.
  • Taxes ? compared unfavorably with taxes in other states, with adjacent states having a more business “friendly” tax structure.
  • Environmental issues ? “environmental regulations “getting stricter.” They also noted “the State of California had more stringent guidelines than the federal government and most other states. This puts companies at a competitive disadvantage.”
  • Utility cost and availability ? “especially concerned about electricity costs, noting that manufacturers use a large amount of energy to produce a product.”

In an effort to determine the commitment manufacturers have made to their existing locations, companies were asked if they owned or leased the facility.  When a company owns a building, they have made a long-term commitment to that location, and it is not easy for them to relocate. When a company leases a site, it is easier for them to relocate.  Companies that have month to month leases or rent are at the greatest risk of relocation. Ninety-eight companies (35%) indicated they owned their existing site, and 120 companies or 42% had long-term leases.

However, there is cause for concern because “many manufacturers indicated they were located in the San Diego region because their suppliers or customers were located here…Fifty-five percent of the manufacturers indicated their customers and/or suppliers have relocated within the past three years.”

Manufacturing companies are being courted by other states to relocate with attractive incentives to do so.  The survey revealed that “Almost 75% of the manufacturers surveyed were unaware of various assistance programs available to them…Seventy-six percent of the respondents indicated they had not worked with college or job training programs…Only sixteen percent of those surveyed said they had forged a business relationship with local educational institutions…Nine percent of the businesses indicated they had participated in a State job training program.”

Several manufacturers said there was a shortage of qualified CNC machinists and they had to recruit from all over the region.  The need for classes at both the high school and college level was cited as a necessity to grow these types of workers.  More efforts toward preparing the future manufacturing workforce are required. Manufacturers expressed difficulty in finding qualified employees noting many of the training programs have been downsized or no longer exist due to budget cuts.  There is a need to retrain current employees and offer additional training classes related to computerized manufacturing equipment.

Additionally, manufacturers were not aware of finance, tax credit and permit assistance programs being offered.  Only 20% were aware of small business finance and business assistance programs, and less than 20% were aware of various tax credit programs, permit assistance and employment assistance programs.

To ensure San Diego can maximize the opportunities provided by manufacturing returning to the U. S., the report found that “there is a need to link the innovation companies with local manufacturing…to capture the “lab to shelf” full chain of product within our region. To accomplish this, there needs to be a better connection between the innovation companies and the manufacturers. There also needs to be a better way to link local manufacturers with each other as well as link companies to local suppliers.”

An efficient way of connecting companies is through the database, which is an online resource containing detailed capabilities and profiles of manufacturers and supply chain companies.  San Diego County currently has over 5,000 company profiles on  Profiles make it easier to understand the capabilities of the manufacturing supply chain and find core capabilities and capacities that are needed for the large amount of contracts and subcontracts available in San Diego County.

According to the report, the San Diego Military Advisory Council states that the manufacturing industry is the largest business sector that provides goods and services to the military in San Diego County.  The total economic impact of output for manufacturing is $7.2 billion. Manufacturing related expenditures totaled $4.8 billion or forty-five percent of all procurement for the military industry in FY2009.

Therefore, the looming potential threat to San Diego’s manufacturing industry is “sequestration, the legislatively mandated, across the board 10 percent cut in Department of Defense budgets on January 2, 2013 (if Congress does not act to make other deficit reduction decisions).” Over 1,700 companies reported military and government contracts so “an orchestrated approach to future defense downsizing and its impact on the manufacturing sector is needed.”

The report provides numerous recommendations ? a few of the most important are:

Change State Tax ? Amend the State Tax and Revenue Code to allow cities to rebate their portion of the property and sales tax for business transactions that occur locally. The authority to rebate the local jurisdictions portions of the taxes could be held at the local level. Local cities and counties could be empowered to choose to rebate their portion of a specific tax and use this as an incentive to encourage companies to create new jobs through company expansion and location within their respective areas.

Holiday on New Regulations ? take a one-year moratorium on regulations impacting the manufacturing industry while information and education is provided to manufacturing business owners about forth-coming regulations.

Streamline and Reduce Existing Regulations ? Combine regulation requirements from the various local, state and federal agencies to avoid confusion by the business owner.  It is recommended that the state and local agencies work together to consolidate the number of required inspections and approvals, especially fire department, air pollution control district, and environmental health compliance inspections.

Cohesive Proactive Communication with Manufacturers ? Governing bodies should prepare industrial businesses to comply more efficiently and cost-effectively with forthcoming regulations, well in advance of the enforcement period. Local government should provide more communication and work with local business owners through a series of educational awareness campaigns prior to enacting new laws or regulations. An active and open discussion prior to making changes will allow industrial businesses to plan and ensure that they are part of the implemented solutions.

Made in the San Diego Region Campaign ? Spread the word and provide the information to consumers on the diverse manufacturing base to assist them in making choices that support the local economy.  Initiate a “Made in the San Diego Region” campaign that includes some type of identification on the product that will increase the awareness around the world of what is made in the San Diego Region. ? All government and non-profit entities should encourage the manufacturers to use the The government entities should provide resources to link and publicize the linking businesses to each other and to provide information about the industrial and technology base of the economy.

Prepare for Sequestration ? In the San Diego region, one-third of all companies reported some dependency on the defense industry.  San Diego’s residents are unaware of this impending crisis, believing that we are protected from sequestration by the nation’s increased focus on Asian-Pacific Defense posture. We recommend the region engage in a pointed, targeted, and unvarnished reporting of the potential negative impacts of sequestration.

The report concludes that the “San Diego region has one of the largest economies in the world, resilient in its diversity and blessed with multiple sources of incoming investment…the San Diego region has a very good opportunity to flourish, but it lacks the acknowledgement from local government and the appreciation of the overall population, of the risks it faces, and the rewards its success can offer.”

Four of the above recommendations have been made as a result of previous manufacturing industry reports, conferences, summits, and task forces of which I was a part, but there has been no action on the part of California’s legislature or regional and local governing bodies.  Until we change the complexion of the State legislature to one friendlier to employers, it is unlikely that we will see any action on these statewide issues.

We need to foster a business environment that is conducive to the manufacturing sector in both San Diego as a region and California as a whole. This would necessitate bringing manufacturers into discussions about regulations, taxes, and government purchasing.  Manufacturing today requires highly skilled workers proficient in a wide range of advanced technologies.  More preparation of the workforce is necessary to meet the anticipated increase in demand for manufacturing through training and retraining.  Providing training opportunities to address the skill gap of existing workers would go a long way to enabling growth of the manufacturing sector.

The report states that regional leadership is the key to help the manufacturing industry thrive in the San Diego region. I agree, but leadership is also the key to restoring California as the “golden state of opportunity” for manufacturers and all other businesses.

The SCEDC study concludes that the manufacturing sector lacks the necessary resources to conduct business successfully on a large scale.  The wealth of tax credits and business assistance programs are not as widely used as expected, further emphasizing the need for leadership and an expansive educational campaign.  This report is meant to spark discussion and action to enable San Diego to grow its existing manufacturing industry. As a follow up to the report, the South County EDC is planning an Economic Summit on Friday, September 21, 2012.

We also need to spark discussion and action on a state level.  To this end, the Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) is facilitating an economic summit on October 11, 2012, entitled, “Manufacturing in the Golden State ? Making California Thrive,” co-hosted by California State Senator Mark Wyland and Assembly member Toni Atkins.  As the newly appointed State Chair for CPA, you may contact me to become involved at or Sara Haimowitz at


One Response to “San Diego Region Prepares for Increased “Reshoring” Opportunities”

  1. Manmohan says:

    Informative article. There’s a annual report on the State of Manufacturing on McGladrey website ” ” that readers may be interested. It offers insights and opinions of over 900 manufacturing executives.

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