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Crafting North County: Sharing our economic future

Recently, the five cities intersecting the 78 Highway (Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista, San Marcos, Escondido) announced a new partnership to foster economic collaboration. Whether North County will realize its own economic destiny may hinge partly on the success or failure of their efforts.

At issue is Innovate78, a new branding campaign promoting employment and investment opportunities along the North County corridor. Funded by member cities, Innovate78’s website showcases local business resources and many of the lifestyle amenities found in the area.  By attracting and retaining talented workers and high-tech firms, organizers hope to bolster an image as a hub for innovation in the region.

Though Innovate 78 just held its public launch event this April, the premise for the initiative began four years ago when the five corridor mayors were brought together by SANDAG, the regional planning authority, to work on 78-related projects.

A spirit of collaboration endured, and a mutual desire for strong economic growth culminated into a two year commitment to shared promotion and collaboration. While city officials have always been friendly and cooperative with their neighbors, Innovate78 is the first known full-time attempt at regional economic intergration.

According to program officials, the effort is based on the core idea that five cities can work together as one. If a biotech firm in Carlsbad has outgrown its facility space, perhaps city officials in Vista or San Marcos can identify a suitable location nearby for an expansion site.

Working together and leveraging each other’s strengths to address neighborly challenges, such as business site selection and expansion, helps keeps jobs and talent in the immediate area.

Economic reality compels North County mayors to take action and build a lasting, meaningful economic partnership. According to the most recent Census workforce figures, North County economies are significantly interdependent; 43 percent of the 223,000 workers that call the 78 corridor home work within their city of residence or elsewhere in the corridor. In comparison, 64 percent of the 548,000 San Diego City workers also work within city limits. As with the European Union or the North American Free Trade Agreement, strengthening economic interdependence can break down barriers, increase efficiencies, and improve marketplace competition against larger neighbors.

Innovate78 is a major step in the right direction. Ultimately what North County may need is a complete paradigm shift in how area cities approach talent recruitment and business retention. Could a uniform regulatory framework be created across 78 corridor cities, simplifying the process of opening a business? Could community plans and development goals be redrawn with a regional mindset?

Could regional tax credits and other benefits be created to incentivize corridor business expansions? Where can regional economic integration take Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista, San Marcos and Escondido?

Only time will tell.

Vince Vasquez is the Senior Policy Analyst at the National University System Institute for Policy Research, a regional economic think tank based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.