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North County has a strong manufacturing community, despite difficulties related to the pandemic and job automation. File photo
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North County manufacturing industry stays ahead of national trends

REGION — While the regional economy has been ravaged over the past 12 months, North County’s manufacturing sector has offered a glint of optimism after a recent report projected growth in businesses and employment over the next six years.

Innovate 78 and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation released the report estimating 6% in employment growth, while 58% of respondents are looking to increase their footprint.

The sector accounts for $18 billion in the North County economy, although due to the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturing in North County saw 43% of businesses revenue decline. However, there was a 1% net gain in jobs, according to Jordan Latchford, research manager for the SDREDC.

“What we found is that manufacturing is really strong in North County,” she said. “It is led by high-tech goods and services including biomedical devices, telecommunications equipment and defense-related products.”

However, the field is facing strong headwinds as automation, globalization and COVID-19 continue to impact the industry. There are 9,804 manufacturing jobs with a higher-than-average risk of automation, nearly 24% of all North County manufacturing jobs, Latchford said. Investment in upskilling and re-training will be needed to help move these workers into other quality jobs over time.

Latchford said there are numerous programs and educational opportunities throughout the county to help workers advance their skills.

“We have some strong manufacturing training groups,” Latchford said. “There will be an opportunity for some of those to be turned into quality jobs. The call to action is to be able to give them the opportunity to turn them into quality jobs.”

As for job clusters, Carlsbad and Vista have the two highest employee populations, each coming in with more than 11,000, followed by Oceanside, San Marcos and Escondido, each with more than 4,000.

One company that reported job gains is QP Technologies (formerly Quik-Pak), an Escondido-based computer and microelectronic manufacturing company. Since COVID-19 began, QP Technologies has hired staff, reported increased revenue and anticipates upscaling facilities in the future.

“The strength of the manufacturing industry in North County San Diego is one of the reasons we wanted to expand here,” said Rosie Medina, vice president of sales and marketing at QP Technologies. “The talent pool is rich, and there is space to grow. We appreciate that not every region has both of these critical components that are needed for our industry to thrive.”

As for the footprint, Latchford said a number of respondents said increasing space is critical for future growth. While many industries have been ravaged by the pandemic, manufacturing in North County has not had as much trouble, relatively speaking, as other sectors, she added.

The vacancy rate, meanwhile, has been increasing over the past several years, however, it allows for those businesses to expand. The 6% growth projection, meanwhile, is in part thanks to the computer and electronics industry, Latchford said.

“That’s what’s driving this manufacturing industry,” she added. “It’s not just machinery. It’s computer and electronics products and the production of high-value goods. Essentially, that follows the national trend, but we are doing better than the national trend.”

Latchford said the future is bright for North County as the region is expected to continue to outperform national trends due to its production of high-valued goods.