Cuts to government funding for basic research–already at dangerously low levels–could have devastating long term economic effects nationally, locally
Our greatest responsibility is to be wise ancestors.–Jonas Salk
In 1994, San Diego lost an enormous part of its identity. The city was known as an aviation haven. Its role in aviation history became cemented when it produced the Spirit of St. Louis, the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean on one tank of fuel. Aircraft, missiles, defense related electronic systems along with the Department of Defense have practically defined San Diego. It was what made the local economy tick. Heck, it was the local economy.
That all changed when General Dynamics closed its Convair division, putting an end to the defense and aviation manufacturing giant’s presence in the city. At the peak of its influence, General Dynamics employed in excess of 18,000 San Diegans, and was an integral part of the San Diego culture. When they left, only a giant, gaping hole remained, both physically with the massive, abandoned Kearney Mesa campus, and economically.
The Department of Defense is still here, and is still the region’s largest employer. But for nearly a decade the region has struggled to redefine itself; to replace what had for so long been the heart of the local economy.
Slowly but surely a new identity started to emerge. San Diego is home to one of the premier research universities in the country, doing pioneering work in health sciences, renewable energy, and information technology. With UC San Diego at its epicenter, combined with the growing research prowess at San Diego State University, biotech and clean tech have become the economy of the future for the region. A 2004 Milken Institute study determined the San Diego metropolitan area to be the number one biotech research cluster in the country.
As research’s role in the region grew, San Diego began to strive to become the “Silicon Valley” of biotech and cleantech; to become as synonymous with biotechnology and clean energy research as the Bay Area is with computer technology, and every bit as vital as an economic engine. Those efforts to this point have been exceptionally fruitful, as new tech startups have sprouted like the algae being turned into the fuel of tomorrow.
That could change at the end of this week if the sequester is allowed to happen as currently scheduled. “Instead of calling it sequestration, we should call it an amputation, where you get to choose which of your limbs you are going to lose,” explained Dr. Geoff Wahl, a leading cancer researcher at the Salk Institute at a media availability arranged last week by Congressman Scott Peters.
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