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Moving South

There’s a good chance that one day in the distant-but-sure future, we’ll come to think of downtown San Diego as part of North County.

We’re about “northerned out” in terms of our ability to accommodate the hordes of workers who each day trundle the Interstate 5 north from Clairemont, Mission Bay and South County to work in the congested employment centers of Sorrento Mesa, Del Mar Heights and Carlsbad.

Those morning southbound commuters who bemoan the number of automobiles coming from the northern suburbs have only to look across the median to the fully jammed freeway lanes going north.

With ordinary homes in Del Mar Heights, Carlsbad and other coastal neighborhoods going for prices well over $500,000 — and climbing — most workers cannot afford to live in those locales and must commute from points south. With gas now at and above $2 a gallon, many workers are reaching the point where they cannot afford to work at jobs in North County.

These workers may not have the wherewithal to buy high-priced homes and all the $2 gas they want, but they do have employment options and a strong sense of what quality of life is all about. They’re simply not going to endure the stress and expense of driving great distances at freeway-jammed speeds. They’ll begin looking elsewhere for work and living environments less crowded and hostile. Predictably, so will those employers who want to be able to attract and keep those workers.

Where to go, then, is the issue.

Oddly enough, Mission Valley and downtown, even with their own congestion and parking problems, have begun to look more appealing. But the big trend in coming years will be the continuing and even accelerated development of this region’s South County area.

Freeway capacity, loads of developable land, affordable housing, and sensible civic leadership are attributes of the large planned communities and areas which are a part of south San Diego and the city of Chula Vista. Well over a decade and a half ago, developers and enlightened city leaders foresaw the eventual need for well-planned development of employment and retail centers located within easy driving — and even biking — distance of affordably priced residential communities. Hence, EastLake, Rancho del Rey, and now Otay Ranch have risen out of what once were wheat and barley fields to become models of what living and working in San Diego will be like in the future.

South County offers much to its residents as well as to commuters who drive from elsewhere to work there.

EastLake, Rancho del Rey and other Chula Vista residents whose jobs are downtown and in Mission Valley roughly drive half the distance than if they traveled each day from Carlsbad or Rancho Bernardo. Those who work in South County but live in older and more established neighborhoods of San Diego proper still find the commute south to jobs in South County relatively easy.

As suggested earlier, employers are looking southward as well. Intel and Sun Microsystems, just two examples, are looking at major pieces of land to locate manufacturing facilities. For one thing, they are considering South County because there is little if any developable land left for office headquarters and other commercial-industrial uses along the I-5 and I-15 corridors of North County. However, it’s more than a case of simple default. South County’s lure of optimum freeway capacity, an abundance of affordably priced housing, good schools and other public amenities plays well to employers who know full well these features will help them attract and keep the kind of workers they want for these new facilities.

South County’s emergence as the region’s newest employment center wouldn’t be the first coup for the area. Ten years ago, the U.S. Olympic Committee selected the EastLake community in Chula Vista for its ARCO Olympic Training Center, which today is the only warm-weather training complex in the western United States. Over the years, several major light manufacturers, financial institutions, and general business companies have relocated to EastLake Business Center, Otay Mesa and other close-by venues. The trend will surely continue, and it won’t take too many more relocations of New Economy employers and other major players for the economic center of our region to begin to shift southward, with downtown San Diego at its northern boundary.

Indeed, the south rises once again.

Jason Hughes is chairman, CEO, and owner of Hughes Marino, an award-winning commercial real estate company with offices across the nation. A pioneer in the field of tenant representation, Jason has exclusively represented tenants and buyers for more than 25 years. He writes about topics in commercial real estate from a tenant’s perspective on his blog, Downtown Dirt. Contact Jason at 1-844-662-6635 or jason@hughesmarino.com to learn more.

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