After two weeks of introduction and analysis, it’s time to understand the root causes of the Escondido Youth Exodus. Just why is it that so many who grew up here leave, and so many young potential newcomers stay away? More importantly, what can we do to turn the exodus into an influx?
There are a variety of explanations, but in these final two articles in the series, I’m going to focus on the two biggest causes, starting with the most important one of all.
To sum it up in a single word, the exodus is primarily about one thing:
Making Escondido Work
Remember that picture of my now-transplanted friends from article one? The problem they (and many others) in our generation face is that the type of work we’ve been trained and equipped to perform simply isn’t available here in Escondido.
Ours is a generation that grew up with computers, space shuttles, and life-saving vaccines. These societal advancements stoked our interest in science and technology. Adding fuel to the fire, our middle and high school teachers drilled into us that careers related to math, science, and tech were they way to go.
So when we graduated high school, many of us went off and pursued such degrees in college. Upon graduating, we all came back to Escondido briefly, only to discover that there are virtually no jobs in our hometown matching our skillsets. As a result, people moved away — most never to come back.
So how did this happen? Why are there so few employment opportunities here?
I’ll spare you a lengthy lesson on Escondido’s history. Suffice it to say that, decades ago, city planners made some serious land use and zoning mistakes. Those mistakes left today’s Escondido with an excess of housing but a dearth of "employment land." Indeed, only 3.4% of today’s Escondido is industrial land despite being one of the most populated cities in San Diego county. Compare that to San Marcos’ 10.3% and Carlsbad’s 22.9%, and it becomes easy to see why we have a jobs problem (Source: NC Times).
Recent efforts like the general plan update — which was approved by voters last November and rezones numerous acres as industrial — are commendable. However, the problem with rezoning is obvious: just because the land underneath gets rezoned doesn’t mean the people and buildings on the surface are going anywhere. It can take decades for large swaths of older buildings to make way for shiny tech parks, and in some cases, it may never happen. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but we just have to be realistic about the timeline and outcome.
So what else can we do, right now, to accelerate and compliment the process? Here are just three ideas:
- Offer logical, practical incentives for all.
In recent years, we’ve seen the city spend a lot of money researching now-defunct projects like the ballpark, and giving major tax credits to low-income-job producers like Walmart. Moving forward, if we’re going to spend and incentivize in this way, I would respectfully and constructively suggest to city leaders that a better use of this kind of money would be to go knock on the doors of large, nearby tech and biotech companies and offer them similar or larger incentives to open new offices here in Escondido. They may not accept, but it’s arguably a higher use of the land than sports venues or strip malls, and it's worth a shot to bring higher-paying jobs to the city. Furthermore, I hope that we would also offer meaningful incentives to small and mid-size businesses with high growth potential, not just the established "big boys."
- Think small.
When people think "science” or "tech," their thoughts immediately gravitate towards vast office parks like the ones in UTC or Silicon Valley. The reality is, at least in the digital realm, a small shop with just three or four employees can do wonders and grow rapidly. I think we should do whatever it takes — from streamlining city codes to improving infrastructure — to make Escondido a hub of tech startups. We’ve got a lot of inexpensive, available small office space to work with in central Escondido, so the fundamental conditions seem perfect. Along those same lines…
- Let’s get serious about an entrepreneurship incubator.
A few years ago, a tech incubator was proposed in the old police station on Valley Parkway. For a variety of reasons, the concept fell through, which is nothing short of a tragedy. It’s time to resurrect the idea, and get serious about it this time. In San Diego, incubators like EvoNexus and collaborative workplaces like TheHIVE have been successful. We need to replicate that success here because a small tech startup founded in Escondido is more likely to stay in Escondido and become tomorrow’s big tech employer that we’ve long been dreaming of.
Next up: A focus on fun
The other big reason for the Escondido Youth Exodus: A lack of options for "play." Let's take a look at the final article in the series...
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