East County Businesses Thrive By Sticking Together
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"There is no life east of I-5" has been a common saying in San Diego County for at least 40 years. But in a county covering nearly 4,300 square miles, the strength of our region lies in its diversity.
Nearly half a million people live in the cities and unincorporated areas defined as San Diego’s East County, including the cities of La Mesa, Lemon Grove, El Cajon, and Santee, along with the communities of Alpine, Lakeside, Rancho San Diego, Spring Valley, Ramona, Julian, and Borrego.
It’s just an 18-mile drive from San Diego City Hall to El Cajon City Hall. If you haven’t made the drive recently, you might be surprised at what you find.
The 600-plus members of the San Diego Regional East County Chamber of Commerce work in a thriving region supporting a diverse economy. While it’s an economy that has suffered the same blows as the rest of the county, state, and nation due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is every reason to celebrate the resilience of East County’s economy and the people driving it.
For example, according to a county airports publication as reported by the East County Economic Development Council, East County’s regional airport Gillespie Field contributes more than $400 million and nearly 3,200 local jobs, with the capacity to add 20,800 jobs by 2040 according to a Caltrans study. Aircraft taking off from Gillespie Field fly to destinations as far away as Russia and Venezuela.
Manufacturing and industry has long taken advantage of more reasonable property values with access to a strong labor force. The average manufacturing job earns $95,114, in East County compared to a national average of $79,528. The biggest challenge to the continued economic growth and development of the industry base is a shortage of skilled labor in the workforce pipeline to replace an aging workforce. Many of these well-paying jobs don’t require a college degree.
For businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors, post-pandemic life has been more challenging. This is where belonging to a supportive business organization can offer a lifeline of resources and encouragement.
The local chamber has stepped up its effort to connect members with resources such as the County of San Diego’s Small Business Stimulus Grant, Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and programs through other regional chambers such as the San Diego North Economic Development Council and Innovate 78.
While the business community can’t gather in-person, relationships are flourishing as people come together to lend each other a hand.
There is no better example than the community’s ability to rally behind the 75 La Mesa businesses suffering damages in the aftermath of civil unrest the weekend of May 30 and 31.
On Sunday, May 31, hundreds of people from East County and beyond showed up without any formal organization to help clean up and show their support for the people whose livelihoods were at stake.
A GoFundMe account launched with a modest $50,000 goal eventually raised more than $255,000, providing business owners with $8,000 in grants to help them recover and open their doors again.
These efforts provided a reminder of the power of community, of turning to each other in hard times.