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Getting to Know Irvine—Orange County’s Economic Engine—and its Connection to Canada

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

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The City of Irvine is well known for repeatedly earning the distinction as the Safest City in America and many may also know that it earns the highest marks for fiscal strength—recently ranking first for a fiscal health index among 116 U.S. cities with a population of over 200,000. And as the third-largest city among Orange County’s 34 cities and more than three million people, Irvine is also Orange County’s economic engine.

Going beyond the veneer of knowledge about the greater Irvine region in Orange County shows the city’s exceptional growth.

For some regional context, if Southern California were a country, it would be the 13th largest economy in the world within a state that itself ranks 5th largest. Orange County boasts a GDP of nearly $300 billion which is larger than 28 states. Its economy is powered by 1.7 million jobs. The Orange County commercial real estate footprint measures approximately 100 million square feet. Clearly, there are no order of magnitude concerns here!

Driving Southern California’s growth is the second-largest STEM degree population in the U.S. after New York/New Jersey, and it has an equally high ranking for the number of tech jobs.

Getting to Know Irvine

In Irvine, professional, scientific, and technical services are the No. 1 sectors employing more than 41,000 people. High industry and employment concentrations are found in the pharmaceutical, real estate, management, and finance and insurance sectors. Occupations in Irvine with high concentrations include computers and mathematics, architecture, engineering, and legal.

With a population of just over 275,000, Irvine has a diverse and highly-educated population with more than 70% of its residents earning a bachelor’s degree or higher—more than double the state average. Combined with a lower median age than Orange County and the surrounding region, Irvine continues to add to its talent base. Between 2013-2017, the foreign-born resident population aged 18-34 grew by 28% led by the 18-24 cohort with an increase of 47%. And in 2016, Irvine universities awarded more than 16,000 degrees led by the University of California, Irvine.

The proof is also in the number of companies that call Irvine home. Consider that there are now more than 485 life science and 900 technology companies. Supporting tomorrow’s successes is a vibrant and growing innovation ecosystem of incubators, accelerators, co-working communities, and investors.

Between 2001 and 2018, Orange County employment increased by 200,000 jobs with Irvine accounting for nearly 20% of this growth. No surprise that among graduating seniors from the University of California – Irvine who accepted employment offers, 88% chose to work in Southern California with the majority choosing to stay in Orange County.

Part of the attraction is the quality of life and, while not inexpensive, Orange County is more affordable than the Bay Area. Currently, the home-ownership rate is 32% higher in Orange County than in San Francisco County. The region continues to invest in infrastructure with over $250 million dedicated to capital improvements to roads and $13.4 billion in funding for overall transportation improvements.

There are certainly challenges and growth pains, which every city and region faces with more ideas needed for housing supply and affordability.  But Irvine and Orange County have nurtured an impressive success formula for growth for decades guided by the city’s Master Plan. Part of the secret sauce is also in the high level of collaboration that exists between business, start-up ecosystem, academia, government, and civic leaders to continue to propel this region forward.

Canada and Orange County: Economic Partners

MAPLE Business Council is focused on promoting bilateral economic opportunities between Southern California and Canada through investment, trade, and entrepreneurship. Orange County, and greater Irvine in particular, figure large into MAPLE’s field of vision partly because co-founders Stephen Armstrong and Robert Kelle are long-term residents of Orange County.

And of course, Canada is invested in the success of Irvine and Orange County as one of the leading sources of foreign direct investment ranking fourth highest amongst all nations across Southern California. Noteworthy in 2019 was BlackBerry’s acquisition of Irvine-based cybersecurity firm, Cylance.

According to a 2019 report commissioned by the Consulate General of Canada in Los Angeles, Canadian-owned entities in Orange County account for over 11,100 jobs representing an annual payroll of over $854 million. That translates to an average wage in Orange County at a Canadian-owned enterprise of $76,937.

Canada represents the second-largest export market for California businesses and as identified in the 2019 report, the No. 1 export market on a per-capita basis. Southern California exported over $9.6 billion to Canada in 2017 – 12% of all SoCal exports globally. And Southern California exported a further $5 billion in services to Canada representing 53% of all state-wide exports to Canada ($9.4 billion).

The Canadian community in Orange County has been represented socially for over 10 years through Canadians in Orange County from which MAPLE Business Council was launched in 2015 to build business bridges. Canadians in Irvine and Orange County are hungry to support familiar brands from Canada and welcome Irvine’s newest residents from north of the border.

So, what does all this mean for Canadian entrepreneurs who are starting and scaling their tech and life science enterprises as well as for leaders of established Canadian businesses? There is much to discover about the Greater Irvine/Orange County region as part of a U.S. growth strategy.

Greater Irvine Comes to Vancouver

With this in mind, MAPLE will feature one of Orange County’s most expert economic developers, Linda DiMario, executive vice president of the Greater Irvine Chamber, as a guest speaker discussing innovation in California during the MAPLE Spring Reception in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 12.

DiMario has noted that the west coast economies are hot. Moreover, the Canada-California shared commitment to fueling 21st-century industry sectors and innovation is at the core of the region’s success and proactivity defines its leadership model.

Additionally, the March 5 MAPLE Spring Reception in Irvine will feature executives from the Business Development Bank of Canada, and RSM Audit, Tax, and Consulting.

More information on these and events promoting greater economic collaboration between Canada and Southern California can be found on the MAPLE website.

Source: MAPLE Business Council

Category: Foreign Direct Investment, International Trade, Chamber News, Partner News

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