The Golden State comes in for frequent criticism over everything from high taxes to crowded freeways, yet the breadth of innovation from its universities and companies continues to set the world standard.
Consider the following developments over just the past two and a half weeks:
March 24 — DNA sequencing pioneer J. Craig Venter announces the creation of an artificial bacteria with the minimum number of genes necessary for life. The new life form, which is a model for commercial biotech development, was created in San Diego.
March 31 — Elon Musk’s Tesla announces its new Model 3 electric vehicle to be built in a former General Motors plant in Northern California. Days later the company had 325,000 reservations for $14 billion worth of new cars, possibly the most successful new product introduction in history.
March 31 — Apple begins shipping the iPad Pro 9.7 and iPhone SE. Apple defined the market for smartphones and tablet computers, and remains the world leader through continual upgrades.
April 8 — SpaceX, another company started by Musk, successfully lands a rocket booster on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean, paving the way for reusable rocket fleets — and low-cost access to space. The company’s Falcon 9 rocket is made at a factory in the Los Angeles area.
April 11 — Defense officials reveal that India is in talks buy 40 of General Atomic‘s Pedator drones, the unmanned system that started a revolution in defense. India would become the largest user of the iconic aircraft outside of the United States. The drones are made in Poway.
One reason for California’s success at innovation is a network of world-class universities and research institutions, from Stanford and Berkeley in Northern California to UCLA and USC in Los Angeles and UCSD, Salk, Scripps and Stanford Burnham Prebys in San Diego.
A study released by the UCLA Anderson School last week found that California’s research institutions provide the state with a disproportionate amount of innovation and therefore a faster rate of growth in GDP than the average for the United States.
“While innovation is not the entire story of the economic recovery, it is certainly an important part of it,” said UCLA Anderson Senior Economist Jerry Nickelsburg.
California’s innovation isn’t limited to high-tech and biotech products. Hollywood films continue to dominate the world, and the giant Central Valley is the richest and most productive agricultural region on the planet, even amid a major drought.
The state is also socially innovative, with the highest percentage of immigrants, a new $15 minimum wage target and a progressive legislature. If California’s innovation represents America’s future, it’s probably a good thing.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.