A n innovation cluster of researchers and startups is starting to form in long
underutilized warehouses at the Port of Los Angeles, in pursuit of the idea that the planet’s oceans have the answers to some of mankind’s most perplexing challenges.
Aquaculture, algae fuels and robotic exploration of the unmapped depths are the focus of an emerging “blue economy” that has the potential to provide sustainable solutions to long-range environmental concerns, along with tens of thousands of middle-class jobs.
The nascent epicenter of this emerging new economy is AltaSea, a nonprofit organization that has begun the development of an ocean research and development campus on 35 acres at City Dock 1.
AltaSea has Los Angeles looking to the future as political discussions about income inequality and the plight of the middle class continue to be mired in the idea of somehow turning back the clock to restore well-paying jobs connected to coal, steel, oil and the manufacture of high-polluting vehicles.
Angelenos are instead embracing the resurgence of manufacturing jobs based on the blue economy that AltaSea is pioneering and the booming market linked to the growth of private initiatives in aerospace – the SpaceX generation.
These nascent sectors show great promise in providing pathways to middle-class wages linked to skilled manufacturing, not just technology, with a larger mission of serving, even saving, the planet. We’re seeing the possibilities already with the resurrection of aerospace – an unexpected third act in a fraught regional story.
The new space industry, which has attracted hundreds of millions of venture capital dollars, is expected to be worth $600 billion by 2030, and more than 70 aerospace firms are now located at the Mojave Air & Space Port near the northern border of L.A. County.
At the southern end, SpaceX recently signed a long-term lease at the Port of L.A., just across a harbor channel from AltaSea, to begin rocket development work on-site.
Overall, the number of jobs being created to launch these various projects is exceeding forecasts, and when viewed in combination with job replacement as workers retire (30.5 percent of aerospace workers are over the age of 50) or change jobs, there is great opportunity for residents who are gaining the needed skills. Entry-level electrical engineers earn $75,000 to $80,000, according to Aviation Week data. Entry-level software engineers in the aerospace and defense industries make about $76,000.
Raytheon had about 600 job openings in the South Bay as of last month, and Northrop Grumman Corp. plans to add more than 2,000 jobs in the region by late next year.
The L.A. space industry has created more than 6,000 jobs in the past decade, with an average wage of over $100,000, linked to the production of unmanned space vehicles.
At the same time, projections are rosy for jobs linked to ocean exploration, whose presence alongside aerospace in the nascent blue economy is no accident. Aerospace entities are among the anchor tenants at AltaSea, repurposing space vehicles as advanced underwater robotic probes. This work is already spawning industries of the future.
By 2025, the entrepreneur and author Gunter Paul estimates, the oceanic blue economy could create 100 million new jobs worldwide based on hundreds of innovations, as well as empower people and sustain communities.
A split between rising wealth and deepening poverty should no longer be the storyline of Los Angeles, and these nascent Blue Economy ventures offer genuine hope not only for L.A. but also for our nation and its workers.
Now it is up to the public and private sectors to up their bets on a vision that could have been scripted by Jules Verne and Carl Sagan.
Jonathan Woetzel is a senior partner at McKinsey & Co.; Michael H. Kelly is executive director of the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy & Jobs and a trustee of AltaSea at the Port of L.A.
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