The Power of Extraordinary Companies: Qualcomm in San Diego

If you’re not a San Diego Chargers fan (they play in Qualcomm Stadium), you may not know much about Qualcomm, a major producer of wireless telecommunications equipment and a major force in the San Diego economy.   A new study from San Diego’s Workforce Partnership and Regional Economic Development Corporation tells the story of Qualcomm’s rise and its role in transforming San Diego’s economy.   It’s a modern day version of earlier histories (think US Steel in Pittsburgh) and shows how one company can change a region’s economic trajectory for the better.

Qualcomm was started in 1985 and it packs a big economic punch today.  In San Diego County, it employs 12,000 people at an average wage of $70,000.  These workers support other sectors, donate to charitable causes, and otherwise anchor the local tech sector.

While the economic impact data tell an important story, Qualcomm’s history is relevant for other reasons not covered in this report.   Qualcomm is a unique, but important, defense conversion success story.  Qualcomm began life as a defense contractor, producing military satellite communications systems and most of its early business was with the Pentagon.  In the 1990s, thanks to strong leadership and world-class technology, the firm was able to diversify and ultimately dominate commercial markets as well.  As defense contractors look ahead to a tough patch of budget tightening and seek new markets to replace lost military contracts, Qualcomm’s successful transition should be a model to emulate.


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