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Innovation Hub: Vista Manufacturing Industry

by Neal Bloom

By Theresa Hoiles

Guest Writer

Editor’s Note: This content was originally created by our team for the City of Vista

As we head into the New Year and new decade, predictions about what’s to come abound. Will our economy take a turn? How will the job market change? Can the US stay competitive in the world market? For the City of Vista, one prediction is certain – manufacturing will continue to grow and prosper.   

For the past 10 years, Vista has seen a steady rise in manufacturing and this is projected to continue into the next decade – from sports and wellness to biotech, food and special drinks, construction materials, high-end car wheels and more.  In fact, the idea that manufacturing in cities like Vista and throughout the United States is slowly dying, is a false narrative based on the misconception of what manufacturing truly means.

“Manufacturing isn’t even close to dead,” said Christopher Thornberg, Ph.D., Founding Partner at Los Angeles based Beacon Economics, an independent research and consulting firm dedicated to delivering accurate, insightful, and objectively-based economic analysis that enables its clients to make informed decisions about investment, growth, revenue, and policy.

Christopher Thornberg, Ph.D., Beacon Economics.

Thornberg explained that manufacturing, while not dying, has seen a shift in what was once considered traditional manufacturing. “There are really two kinds of changes in manufacturing. One is the shift in what we produce and two is the shift in how we produce. So in terms of the shift in what we produce, you have seen massive changes in manufacturing and basically because of the rise in what I would call new industries. Think of technology and electronics, microchips, computers, all that kind of stuff. So you definitely see a shift towards more high-skilled, more capital-intense parts of the manufacturing industry. Of course the other big change in manufacturing has everything to do with how stuff is produced.”

Once upon a time, manufacturing lines filled warehouses with rows of employees shifting a singular crank as the product rode down a conveyor belt to its completion. “That kind of mass production, well now it’s a bunch of robots and what you have is computer programmers and robot maintenance guys walking around making sure the robots are making cars right,”  Thornberg said. “So there are fewer people, more machines. You get more output per person and that explains one of the interesting, paradoxical trends in US manufacturing. One in which employment today is significantly lower than it was in 1990. On the other hand, we are on a near-record high of manufacturing output. So we produce more and more with less and less partly, and again, on the basis of different kinds of industries and partly on the basis of this shift in how we produce stuff.”

North County is one of the nation’s leaders in manufacturing. Vista is vital in this manufacturing realm, not only in producing product, but also in job creation throughout the county.  Thornberg agreed. “It’s growing in San Diego; it’s growing in the region. It’s not only growing from what I would call an employment perspective, but it’s growing from an output perspective as the case may be.”

According to San Diego Regional EDC, 21.65% of all jobs in Vista are in manufacturing. The top five industries within Vista include; Computer and Electronic Product Manufacturing (3,267), Machinery Manufacturing (1,678), Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing (1,201), Transportation Equipment Manufacturing (833), and Miscellaneous Manufacturing (615). The below table is a San Diego Regional EDC job report for the City of Vista.

Industry Summary for Manufacturing
10,197.07 20.1% $110,551
Jobs (2019) % Change (2009-2019) Avg. Earnings Per Job (2019)
161% above National average Nation: 7.6% Nation: $85,765
Industry Summary for 21 Industries (Includes Manufacturing)
47,093.68 25.1% $74,269
Jobs (2019) % Change (2010-2020) Avg. Earnings Per Job (2019)
0% above National average Nation: 16.1% Nation: $69,326
21.65% Jobs in Manufacturing Industry


The San Diego Regional EDC statistics show that not only are there more available jobs in manufacturing in Vista than nationwide averages, additionally, people employed in manufacturing in Vista earn well above the national average.

Matthew Sanford, Senior Director, Economic Development at San Diego Regional EDC, understands that when manufacturing succeeds in a city, it helps the entire economy of that city. “Manufacturing as an industry provides high-quality jobs that are accessible with different levels of training and education,” he said.  “As such, a strong manufacturing sector in Vista supports jobs for residents throughout North County and beyond. In addition, manufacturers in North County also lead to impact in other occupations like logistics and transportation, supply chain and materials companies, etc.”

Thornberg added, “You often see manufacturing cluster together because a lot of times, they are actually working together. There are buyers and sellers among each other working along one aggregate supply chain producing some final manufactured product.”

This supply chain also affects how the city functions. Thornberg said, “Another way it impacts things has to do with the wages and how money is spent in the local community.”

One local business that has been a cornerstone of the City of Vista manufacturing’s industry is McCain Manufacturing. Since 1988, the company  has been a sheet metal fabrication powerhouse. The firm’s branded McCain Walls® is a line of modular wall systems that have been extremely successful throughout the US and used by top companies such as Apple, Starbucks, Facebook, Los Angeles and San Diego International Airports, as well as UC San Diego Healthcare System and the VA Hospitals. The flexibility of the design and the environmentally-friendly design makes the company and its products a favorite among clients.

Pallet load of McCain Walls.

Additionally, McCain Homes are affordable modular Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) that cost 20% less than traditional stick-built ADUs. McCain’s CEO Jeff McCain sees these homes as a solution to the affordable housing crisis as well as an opportunity for families to create  ‘granny suites’ and independent living solutions or as an income-generating asset. He said, “We pride ourselves in providing our customers with alternative, innovative solutions that are disrupting their respective industries – Walls and Homes. We want to make a difference in the lives of those who directly and indirectly come in contact with a McCain product.”

McCain believes Vista is a great place to run a manufacturing business because he thinks Vista supports business and sees it as a partnership. “I’ve been operating in the City of Vista since January 1988. Since then, I’ve built multiple manufacturing buildings and have expanded substantially over the years. And through all those years, I’ve always felt the City of Vista was more like a partner helping me achieve my goals of running a successful business. Thirty years later, even with the substantial growth the city has had, I can continue to feel the same way.”

This satisfaction is exactly what Vista’s Economic Development Director, Kevin Ham strives for. Ham knows that the City’s support of manufacturing businesses in Vista is one of the reason’s manufacturing in Vista is thriving. Ham said, “With nearly 25% of our economic development in manufacturing, we know that by supporting our city’s manufacturing sector, we are strengthening our entire city.”

McCain thinks Ham and his team’s support demonstrate this attitude. “Kevin and his team are very well involved in promoting benefits that the City of Vista has to offer to companies such as ours. They are not only doing a wonderful job with new businesses, but they are also there to support the existing companies. They operate as a bridge; if you need help to get something accomplished in the city, they make sure you are connected with the right individuals.”

Constructed McCain home

“Our goal is to support and encourage manufacturing businesses in our city,” Ham said. “As we head into the new decade, we will continue to grow and support manufacturing as well as provide opportunities for new businesses to build and thrive in Vista.”




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