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San Diego, CA - Released is a report commissioned by the Asian Business Association of San Diego, developed with the support of the San Diego and Imperial Small Business Development Center Network, T-Mobile, and Booz Allen Hamilton, which thoroughly examines the Asian and Pacific Islander-owned (API) business community in the San Diego region and evaluates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their enterprises. This report stands alone in the nation in providing the most current and in-depth look at API businesses, using Census data, survey responses and economic modeling software to build a comprehensive economic profile and outlook. The report’s findings and conclusions are critical to understanding the unique issues and challenges facing this business community, and the importance of smart policy solutions and new programs to meet their needs for the future in our region, and across the country.  


Key Findings:

  • API-owned businesses generated $5 billion in economic impact in the San Diego region in 2021.

Overall, we found that API-owned businesses are generating $5 billion in regional economic impact in 2021, a significant figure that underscore the sales activity and revenue of more than 7,000 businesses in the County.  Our economic impact modeling also estimated that API businesses are contributing $43.4 million in local direct tax revenue (sales and property tax receipts combined). Finally, nearly 90,000 total jobs are created from API businesses in the region (direct, indirect and induced jobs combined).

  • Survey data from the United States Census Bureau identifies 9,100 API-owned businesses in San Diego County, and approximately 24,692 self-employed Asian and Pacific Islander residents in the County. 

In San Diego County, API-owned businesses collectively employ 75,423 workers and generate an annual payroll of $2.5 billion. Overall, API-owned businesses comprised 13.2% of all businesses in the San Diego region, a greater share than API-owned businesses nationally (10.2%).


  • Our economic analysis of API-owned businesses found that approximately 90,000 total jobs are created from API businesses in the San Diego region (direct, indirect and induced jobs combined).

  • In the City of San Diego, API-owned businesses are most highly concentrated in Kearny Mesa and suburban communities north of State Route 52. 

Still, coastal (La Jolla, Pacific Beach), Uptown (North Park, Hillcrest) and Downtown (Core-Colombia) neighborhoods are represented in the list, underscoring the prevalence of API establishments throughout the City (see Table 1). Overall, we found that API businesses are located in 117 out of the 124 neighborhoods in the City.


  • Among City Council Districts, District 6 is home to the largest number of API businesses (1,535), and has more than twice the tally of any other District. 

This magnifies the size of the District 6 business communities in the Convoy District, Kearny Mesa and Mira Mesa.

  • Many local API business owners struggle with a wide number of worker-related issues.

A persistent theme in regional workforce studies is the challenge business owners have with recruiting and retaining qualified, talented workers while managing rising business and labor costs. Similarly, our survey responses revealed that four out of ten (40%) API business owners are wrestling with wage pressure, worker shortages, and the cost of employee benefits. We anticipate that the impact the pandemic has had on worker availability and job openings will persist through 2022.


  • Some local API business owners were victims of racial discrimination and harassment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

News media and prior studies have explored the issue to which racism and xenophobia have had an impact on API business operations. Similarly, we asked, “Have you or your business been a victim of racial discrimination and/or race-related harassment during the Coronavirus pandemic?” In all, more than one out of ten (10.1%) reported being racially harassed or discriminated against during the pandemic. Roughly a quarter (23.5%) reported they didn’t know or were unsure, and 66.4% reported they were not victims.


  • Our research found that across the nation, a number of compounding issues severely impacted API business owners throughout the pandemic. 

First, a greater exposure to pandemic restrictions and revenue declines due to being overrepresented in the restaurant and personal care (nail salons, dry cleaners) business sectors, which endured strict and prolonged operating restrictions during the pandemic. We also see the challenge of anti-Asian hate, racism, discrimination, xenophobia that has been pervasive throughout the pandemic due to political rhetoric and social media misinformation about the cause and source of the COVID-19 outbreak. In cases where business owners or employees exhibited limited English fluency or technology integration (no pay by app options, no established accounts with delivery app companies, no website or social media presence), establishments may have had a harder time unable to communicating, let alone adapting, to the volatile operating conditions in the pandemic. This has resulted in a longer recovery timeline revenue-wise for API-owned businesses. 


  • API business owners face a longer recovery time for their enterprises to return to post-pandemic operating levels than non-API business owners. 

Nearly half (48.3%) of our survey respondents identified a longer timeline for their business to return to normal operating levels (“more than six months”) than statewide or national respondents (42.1% and 38.1%, respectively). Prior surveys of API business owners have found similar response rates to this question. This underscores the compounding challenges API businesses have been confronted with since the start of the pandemic.  


  • Many API business owners are still working to improve their basic business development needs.

When asked what actions their businesses will need to take in the next six months, strong responses were received for increasing marketing or sales (44.2%), hiring new workers (37.5%), and obtaining additional financial capital (34.2%). It is important to highlight how significantly different some of the responses are compared to state and national level respondents–especially regarding developing online sales or websites (30% API, 12% CA, 10% US) or increasing marketing or sales (44% API, 29% CA, 26% US). These responses suggest a level of business development or digital customer engagement that a large share of local API business owners had not invested in or completed prior to the start of the pandemic.







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