The west coast and national defense have been closely linked for more than a century. Ports in San Diego, Los Angeles and Long Beach have all contributed to a strong military presence, and thus, jobs in the defense industry. Having survived the cutbacks of the 1990s, the defense industry is headed back up, with steady growth since 2001. For security-cleared job seekers, going west can mean going successfully into a second career.

San Diego, CA

If you want to live within the largest concentration of military facilities and defense industries in the world, this may be the place, according to the most recent numbers compiled by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. The county comes in first in defense spending, with $24 billion in direct and indirect economic impact.

“There are 142,000 jobs in the defense industry here,” said Scott Alevy, vice president, public policy for the chamber. “In all, 291,000 jobs are impacted by the industry. The future looks good.”

So who’s here? It might be better to ask who isn’t. Some 80 military facilities are based in the San Diego County region. Despite BRAC closures throughout the 1990s, this area has remained stable, new jobs are continually being added to the workforce, and another boon came with the arrival of the Navy Space and Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR). Given its strategic geography, the region has remained militarily strong, and thus, large defense employers are here to stay.

National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, parented by General Dynamics, is the largest shipyard on the west coast. SAIC, a systems integration and technology contractor with more than a dozen facilities throughout San Diego County is also headquartered here. Northrop Grumman employs more than 4,000 workers, and BAE Systems Inc., another 3,000. In addition, Lockheed Martin, NASSCO, Cubic Corporation, L-3 Communications Inc., and ViaSat are among numerous other contractors that continue to provide great opportunities for security-cleared personnel.

One in every five San Diego residents is either active duty military or working in the defense industry – that’s 20 percent of the population. Current figures show close to 149,000 men and women in uniform stationed here.

The cost of living is high, with a median home price of $530,000. But according to Alevy, living in San Diego is like living in paradise.

“Millions of people come here to vacation every year and we get to do that every day,” he said. “We have a comfortably diverse community.”

Los Angeles, CA

The region surrounding Los Angeles has had its ups and downs. It peaked in the mid 1980’s, with close to 300,000 defense industry jobs. But cutbacks in military spending and BRAC closures over the next decade hit the defense job market hard, particularly in the areas of jet fighter and military aircraft programs. According to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corps., some 200,000 defense industry jobs were lost, and Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Rockwell International all faced a downturn. Now things are looking up.

Defense spending has been soaring in the L.A. region since 2001. According to the Department of the Navy, realignments and other initiatives have created close to 93,000 civilian jobs with more to come. In the aerospace industry, opportunities continue to open up at companies like Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the F/A 22 Raptor and F-35 programs. Northrop Grumman is now working in almost every area of defense, particularly in satellite and space laser programs. Small to mid sized firms are also doing well, providing related support services such as parts, metals and paints.

A big change in the employment picture is in the area of research and development. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory operated by Cal-Tech, and Aerospace Corp. are both dominant in R&D contracts, as is the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB. In the surrounding areas like Redondo Beach and El Segundo, Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman are working on aerospace and telecommunications, while Edwards AFB is working on R&D projects such as Boeing’s Phantom Works, Lockheed’s Skunkworks and NASA’s advanced flight research.

Evan Lesser, Co-founder and Director of, is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of opportunities for security-cleared veterans eyeing civilian careers.

“The availability of aerospace and engineering jobs in California, specifically in the greater Los Angeles region, have increased by 110 percent on in the past 12 months,” he said. “Large contract wins by leading employers have fueled an already hot job market. Los Angeles is the aerospace hotbed of the West, similar to Huntsville’s prominence to the East.”

The greater Los Angeles area now has a population of almost 18 million people. With the draw of the entertainment industry and a Mediterranean climate, L.A. brings in an additional 25 million visitors each year. It is now the second largest metropolitan region in the nation, with a median income of around $50,000 and housing prices that range from an average of $328,000 in Los Angeles, to much higher priced homes in outlying neighborhoods.

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Tranette Ledford is a writer and owner of Ledford, LLC, which provides writing, editorial and public relations consulting for defense, military and private sector businesses. You can contact her at: