Nation: Bust Town?

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A continent away from Atlanta, the steel skeletons of San Diego's new skyscrapers stretch above the immaculate white city that curves back from the Pacific toward the Laguna Mountains. The yacht basins are crowded with boats; sumptuous motels for sybaritic tourists are rising outside town. But beneath the clamor and the glitter, San Diego—the city that brashly bet heavily on the aircraft industry and cleaned up for nearly 15 years—is in missile-age trouble.

World War II turned San Diego from a city of 289,348, sleepily content to live off its famed naval base, into one of the nation's major aircraft producers. The boom grew louder after the war, with the demand for new planes for the burgeoning airlines and the rapid evolution of new Air Force fighters and bombers. By 1950 the population was up to 556,808; by 1960 it had soared to 1,033,011, and San Diego was proudly-and rightfully-calling itself the fastest-growing major city in the U.S.

Phasing Out. Prosperity grew apace with the population. As the years went by, the city's aircraft industry edged into missile production, but stuck mainly to planes. In 1950 the industry grossed $104,500,000; by 1960 the figure was up to $1,082,000,000. Then came the nosedive. The Air Force stopped buying the F-102 and F106 delta-winged fighters, made at the city's huge Convair plant. Convair was also hurt badly when its 880 and 990 jet airliners had poor sales records. Last year the city's aircraft industry took in a bare $215 million on planes and missiles.

By last week, the great changeover in U.S. defense plans from aircraft to missiles had boosted San Diego's unemployment to 8.8%. Worse yet, this figure is likely to grow higher, for the single major missile produced in San Diego is Convair's liquid-fueled Atlas, a weapon that the Air Force is gradually phasing out in favor of the solid-fueled Minuteman (major contractor: Boeing, in Seattle).

The "tinbenders"—local jargon for semiskilled aircraft workers—are packing up in droves and leaving the housing developments that sprawled around the city during the past few years.

Wanted: New Jobs. Tied to one industry, San Diego's officials are struggling to lure new employment sources to the city. Says State Labor Analyst Arthur McCarty: "We have all the facilities, all of the personnel and all of the money needed to retrain these workers. There is only one real problem: What do we train them to do?"

In downtown San Diego, a parking-lot operator who last year was regularly netting $800 a month declared last week: "Hell, business is so dead I won't take home more than $130 this month. Friend of mine offered me a deal, and I think I'm going to fold this thing up and go in with him." The friend's deal: an outfit to handle merchandise from San Diego firms that go bankrupt.