Here is what I have picked up so far:

First, to answer one of my own questions, you can use 'system' in a 
capistrano task to run local commands (as opposed to using 'run' to run 
commands on remote servers).

Next, here are a couple of links to capistrano/rake tasks others have 
created to pull down databases and/or files from the production 
server(s) to the local dev machine:

I suppose the benefit of using import_export would be that in theory you 
could use it to move data between a mysql production database to an 
sqlite dev database (for example).  The links above assume you are using 
the same type of database in both environments (perhaps a reasonable 
limitation for many people).
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