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Attracting New Businesses : Riverside Does Its Recruiting in Irvine

Times Staff Writer

Saddled with a backwater image, buried by a summerlong smog bank and still at least an hour away from most major Southern California attractions, Riverside County has struggled for decades to compete in the high-stakes business of attracting new business.

More often than not, the county has lost.

But now, the folks to the east are getting downright aggressive--some have said “tacky"--in their fighting style.

Wednesday, in none other than Irvine’s own Hilton Towers, the Riverside County Department of Development is hosting its Business Outlook Conference. The visiting sponsors claim the daylong event is an attempt to introduce Orange County to the business expansion possibilities beyond the Santa Ana Canyon, in a county that boasts the region’s fastest-growing labor pool and some of the least expensive land and housing costs in Southern California.

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“We’re not going there to convince Orange County businesses to move to Riverside,” contends Ken Hobbs, Riverside County’s business development manager. “We want them to look to Riverside for their future expansion.”

Some Orange County economic development leaders don’t believe the public relations talk for a minute, preferring to view the widely advertised event as a blatant attempt to raid the county’s industrial base.

“The people next door are coming in and trying to hustle jobs away,” complains Al McCord, director of Anaheim’s economic development operations. “Riverside and Orange County can complement each other without getting into a competition.”

Notes Dan Pegg, president of San Diego’s Economic Development Corp.: “It may be tacky and it’s a little unusual that they’re so blatant about it, but it’s not uncommon for counties to recruit from their neighbors.”

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The Riverside foray comes at a time of intense, and some say unparalleled, competition among counties and cities throughout the nation to lure clean, tax-paying, job-producing industry to their communities. California, because it has so many successful high-technology companies and some of the highest businesses costs, is often a prime target for the recruiters.

“If you go to the Silicon Valley, you’ll probably trip over the governors of Oregon and North Carolina,” says Kay Reynolds, executive vice president of the California Assn. of Local Economic Development.

Still, Riverside County’s roadshow arrives here less than a month after Orange County’s on-again, off-again Economic Development Corp. closed its doors following a 13-month struggle to generate enthusiasm and cooperation within the county’s industrial community and 26 far-flung cities.

McCord and his counterpart in Santa Ana, Hank Cunningham, say the visiting county’s conference may be just the incentive Orange County needs to try yet another time to revive its business recruiting and maintenance efforts.

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The folks in Riverside County are praying it takes a long while.

In the last 15 months alone, Hobbs reports, 22 businesses have relocated or expanded into Riverside County, bringing a total of nearly 2,500 jobs. Of the new businesses, he says, 50% came from Los Angeles and Orange counties.

“We’re close to the regional markets, we have good transportation access to the inland routes, the Ontario Airport is close and easy to use and our industrial land costs are less than half of those in Orange County,” reels off Marc Grisham, director of Riverside County’s Department of Development. “Plus, our housing is inexpensive and we have a huge labor force that is already commuting to Orange County.”

The list of companies moving into Riverside County recently include Ronnie Packaging, headquartered in the City of Industry, Stretch Forming, a metal fabricator that relocated from Fountain Valley, and Star Crest Products, a mail order gift operation formerly based in Tustin.

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Orange County economic development officials have few doubts that Riverside is, and will continue to be, attractive to Orange County businesses.

But they say that Riverside has its place and profess little concern about the long-range effect of Riverside’s recruiting efforts.

“Riverside is better for labor-intensive manufacturing of lower priced goods and warehousing,” says Anaheim’s McCord.

Adds Santa Ana’s Cunningham: “There will be no whole-scale flight of business from Orange to Riverside County. Riverside will be attractive to the companies that need land, but for corporate headquarters, high technology and technology-based industries, Orange County is superior.”

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Although seemingly unworried about the upshot of Riverside’s recruiting drive, McCord and Cunningham are still a bit miffed by its style.

“The difference between professional and non-professional economic development activities,” explains McCord “is that the professional targets the market precisely and doesn’t use some come-one, come-all shotgun approach. Riverside is using the shotgun approach.”

Says Cunningham: “It’s inevitable that Riverside will get business from Orange County, but not necessarily from radio ads and conferences. They are not being very gentlemanly.”


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