Opportunity in Exports: Boom Means More Jobs in Some Fields, but Not on Docks

Times Staff Writer

Exports from the Los Angeles area, particularly to the Pacific Basin, are surging. So that means the number of trade-related jobs in Southern California should also be rising sharply, right? Not quite.

At the Port of Los Angeles, for instance, "there's not really that much more employment" among the dozens of firms that use and service the port despite the jump in exports of U.S. goods, said Robert D. Kleist, corporate adviser to Evergreen International Corp., one of the world's biggest steamship shipping companies.

One of Evergreen's competitors, American President Lines, "is adequately staffed at this time to handle growth over the next 12 months," said Gil Roeder, a spokesman for Oakland-based APL, which employs about 950 in the Los Angeles area.

"It's been fairly stable," added John Pandora, president of Local 13 of the International Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union, whose 2,800 members load and unload the goods that pass through the Port of Los Angeles.

That doesn't mean trade-related jobs aren't available. Products such as computers and related equipment, machinery, aerospace parts and office products are among the top exports from the region, and some manufacturers of those goods are adding people to meet demand.

Food Engineering Service Inc., a South El Monte maker of machines used in food processing, has increased its work force 43%, to 40 people from 28, since early 1987 because its overseas sales are booming. Welders, sheet-metal workers and engineers were among those hired.

"Over the next 12 months we'll add another 12 to 15 people; that's all due to exports," said Food Engineering President Richard Smith. He said exports will account for 95% of the company's $6 million in sales this year.

Job opportunities also are likely to increase in the high-technology, financial, agriculture and motion picture industries because of growing overseas activity, said Jack Nadel, who last year wrote a how-to book for would-be exporters called "Cracking the Global Market."

Nadel's book also makes it clear that as more small U.S. companies try to export, there will be a growing need for people who can help them with the financial and governmental complexities. They would include export brokers; specialists in foreign advertising, marketing and distribution; bankers who can line up letters of credit and other financing plans, and experts on customs, duties and taxes.

Moreover, more than 100 companies are involved in moving products through the shipping ports and airports in Los Angeles and Long Beach. They include the shipping companies, exporters and importers, freight forwarders, distributors and stevedore companies.

But finding a job among those companies can take work. Many have fewer than a dozen employees. And many have already added to their payrolls in recent years to accommodate the ports' expansion and are therefore not aggressively hiring now simply because U.S. exports are on the rise.

"Our staff has stayed the same; we've just been busier," said Michael Farmer, export manager for Inter-Marine Forwarding Co. in Inglewood, which employs about 10 people.

The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce estimates that the number of people in Los Angeles with jobs directly connected to "international trade flows"--dock workers, truck drivers, clerks, accountants, customs officials, export-import specialists, just to name a few positions--already has jumped 37% since 1980 to 238,000 from 174,000.

Still, demand for workers at Southland export points is likely to remain strong if exports continue to grow. In a recent survey, the real estate company Cushman & Wakefield found that corporate chief executives voted Los Angeles as having the best access to international markets among U.S. cities.

U.S. exports nationwide have climbed in recent months, largely because the dollar's value has dropped sharply since September, 1985. As the dollar declines against other currencies, the cost of U.S. products sold overseas goes down, making them more appealing to foreign buyers.

Exports totaled $182.1 billion in the first seven months of this year, up 28% from $142.1 billion a year earlier, the Commerce Department says. Imports are also growing, but at a slower pace than exports, which is helping to narrow the U.S. trade deficit. In the January-July period, imports rose 9% to $262.3 billion from $240.4 billion.

Exports from the Los Angeles Customs District--which includes the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, Los Angeles International Airport and Port Hueneme--jumped 36% in the first seven months of 1988 to $17.8 billion from $13.1 billion, while imports rose 5% to $31.9 billion from $30.4 billion, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce said.

Exports from the district to the Pacific Basin--namely Asia, Australia and Oceania--rose 26% last year to $16.7 billion from $13.3 billion in 1986, the most recent figures available showed. Imports, meanwhile, were up 12% to $45.6 billion from $40.8 billion.

Yet, on the shipping docks of Los Angeles employment has held steady in part because the jump in exports has not led to a big jump in the number of shipping containers loaded aboard the vessels, Kleist said.

Previously, ships arrived in Los Angeles packed with containers of imported goods--containers that often went back to the Far East empty when U.S. exports sagged, he said. Now, as exports have risen, American manufacturers are reloading the containers for the return trip.

However, "it doesn't take any more people to handle a loaded container than an empty container" at the dock, Kleist said, so there has not been a significant increase in the number of port workers.

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