Advertisement

New Group Tries to Fight L.A. Flight : Economy: A coalition says it plans to push for changes to keep businesses from leaving.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the first time, a broad coalition of government agencies and business and labor groups have united to carry out an ambitious plan to keep companies and jobs in Los Angeles County.

“It’s time that we ended this state of denial that we have a problem in California. We do have a problem,” said Gary Conley, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County, a private, nonprofit organization heading the coalition.

The coalition announced the plan Wednesday at a press conference in a once-bustling factory where voices now echo in an empty shell. Zero Corp. until recently employed 450 people making electronics cases and cabinets at the Burbank site. It is moving those jobs to Salt Lake City by the end of November to escape a thicket of government regulations and high costs and has become a symbol of job flight from California.

Using the slogan “L.A. Means Business,” the group intends “to address in a very deliberate, a very aggressive, a very systematic way the issues that make it difficult for business and jobs to remain in our community,” Conley said.

Advertisement

The campaign will start with a mass business hand-holding operation in which the EDC will find companies looking to leave the area--as well as some that are simply unhappy--and find out what their specific problems are. Solutions will be found even if it means changing state laws and policies, the group has vowed.

The plan also includes an annual trade fair to bring businesses and service agencies face to face and a public relations campaign to get the community worked up about the problem so that the message will get to lawmakers, Conley said.

Gov. Pete Wilson has already taken note of the problem. In September, he appointed a blue ribbon commission to examine government red tape and other problems that make California less competitive in attracting and retaining businesses.

The EDC backed up its plan with a gloomy forecast that employment in the county may continue to decline.

Advertisement

The county will lose nearly 36,000 non-farm jobs this year, with more to follow in 1992 and 1993, EDC economist Jack Kyser said. The job losses will come from a combination of the recession, business flight and a restructuring of the area’s economy, with shrinkage in the aerospace, financial services and real estate industries.

“We have to face the very scary fact that non-farm employment in Los Angeles County in 1995 could be below the non-farm employment of 1990,” Kyser said.

Among the problems that Zero Corp. faced were the high costs of environmental regulations, workers’ compensation coverage and health-care insurance, said Wilford Godbold Jr., chief executive of the Los Angeles-based company. For example, Godbold said, the company’s workers’ compensation costs will drop 60% in Utah and the company will still be able to provide better benefits. The company was able to get a permit to build its factory in only six weeks, he said.

“This is a rather bittersweet moment for me,” Godbold said, standing in the nearly empty factory. “This used to be full of people and product.

“We want to stay in Southern California. There are unique opportunities in Southern California,” Godbold said, adding that the company is keeping its headquarters and nearly 800 employees here.

“I would like to keep all our business here in California, but the California Legislature needs to wake up and take notice,” said Godbold, who heads a task force on business retention for the California Chamber of Commerce.


Advertisement