Foreign Firms in O.C. Optimistic

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The recession hasn't forced foreign-owned companies with offices in Southern California to abandon their expansion plans or plans to hire new employees, according to an accounting firm's recent survey.

A study of 321 foreign-owned companies--including 75 in Orange County--showed that 77% of the firms polled plan to expand in 1992 by adding new facilities, new products or seeking new markets. Half the companies planned to add more workers.

The survey--conducted in September by the Costa Mesa office of KPMG Peat Marwick--seems to counter the suspicion that most companies plan to cut their work force and reduce their operations to survive the recession. The survey also shows that while high state and local taxes are of concern to companies, they have not caused a mass exodus.

"We came away from this survey with the feeling that these firms have a long-term, optimistic view of Southern California," said William M. Foley, the firm's Southern California international practice partner who helped coordinate the survey. "What we didn't see were companies saying: 'We're throwing in the towel. We're leaving Southern California.' "

The firm plans to conduct the survey annually in an attempt to show the benefits of foreign investment in the economies of Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, Foley said. It also will try to see "if some bits of conventional wisdom are borne out by facts," he said.

Among the assumptions the survey seemed to debunk: Little of a foreign company's profits helps a local economy. In the survey, companies said that they invested more than $800 million in 1990, and the firms estimated another $955 million would have been invested through the end of 1991. Foreign companies also provided about 25,000 jobs.

Most of the companies have come to Southern California in the past decade. Of 113 firms that established headquarters in Southern California in the past five years, 31 were in Orange County, 77 in Los Angeles County and five in San Diego County.

Companies in the survey also said they are staying put in Southern California because of the proximity to major industries, markets and suppliers, as well as economic growth, living conditions and the climate.

"They're coming here anyway," Foley said. "They certainly are pleased with the quality of life."

Results also showed that only 15% of the companies came here with the help of a chamber of commerce, the state Department of Commerce or a professional organization. Banks, accounting and law firms as well as industry contacts provided the most relocation assistance.

"(Location assistance) wasn't happening here," Foley said. "I think that is one of the valuable messages of this."

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