Countywide : County Resurrects Development Panel

Disbanded several years ago because of Orange County's flourishing economy, the Board of Supervisors this week re-formed its Economic Development Committee to seek a share of $217 million in federal funds available this year to stimulate creation of local jobs.

Officials said the action is a sign of how dramatically the recession has soured the county's business climate. It was not immediately known how much funding the newly appointed panel could win for local use.

Board Chairman Harriett M. Wieder said Tuesday that the county unemployment rate has risen from 3% in 1989 to near 6.5% this spring. In past years, the low unemployment rates effectively eliminated the county from serious consideration by the federal Economic Development Administration.

The county gave up its effort to seek federal assistance by dissolving its own committee in in 1989, when it could not compete with areas of the country where unemployment levels were approaching double digits.

Wieder said it will be the new committee's job to educate federal officials that times have changed Orange County.

"Everybody thinks Orange County is fat and sassy," Wieder said. "But everybody who lives here knows that we have all the problems that Los Angeles has."

County analyst Alvin Davidson said Tuesday that the committee will formulate a strategy with the area's 31 cities to identify the most needy public works projects and propose they be funded, hopefully stimulating a burst of new jobs.

The committee, which includes two appointees from each of the five supervisorial districts, is expected to meet within the next two weeks. Federal mandates require that the county's overall strategy be submitted to the Administration at the end of June.

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