City Tries to Lure Businesses With Unconventional Ad Pitch on Radio : Marketing: After years of watching heavy industry leave for greener pastures, officials launch a $206,000 campaign touting the advantages of setting up shop in their borders.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Radio news listeners accustomed to commercials that sell products and services are hearing a different pitch this month--a 60-second ad encouraging businesses to move to the City of Commerce.

"One minute, there we were, the A.N. Abell Auction Co., one of the most respected auction houses on the West Coast . And suddenly, nothing but rubble. "

The speaker in the commercial is Bob Abell, whose auction house in the West Adams area of Los Angeles was ravaged by fire during last year's riots.

"So I went to see the expert staff ( at Commerce City Hall ). They went out of their way to help us. Their permit process is so streamlined that we were back in full swing in just two weeks."

The commercial, which has run several times a day this month on radio news stations KNX and KFWB, is part of a $206,000 advertising and marketing campaign launched this fall by city officials to lure new business to a city that has seen its corporate face change dramatically in the last couple of decades.

"In the '60s this was the Mecca for large heavy-manufacturing plants," said Justin McCarthy, deputy executive director of the Commerce Redevelopment Agency. "We had Uniroyal tires (now the Citadel shopping center), Chrysler, U.S. Steel. This place was booming."

But since 1960, the year the city was incorporated, the number of jobs in Commerce has dwindled from 80,000 to 47,000. Heavy industries have been replaced by light-manufacturing plants and other businesses with smaller payrolls.

The trend continued last year, when the 227 businesses that either left the city or ceased operation had more employees than the new businesses that moved in. One of the departing companies was Ingram Paper Co., which had 183 employees. That site was filled by Atlas Textiles, which has about 40 fewer workers.

City officials say they are a victim of the trend by big business to move out of state because of California's tough environmental regulations, costly workers' compensation system and the prolonged recession.

"We are in the same boat as everyone else," said Judy Rambeau, the city's public information officer, who is helping with the city-funded marketing effort. "We didn't want to wait until things got so terrible that we couldn't recover."

The advertising and marketing campaign was suggested by a marketing firm hired by the city to develop a plan to ensure that Commerce, with its population of about 12,100, is able to preserve its strong business climate.

"The city was created as an industrial city," Rambeau said. "That is what we do." More than 85% of the city's 6.6 square miles are set aside for business, she said.

The city launched its campaign nationally and locally with ads in business journals and trade publications, but also decided on the more unconventional radio ads "to give us more bang for the buck," Rambeau said.

She said she does not expect hordes of business owners to flock to the city after hearing the commercials. Still, the city has received dozens of telephone calls since the commercials began airing almost three weeks ago.

"Who knows, maybe there's some CEO sitting out there on the freeway listening to the ads," she said. "A year from now, when he's thinking about moving his business, maybe he'll remember it."

Abell said that when he moved his auction house to Commerce last year, he was looking for a temporary site while his gutted building near downtown was being rebuilt. But now he is thinking about staying for good.

"I feel like I am in a small town where the people at City Hall actually know you and help you," Abell said.

When he first moved to his Commerce building, for instance, there were only two bathrooms, not enough to accommodate the hundreds of people who come to his auctions each Thursday afternoon.

Instead of delaying the grand opening until enough bathrooms had been built, the city allowed Abell to set up portable toilets for the first few months of operation.

"Anywhere else, we would have had to wait," Abell said.

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