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Action, Not Anger, Will Keep Business in L.A. : Ventura County Effort Reflects Need to Look at Big Picture

In a move that could be viewed as a common-sense approach to Southern California’s continuing economic woes or as scavenger-like opportunism at its worst, Ventura County officials have set up a coalition to attract quake-ravaged businesses from the San Fernando Valley. The coalition plans to spend $30,000 to promote and assist the effort, running ads in Valley newspapers and on Valley radio stations. It will also offer a toll-free telephone line, a fast-track permit process and other relocation assistance to Los Angeles businesses mulling temporary or permanent relocations.

The newly formed Partners in Action coalition insists that its goals are to be a good neighbor and to keep in Southern California those businesses that might be considering an out-of-state or out-of-region move. “This is not aimed at stealing businesses,” said coalition spokesperson Dana Weber Young.

Valley boosters are outraged, saying that efforts to lure firms and merchants to cross the county line could destroy the Valley’s economic base.

“If these are my neighbors, God forbid what my enemies might do,” said Ben Reznik, chairman of the Earthquake Recovery Task Force for the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. “They’re thinking very selfishly. If they were thinking about the region, they wouldn’t be doing this.”

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The anger of Reznik and others is understandable, but Los Angeles and Valley officials had better get used to the new competitive climate.

Besides, the argument is weakened considerably when one considers that the new leader of VICA, the Valley’s premier business group, expects to move half of his manufacturing firm out of the state this year. “I’m not willing to jeopardize my business to stay in California,” said Walter W. Mosher Jr., VICA chairman and president of Precision Dynamics Corp., located in the city of San Fernando.

That decision apparently has less to do with the quake and more to do with the workers’ compensation problems and government regulations that Mosher says are steadily driving manufacturers out of the state.

The fact of the matter is that localities and the state have to respond in kind in what has become an increasingly competitive environment. In that regard, perhaps the following rules of thumb should apply. If a business can’t be persuaded to remain in Los Angeles, it would be best if it could be persuaded to stay somewhere within Los Angeles County.

Short of that, a move somewhere within the regional economy would be the next-best thing. And it would be far better if that business stayed somewhere in California rather than crossing state lines.

On a local level, Santa Clarita has taken a series of steps, shifting from what was already an aggressive campaign to attract new employers to the short-term, post-quake goal of simply keeping what it already has.

It is doing so by waiving permit and inspection fees for quake reconstruction or repair projects and by keeping those businesses apprised of disaster-relief programs. Santa Clarita has also applied for state grants to set up an assistance center for businesses with long-term problems resulting from the quake.

There also needs to be more of the kind of effort put forth by the city of Palmdale. It produced a major local campaign to keep Packard Bell Electronics Inc. in the area when the computer firm was being wooed by Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore. Los Angeles quickly fell out of the running.

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It’s not going to be enough to claim that other jurisdictions are unfairly trying to capitalize on the Northridge quake or hope that businesses look at something other than their bottom line when out-of-state cities come calling. Palmdale and Santa Clarita are setting the right example.


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