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L.A. Wants Entrepreneurs to Give It the Business

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With 1,000 chief executives of the nation’s fastest-growing businesses in town for a conference, the city of Los Angeles has pulled out all the stops to encourage businesses to locate and expand in what it calls one of the world’s leading entrepreneurial centers.

“Los Angeles: Where the Future Begins” and “Los Angeles: The Opportunity Starts Here,” trumpet glossy handouts distributed by the city as part of a $600,000 promotional campaign in connection with Inc. magazine’s annual conference, which began Thursday.

City officials are using the three-day gathering--which recognizes fast-growing businesses--as an opportunity to counter Los Angeles’ stubborn negative business image and display the region before entrepreneurs with expansion dollars in their pockets.

The effort may be working, according to some business owners attending the convention, who reacted positively to what they perceived as the city’s improved business climate.

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“I’m impressed with the options,” said Peg Cheirrett, co-owner of Seattle-based Wasser Inc.

Cheirrett, 47, who runs a technical staffing company with $10.2 million in sales last year, said she spent Thursday driving around Los Angeles and was surprised at the development downtown and other areas.

“I was used to thinking smog and too much traffic and anti-business policies in Los Angeles,” she said.

Cathy Stansfield, marketing director for the mayor’s L.A. Business Team, said she spoke to some business owners who initially thought that expanding in Los Angeles would be too much trouble. But they were surprised to hear of the opportunities available here, she said.

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“It’s always amazing how little people know about L.A.,” she said.

That lack of knowledge is common nationwide, said George Gendron, editor in chief of Boston-based Inc.

“The health and vitality of the economy out here, particularly Southern California, is not understood on the part of the national press and particularly the business press,” Gendron said.

Silicon Valley and Route 128 in the Boston area are nationally recognized high-tech business centers, he said. But Southern California’s entrepreneurial success in the same fields is not well known, even among business analysts, he said.

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Yet California consistently outnumbers other states on the Inc. 500 list of the nation’s fastest-growing companies. This year, 85 California companies made the list, 36 of them from the Los Angeles region.

Mayor Richard Riordan, recognizing the area’s image problem, decided to put in a bid to host the gathering--even though for the last 14 years it has been sponsored by states.

But the mayor organized a team of Los Angeles economic development organizations and corporations to put on the marketing blitz and raise money. The campaign includes forays to Worldport L.A., the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and tours of NBC studios in Burbank, as well as traditional tourist stops such as Venice Beach.

Riordan welcomed the executives to Los Angeles on Thursday night at a Universal Studios bash where business owners got on board the brand-new Jurassic Park River Adventure ride. Dozens of volunteers are buttonholing the executives and staffing Los Angeles information and economic development booths at the Century Plaza Hotel, the conference site.

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“This is part of cleaning up the perception,” Riordan said. “The reality is excellent; the perception is not.”

Riordan said the event is a perfect opportunity to expose the city to small and medium-sized businesses that will be growing and creating the jobs of the future.

Brett Beveridge, 31, chairman and founder of Miami-based Let’s Talk Cellular of America Inc., is one of those owners.

With 27 retail stores in six states, Beveridge will add 77 stores in the next 12 months. A visit to Los Angeles two years ago persuaded him that the area would not be part of that expansion plan because of rental, building and labor costs.

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But after revisiting malls here before the conference, he said he found leasing companies offering him incentives.

“Times have changed a little bit,” he said. “It kind of opened our eyes. Before I would say we’re definitely going to stay away, I would need to re-look at Los Angeles to see if it fits into our expansion plans.”


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