Starting this week, William C. "Bill" Allen will provide economic advice and services to 88 cities, more than 200,000 businesses and about 4.5 million workers. As the new chief executive of the nonprofit Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., Allen, the son of Jayne Meadows and the late Steve Allen, takes over from Lee K. Harrington, who oversaw the LAEDC during a decade when 100,000 new jobs were retained or created and $65 million in annual county tax revenue was generated. A former entertainment executive with CBS and MTM Enterprises, Allen also is president of Meadowlane Enterprises, which licenses a library of classic television series.
Why is the LAEDC important for Los Angeles County?
It's critically important to have a strong, proactive organization here to ensure the county's economic health, growth and competitiveness. Part of that equation is to keep our companies here. Our companies are some of the most creative, innovative and entrepreneurial in the country, and they're constantly targeted by other regions for relocation prospects. We must identify the needs and challenges companies face here and make this an attractive home for them to stay and grow.
What are LAEDC's major challenges as you take up residence there?
No. 1 is traffic congestion, which severely limits the ability to move goods and people. The other is affordable housing. L.A. County's extraordinary growth engine is our Los Angeles/Long Beach ports complex. More than 40% of all the goods coming in and out of ports in the United States pass through the Los Angeles/Long Beach ports. And all 50 states and the District of Columbia receive these goods, not just the West. If you can't get the goods to the rest of the country, other ports of entry will be found.
Who are the big players in this port-to-shelf circle?
The top countries are, of course, the Asian countries: China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea. And the top importers are the biggest retailers in the country: Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target, Costco, IKEA, Sears. Ships are getting larger and larger. We now have ships that can hold 8,000 containers, and I think some are being designed to hold 12,000.
If you could speak to only one business cluster about helping L.A.'s business growth, which would it be and why?
Personally, I'd like to involve more of my entertainment industry colleagues. They're highly creative, innovative people, not only the artists but the business people. It's a very compassionate community that's been involved in healthcare, medical research, education, the arts. I'd like to invite them--and that's broadly defined: film, television, music, video games, etc.--to join our board, participate in this critical county discussion and add their insight and talents.
They're also global marketing geniuses.
Absolutely right. I don't think Los Angeles is best at communicating its unique advantages to the right markets. We don't just need a generic 'I Love L.A.' campaign. We need a highly targeted campaign that says why I Love L.A. and why you should bring your business and talents here. We also have to bring people who want to build their lives, families and careers here so we can have the most talented workforce available. We also need a strategic marketing campaign to go after the next big-boom industries, like biomed in the past. We do have the video game industry settling here now, which is such a huge component of the entertainment industry.
What is L.A. County's most underused, under-promoted business asset?
I'd say it's our three world-class research universities: USC, UCLA and Caltech. They're in the process of developing all sorts of technologies, scientists and engineers who will grow the next generation of these technology-oriented businesses in Los Angeles. I don't think we've done enough to promote them. In the broader sense, L.A.'s creative capacity is our most under-promoted business asset. Whether it's entertainment, apparel design, auto design, furniture design, high technology, the creativity of the L.A. County economy is unparalleled in the world. No one comes close. That's one thing we'll be promoting: L.A. is the creative capital of the world.