Glendale absent from pro-business list

DOWNTOWN — The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation announced its award for the region’s most business-friendly city Thursday — and it wasn’t Glendale or Burbank.

The cities, which have both been finalists for the distinction in the past, did not apply for the award this year, even as they maneuver to appear more inviting for businesses looking to relocate or expand.

Long Beach was named the most business-friendly city with a population of more than 60,000 and Santa Fe Springs took the honor in the small city category, the corporation announced.

The distinctions will likely prove to be rewarding for the winners during a recession when ballooning unemployment and increasingly empty office buildings have stirred cities into a competitive frenzy to draw expanding companies and the jobs they might bring with them, said Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

“This is important because you have other cities in L.A. County trying to steal businesses away, and then a more dangerous situation is that you have other states in Southern California trying to lure businesses out of Southern California,” Kyser said.

But Glendale and Burbank officials were confident that past achievements and recent efforts to make the cities more welcoming would pay off even without the distinction.

Each city was in transition and developing a new approach to economic development when applications were due and may apply for the award next year, officials said.

Both cities emphasized their advantages as being tax-free for businesses and their ability to hand-hold companies through permitting and other legal processes that could sometimes be a burden for entrepreneurs.

Adding to those efforts, Burbank is in the developing an innovation zone that could attract high-tech and medical services companies, adding to the substantial media and creative industries present in the region, Economic Development Manager Mary Hamzoian said.

The city is also revamping its marketing with new advertisements in business publications and hotel catalogs, Hamzoian said.

Glendale recently contracted with a marketing firm to help give the city a recognizable brand and image that might draw more shoppers and businesses to the area. But the city will not be able to start putting a plan into action until mid-2010.

Officials are also developing plans for a downtown business improvement district in Glendale, but it will also be months before that effort to provide additional marketing and support for area merchants will be ready for implementation.

In the meantime, the city is aggressively advertising through its website and fielding inquiries about business expansion in Glendale, said Ken Hitts, the city’s economic development manager.

If more businesses relocate in the area, it will mean more jobs and economic activity, Hitts said.

“I think clearly America is crying out for job creation at the highest levels of government,” he said. “I think it’s incumbent upon us as economic development [officials] and for cities to basically do what we can to help put people back to work.”

Similar efforts to those undertaken by Glendale and Burbank made the difference for Long Beach, a city of more than 500,000 people that won the award, in part, because of its proactive ombudsmen, said Carrie Rogers, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation’s vice president of business assistance and development, who reviewed award applications.

Long Beach also set itself apart with “the Rolls-Royce” of career transitional centers, which worked aggressively with employers and job-seekers to fill vacancies and keep businesses moving, Rogers said.

Those efforts will now give Long Beach added clout with companies that, even during the recession, have continued to inquire about the best places to locate their operations in the Los Angeles area, Rogers said.

“Each week we probably have maybe three or four new businesses that are looking for places to relocate or expand in Los Angeles County and when they see that cities are business-friendly . . . those become very important factors.”

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