CALIFORNIA BUSINESS MINUTE’S
A PRACTITIONER’S PERSPECTIVE
An interview series with business, community, workforce,
redevelopment and economic development professionals in
California dedicated to its economic health and well being
ENDORSING, EDUCATING AND
EFFECTING ECONOMIC CHANGE IN
Questions and Answers with Bill Allen
Los Angeles County
Economic Development Corporation, LAEDC
Los Angeles is the largest city in California and the second largest city in the nation with a
population of 3.8 million. Los Angeles County is the largest county in the state but also in the
nation with a population of 9.8 million. Also, if the Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area were
a nation, it would be ranked as the 16th or 17th largest economy in the world by its Gross
Domestic Product. The size coupled with its diverse nature of the economy keeps Bill Allen, the
President and CEO of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, (LAEDC)
very busy. Through his leadership has come the formulation of a countywide economic
development strategic plan. It is endorsed by 84 local jurisdictions and dozens upon dozens of
private sector organizations in the county. It is a plan for economic performance. Bill has been
leading the effort through a variety of initiatives through education to effect change to sustain and
diversify the region’s economy. Bill has generously provided us with an insider’s view to the Los
Angeles economy and the efforts of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation
to understand the ―Economy of Angels.‖
How long have you been working in business/economic development? How long with the
current organization? How long in California?
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I was privileged to head an entertainment studio, MTM
Television, where we produced hit shows such as Remington Steele, St. Elsewhere and
Newhart. My transition from the entertainment industry, in which I worked for nearly 20 years, to
economic development was more of a natural progression than one might imagine especially
when you compare my duties as a studio president and an economic development CEO. It’s all
about helping people achieve their dreams whether it involves putting the necessary resources
together to help a creative writer produce a hit television series, or putting the necessary
Interview with Bill Allen, LAEDC
economic resources together to help an entrepreneur grow his or her business. And there is no
better place to do either job than right here in the entertainment, manufacturing and international
trade capital of the world.
I was later given the opportunity to lead the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley as its
first CEO in 1996, where we launched programs to expand international trade, improve local
education and work force development, and develop viable solutions to regional transportation
challenges (including three regional transit planning summits in 1997 and 1998, which led to the
creation of the highly successful Orange Line in the Valley). And as CEO of the Los Angeles
County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) since 2006, we have embarked on trade
missions to China, India, Berlin and London to attract businesses to L.A. County, expanded the
reach and impact of our Business Assistance Program, bolstered our marketing efforts by
launching a website dedicated to attracting businesses to the region, and augmented our Kyser
Center for Economic Research and our Economic and Policy Analysis Group with three Ph.D.
economists now on staff.
And more recently, the LAEDC facilitated the development of the county’s first-ever consensus
strategic plan for economic development with the input of more than 1,070 stakeholders
throughout the county to strengthen the economy, improve the environment and invigorate our
communities. The Los Angeles County Strategic Plan for Economic Development identifies
12 objectives and 52 strategies to achieve five core aspiration goals: Prepare an Educated
Workforce, Create a Business-friendly Environment, Implement Smart Land Use, Build 21
Century Infrastructure and Enhance Our Quality of Life. Since the Plan’s completion in 2009, it
has been unanimously endorsed by L.A. County Board of Supervisors and 84 of the County’s 88
What are the current challenges/opportunities facing your community?
L.A. County boasts a huge and strikingly diverse economy, which provides boundless
opportunities for businesses in the region. The county’s regional assets include the nation’s
largest seaport, the world’s busiest origin and destination airport (Los Angeles International or
LAX), three world-renown research universities, and a region with a gross domestic product that
is larger than that of Sweden, Saudi Arabia or Taiwan, supported by $500 billion in annual
economic activity spread across 15 dynamic export-oriented industry clusters.
However, despite these attributes, L.A. County has markedly underperformed in job creation in
recent decades. During the past 30 years, the County of Los Angeles and its 88 cities have
added more than 2.8 million new residents, but have only created about 457,000 net new jobs.
Even more troubling, the City of Los Angeles, which represents about 40 percent of the County’s
population, added nearly a million new residents, but did not create a single net new job during
this three decade period; in fact, the City of L.A. actually lost jobs during that time period. This
trend is simply not sustainable for a region looking to protect its fast-dwindling middle class, and
to bridge the ever widening chasm between the rich and poor. This inspired the LAEDC to
facilitate the development of the strategic plan for economic development to spur economic
recovery and job creation.
What, if any programs, (new or established) are or have you deployed to enhance your
community in the effort weather the current economic conditions?
Our most recent development to enhance our community and spur economic development is the
Strategic Plan. I’m pleased to say that since the Plan’s completion in late 2009, the first year of
implementation for the Strategic Plan (during the 2010 calendar year) has been documented in
an Annual Report (available at www.LACountyStrategicPlan.com). It highlights the successes and
Interview with Bill Allen, LAEDC
outcomes that have taken place throughout the county. Countless organizations and businesses
throughout the region have provided us with successes related to the goals, objectives and
strategies contained in the plan. The successes indicate that measurable progress is being made
toward the goals of the Plan.
In addition to the Strategic Plan’s implementation, our Business Assistance team, which is
comprised of Regional Managers who cover geographic territories of the county, is working with a
number of the Workforce Investment Boards to specifically target at-risk firms for business
assistance. We identify firms using a variety of methods including financial filings, and then meet
with them, assess their situation and connect them to services or programs that can positively
impact their bottom line. Known in Workforce Investment Board (WIB) circles as ―layoff aversion,‖
we have worked with the South Bay, South East Los Angeles County (SELACO), Pacific
Gateway, South East Area Social Services Funding Authority (SASSFA) and the Los Angeles
City WIB on this program.
We have also made a concerted effort to introduce area
firms to the value of exporting. Exports represent only
11 percent of American GDP, but there is an ever
increasing market for American goods and services.
Through our World Trade Center Association Los
Angeles-Long Beach, we are working directly with firms
to explain and expedite exporting as a positive effort to
generate increased sales. We are also working to attract
foreign direct investment (FDI). Over 10 percent of the
jobs in Los Angeles County are related to FDI, and
expanding that investment will create more jobs here.
In fact, our recent trade mission to London and Berlin, led by Vance Baugham the President of
our World Trade Center Association for Los Angeles and Long Beach, resulted in the attraction of
Daimler-Benz opening their first North American driving academy here in the region. We also
expect more investment into L.A. County as a result of this and past trade missions.
Is business in your community being impacted by the credit crisis? If so, what if anything
are you doing to assist the community with this issue?
Obtaining traditional bank loans continues to be a challenge for small and medium-sized
businesses. However, we have made concentrated efforts to connect businesses with non-
traditional lenders and SBA loan programs. We are working with nonprofits such as the Valley
Economic Development Center (VEDC) and government agencies that are direct lenders to
businesses, and promoting the various SBA product lines, including the 504 and 7a products.
Has your community lost or gained any significant business in the last year? (in excess of
$50 million annual payroll or 100 employees)?
Businesses that remain in the region contribute to the economy through tax revenue benefit to
local and state government, which is why our efforts have been focused on business retention
during this difficult economic period. The return on investment for business assistance programs
is highest if the focus is on retention – particularly in challenging economic periods. An example
of a significant retention was Health Net, located in the San Fernando Valley region of Los
Angeles County. Our Business Assistance Team worked with various entities to retain Health
Net – and over 1,800 jobs for Los Angeles. Since 1996, our Business Assistance Program,
(BAP) has helped to attract or retain more than 171,000 jobs for the people of Los Angeles
County. This translates to more than $8.4 billion in direct economic impact from salaries and
Interview with Bill Allen, LAEDC
more than $144 million in annual tax revenue benefit to local governments and education in the
In April 2010, the City of L.A. announced the successful culmination of an 18-month international
attraction effort by the LAEDC to recruit BYD, China’s leading electric car manufacturer. We
worked closely with L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich to attract BYD, and met with their
leadership multiple times to solicit their commitment to choose L.A. County as their gateway to
the North America market. Vance Baugham also led a delegation of local experts to BYD’s China
headquarters as part of our attraction efforts. BYD’s announcement to establish the U.S.
headquarters for three of their operating divisions has the potential to create up to 2,000 jobs over
the next several years.
Has your organization recently completed any significant economic research? If so, what
was the topic of it? And if so what did it tell you and what are your plans in response to
Our Kyser Center for Economic Research led by Chief Economist Dr. Nancy Sidhu recently
issued the 2011 International Trade Trends report, which highlights the trade activity at the ports
of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and provides an outlook for the international trade community
for the coming year. As the two largest ports in the nation, which together handle more than 40
percent of all the waterborne cargo coming into the United States, international trade is a vital
economic engine that creates thousands of jobs for the region; therefore, we believe this report
will better inform those working in the international trade community. The report is available at
Earlier this year, we released the second-in-a-series of key country reports. The Growing
Together: Japan and Los Angeles County report describes many of the close economic,
education, business and cultural ties that have developed between Los Angeles County and
Japan, the number one source of foreign direct investment into L.A. County. Similarly, our first
key country report, which was issued in 2010, Growing Together: China and Los Angeles County,
described the many close ties that have developed between L.A. County and China, which is the
region’s number one trading partner into L.A. County.
And in late June, we are releasing our seminal report on the greening of the L.A. County
economy, which was produced by our Economic & Policy Analysis Group. The Greening of the
Los Angeles County Economy report examines the Los Angeles region’s $500 billion economy
with the goal of evaluating the challenges and opportunities that arise from greening the
economy. The focus on Los Angeles County includes an analysis of the region’s 15 export-
oriented industry clusters and nine population-serving sectors to determine those areas where job
creation is most promising and where a leadership position by the county business community is
What are the future challenges/opportunities facing your community?
Our challenge is and continues to be job creation and reducing the still too high rate of
unemployment in our region. As the economic development organization for all of L.A. County,
which is a region of more than 10 million people, our goal is to attract businesses – the creators
of jobs – for the people of L.A. County. However, our Business Assistance Program has had
great success attracting or retaining businesses to our region. Since 1996, our BAP team has
attracted or retained more than 171,000 jobs for our communities. As well, our trade missions
have resulted in companies establishing their operations in the county, which also create much-
needed jobs for our communities.
Interview with Bill Allen, LAEDC
What is your community’s strongest asset(s) and why?
In addition to our unparalleled geographic, climate, economic and infrastructure assets, the L.A.
County community’s strongest asset is its ability to come together in a consensus fashion around
a set of principles such as those outlined in the Strategic Plan for Economic Development. The
Strategic Plan was developed with input from more than 1,070 stakeholders from business, labor,
education, environmental, faith-based groups and community organizations representing a
multitude of perspectives, many different socio-economic classes and a variety of demographic
profiles to identify a set objectives and strategies to achieve the five core aspirational goals
contained in the Plan. Despite differing viewpoints and missions, the group of stakeholders came
together to achieve a common goal of shared prosperity for the betterment of the region. The
economic malaise of the past several years has brought our community together to identify
solutions to improving and addressing our region’s workforce, business climate, land use policies,
infrastructure and quality of life issues.
The consensus process by which the plan was developed is now being evaluated and used by
other regions throughout the state to develop their own economic recovery strategy.
What is your organization’s strongest partnership and why?
We are fortunate to have many strong partnerships with the business community, other economic
development organizations and with city governments which help us achieve our mission of
attracting, retaining and growing businesses and jobs for the regions of L.A. County. We work
with local city governments to help develop business retention and attraction strategies through
our BAP team and, more recently, we have been working with the cities in the county as they
implement the objectives and strategies of the Strategic Plan that best related to their city’s
priorities. We have also forged strong partnerships at the state level which have led to
measurable progress and, in some cases, successes related to the Strategic Plan’s
One recent major success was the announcement from Governor Brown
which exempted the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development
(OSHPD) from a government-wide hiring freeze, allowing the agency to
begin addressing a multibillion dollar backlog of approvals for hospital
construction projects. This exemption will allow the agency to fill 26
positions in its facilities development division, and expand the division’s
overall employment by about 10 percent. The lift on the freeze paves the
way for new construction jobs in our state’s decimated construction sector, which has lost more
than 300,000 jobs since the Recession began and greater structural safety at statewide hospitals.
This is truly a significant development that could lead to the creation of thousands of much-
needed jobs right now for our region and our state.
What business or economic trends do you see for your community and for California?
Economic research information from our Kyser Center tells us that Los Angeles County is in the
early stages of economic recovery with the region’s major industries including international trade,
tourism and entertainment leading the way. Currently, the recovery is spreading to firms in other
industries such as business and professional services.
But according to our Chief Economist, Dr. Nancy Sidhu, conditions in construction are poor for
housing and no better than middling for nonresidential and publicly-financed projects. And local
governments are facing difficult decisions due to severe budget constraints. Employment in the
area’s school districts, city and county governments has been shrinking, and the labor markets
Interview with Bill Allen, LAEDC
are lagging the recovery. The good news, however, is that employment is rising albeit at a
modest pace, but the bad news is that the county’s unemployment rate remains high.
California’s economy is a bit farther along in its economic recovery than the Los Angeles area.
The state’s list of leading industries includes—in addition to those cited above for Los Angeles—
agriculture and high tech. Currently, the recovery is spreading to firms in other industries such as
business and professional services. California’s labor market indicators are marginally better
than Los Angeles.
Nevertheless, California used to lead the nation in GDP growth. If we want to do so again, we
simply must address the impediments to economic and job growth which reduce our
competitiveness: the high cost of doing business, the complexity and volume of regulations on
businesses of all sizes and the declining quality of our K-12 education system, which affects both
our quality of life and workforce. That is why we have encouraged everyone to take part in the
implementation of the Strategic Plan. There is a role for everyone to play and the time is now to
begin effectuating transformational change in our own communities. We are asking our
colleagues and friends to start by endorsing the Strategic Plan, educating others about it and
what they can do to better their communities and advocating for a policy environment that
supports the implementation of the Plan’s goals, objectives and strategies. We believe that
through collective community participation we can begin to address these issues.
For further information, contact the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, 444 South Flower Street,
34th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90071,Phone: (213) 622-4300,Toll Free: (888) 4-LAEDC-1 / (888) 452-3321,Fax: (213) 622-
7100 or www.laedc.org
Interview with Bill Allen, LAEDC