Jewish Journal


June 30, 2005

Mayor Should Foster Economic Growth


The hopes and expectations carried by Antonio Villaraigosa as he takes the helm of the city could at first appear to be monumentally daunting. After all, the diversity of our population, our geography, our economy seem in so many ways to be unmanageable.

And while the new mayor won election by appealing to a wide array of constituencies, those groups will all be looking to him to move their agendas forward -- agendas that don't always coincide.

What can a mayor do?

The answer, I believe, lies in looking at the common desire of all races, religions and neighborhoods: a desire for economic advancement, for a better life. Whether by creating access to work or access to capital, encouraging job creation activity in the city has a clear and demonstrable impact on all our residents.

And the impact is not limited to the pocketbook -- it extends to the quality of our lives. A robust economy, one encouraged and fostered by city government, provides an alternative to the streets for our young people, which in turn reduces crime. And when our residents feel safer to be out on the streets, they are more inclined to patronize local businesses, continuing the cycle of growth.

How, then, to give an immediate push to the sort of business activity that will benefit us all?

Villaraigosa's efforts in the weeks since his election -- making the rounds of business and community groups and, more concretely, playing an active role in addressing recent high school violence and helping broker a deal to settle the long-running hotel labor strife, are steps in the right direction. They generate the sort of publicity that attracts business interest and, in the case of the hotels, yield immediate real-world results.

But they are first steps.

Most promising so far has been his pledge during the campaign to reinvigorate the L.A. Business Team that I developed as deputy mayor under Mayor Richard Riordan. During the campaign, Villaraigosa rightly pointed out the gains we made by focusing on economic development.

True success, however, will be measured in what comes out of a new Business Team. It would operate under the direction of the highly regarded Bud Ovrom, the former Burbank city manager, now serving as chief executive of the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles.

Promoting economic growth involves both playing to our strengths and bolstering areas in which we are weak. The road map is, in many ways, already in place.

In its forecast for 2005, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC), which tracks the regional economy, predicted that the aerospace, international trade, tourism and motion picture industries should continue to show signs of strength. Those, along with the real estate market, have been mainstays of our economy. Villaraigosa has already pledged to retain film and television production in Los Angeles, and he's begun to exert his influence at the Port of Los Angeles.

But there's cause for worry in the manufacturing sector, where the LAEDC predicts ongoing employment declines. Manufacturers create wealth. While many of these jobs are moving overseas to places like China, a good number are moving to neighboring states.

What's more, projected job gains in the hospitality, information services and administrative services sectors are lower-paying jobs, create no wealth and do little to foster an environment in which our residents can achieve home ownership. This is an especially daunting prospect in a market where the median home price is closing in on $500,000.

A program that encourages the establishment of new businesses -- especially smaller businesses -- and acts as a lure to draw existing companies to Los Angeles will add to the tax base, boost our modest employment growth rate and spur other start-up ventures. These efforts can come in the form of tax reform for start-ups and businesses that relocate, assistance in site selection, further streamlining the permitting process at all city departments. These strategies have not been used to their fullest effect over the last several years.

During the Riordan years, we also spearheaded the formation of Genesis L.A., a public-private partnership designed to create jobs by revitalizing lagging industrial and retail sites through debt and equity investments in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. The need for such investment now is greater than ever.

The challenge, of course, is negotiating the more compelling tug-of-war between Villaraigosa's supporters in organized labor and the employers that fuel our growth. It's not an easy task, but it's not insurmountable.

One of Riordan's greatest strengths was bringing labor and entrepreneurs together. That partnership delivered a future for Los Angeles. Incentives that serve to lure business and encourage entrepreneurial expansion can be coupled with the understanding that a well-trained, well-paid workforce also is necessary.

What's needed is a visionary commitment to job creation that comes from understanding that a skilled workforce, coupled with an environment that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation, will have a ripple effect throughout the region.

Strong leadership in this regard will assure that the city of Los Angeles can continue to be the engine of prosperity for Southern California.

Rockard J. Delgadillo, the Los Angeles city attorney, was deputy mayor for economic development under Mayor Richard Riordan.


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