July 12, 2004 - From the October, 2001 issue

LA's Economic Action Summit Nov. 1st: Prioritizing The Region's Needs Post 9-11

The So. California economy is built on mobility. We are linked together by a series of infrastructure investments on land, in the air and across the ocean that help us deliver products, services and activities. 9/11's events have negatively affected mobility and the region's economy. And while no tangible evidence of destruction is visible on the West Coast, the lingering ramifications of Sept. 11 may come to rival some of the devastation felt on the East Coast. MIR is pleased to talk with Lee Harrington, President/CEO of the L.A. Economic Development Corporation and David Abel, program chair of a Nov. 1st Regional Economic Summit called by the Bd. of Supervisors, Mayors and LAEDC, to address what we all can do to both jump start our economic recovery and collaboratively invest in promising public/private initiatives.


Lee Harrington

The Planning Report noted last month that LAEDC Chairman David Fleming had called for a regional summit in hopes of combating the impending economic ramifications of 9/11. It is now scheduled for Nov. 1st. What necessitates such a summit?

Lee Harrington

President/CEO, LAEDC

The LAEDC staff met with the Board late last month to share information on possible negative economic scenarios resulting from the incidents of Sept. 11. That meeting heightened concerns that the Southern California region is on the verge of a significant economic downturn and that a plan needs to be implemented to proactively address the potential impact.

The Board was committed to creating an economic summit where strategies could be developed and supported by the greater Los Angeles region. The Economic Action Summit will help focus the region on available macroeconomic opportunities and infuse confidence back into the business community. The goal is to make sure that the economic downturn is a short-term phenomenon. L.A. County Supervisor Antonovich agreed and with the support of the other Supervisors offered to host the Summit.

David Abel

Boardmember, LAEDC

Economically, our region, like the northeast, has been negatively impacted by 9/11. But while we're a region that has a history of sucessfully grappling with tragic earthquakes and other crisis in proactive ways, the terrorism of September 11th produced no physical damage here, and thus the lingering economic effects are not as strikingly visual as ground zero. In the absence of TV images immediately galvanizing our community into action, it's been somewhat difficult to agree on a collective economic strategy.

In the process of planning for this Economic Summit, we are seeing the region's leadership coming together to develop serious strategies which are promising on both the macro- and micro-level. Business leaders are beginning to advocate new development paradigms that will help sub-regions actively return to economic stability and prosperity. And both public and private leaders are beginning to realize that our best solutions lie in partnerships with federal, state, county and city departments as well as in joint-ventures with the private sector. LAEDC is really at the nexus of all these possibilities and is a perfect entity to both bring our regional leaders to the table and to involve them in crafting strategic and pragmatic responses to our very real economic challenges.

What's the summit's objective? Who's invited? What's the hoped for outcome?

Lee Harrington

The objective is to reach consensus relative to what's in the region's best interest. In that regard, our hope is to bring together a variety of leaders-from the business community, chambers of commerce, Labor, as well as from the County, its 88 cities and legislators in Sacramento and Washington DC-to devise a plan that helps our economy move forward and continue to stimulate job and economic growth.

However, in a region the size of L.A. County the logistical challenge is always who to bring together and how to accomplish something in a half-day. That requires us to be extremely selective in identifying leadership that can flesh these ideas out and truly begin to implement some substantive changes.

One of the areas the summit will address is LAX. Describe what might come out of such a discussion. What are you hoping to accomplish?

Lee Harrington

Our region is a global player. And the ability to attract businesses from around the world is key to our continued economic prosperity and growth. The gateway to that market and our community is LAX. The visitors who pass through that portal-whether they're coming here for business or pleasure-are essential to the Southern California economy.

We need our gateway to remain attractive and viable. If we begin to lose business visitors and tourists, we will lose an important source of economic stimulus both from the standpoint of business contracts that link our region with the international markets and bring foreign investment here and the spending visitors bring with them when they travel to Los Angeles.

We need to make sure that LAX is the safest and most user-friendly airport in the country, if not in the world. If we set our sights any lower than that, we do significant damage to the long-term economy.

David Abel

We've already seen the impacts that Sept. 11 has had on the Anaheim economy, an economy that is essentially built on tourism and travel. The L.A. region is obviously more diverse than that of Anaheim, but in the long-term, we also must be able to combat the derivative and negative impacts on tourism, trade and mobility that a weakening of visitor and business travel may bring. The portal to LA for visitors and business alike is really LAX. It needs our immediate attention.

Another facet of that continued vibrancy could be an acceleration of public works projects. Describe the objective? How can that such stimulus effectively infuse capital into the L.A. economy?

Lee Harrington

We must identify the large players that have funding available and ready to invest in infrastructure. We need to find projects that are planning to break ground in the next 6 months and accelerate them. If they're not ready to go, we need to find what is. This is all about getting money into the economy, creating construction jobs and having people see economic activity in the region, now. That kind of activity will rekindle confidence in the region.

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While the big players will be the ones that are most beneficial to this economic investment, it can also be done at more local levels. We must begin to think in the same manner that we did after the Northridge earthquake and get projects done immediately.

With regard to specific projects, we are investigating that right now. We are checking with the big money spenders in this area such as Caltrans, the MTA and others to find out what is in the queue and whether or not that queue is moving forward.

David Abel

Commentators, from Peter Schrag in the State Capital to David Broder in Washington D.C., note that public opinion is rapidly changing -- government is no longer seen as trivial. Indeed, government can play a significant role in responding to terror and jump-starting the engines of our economic recovery.

State voters have been very generous in the last few years, funding transportation, parks and school facilities. We just need to speed the investment of these infrastructure dollars; we need to get our people working. It ought not take 10 years to build a school or 20 years to complete a transportation project. If we want to see the stimulant effect now, decisions to implement planned projects must be made expeditiously.

Also, regional leaders must do whatever we can to link arms with Washington, the State Capitol and local officials to assure that infrastructure projects move on a faster track.

The long-term ramifications of 9/11 on governance and infrastructure seem unquestioned. But what about the dislocation of workers and industries, particularly those formerly working at the airport or for the airlines? How will this conference deal with the growing number of dislocated workers?

Lee Harrington

Clearly, some of our industries are going to be more negatively affected than others. But some businesses may actually grow during this period. What that means is we're going to have dislocation. We're going to have people laid off in one industry, while another industry may be flourishing.

What we need to do is link the job seeker with the employer as quickly as possible. We need to make sure these dislocations are short-lived and that people with skills can be fit back into the economy. We have a number of agencies organized specifically for that purpose and there is a significant amount of State money that has been earmarked-possibly in the hundreds of millions of dollars-to help support that rapid reemployment model. That's the key to maintaining confidence and getting people back to work.

We've now surveyed the issues, workforce redeployment to public sector project acceleration, but what role can the private sector play? What's the message that they need to glean from this summit so that we have both the public and private sectors working as one to revive the economy?

Lee Harrington

There is an enormous amount of pent-up permitting and application activity within our local and county governments. If we could break them out of this logjam and help them move forward this will stimulate the economy. They are an important piece of this process for their projects not only create jobs from a construction standpoint, but also create jobs facilities where even more people will be employed. Just as one of our goals is to streamline public sector infrastructure investment, so too must our priorities include the fast-tracking of private sector development.

Address the potential of linking and leveraging the resources of the State, the Federal Government, and local institutions. Will 9/11 and the Nov. 1st Summit, lead to a common strategy? Can we finally look past the competitive jurisdictional boundary disputes that have constrained collective action in the past?

David Abel

There's nothing like a crisis to force focus and we certainly have a crisis. We need to have our congressional delegation working hand-in-hand with the private sector, our state leaders and the federal government so that we make sure that this region has a proactive investment program in place that takes advantage of our assets and is tailored to our needs. The Federal government must be part of the plan. They have the fiscal capacity right now.

Let's look to some future milestones. What's the timeline our readers should be looking towards for results, is it days, months, a year? What's the window?

Lee Harrington

Much of this, in the end, has to deal with confidence and changing current mindsets. If we can educate the community to think outside of the box and be receptive to these creative answers, we can and really begin to move some macroeconomic levers and see tangible results, possibly within the next 6 months. But that 6-month timeframe relies on small steps taken by each municipality and agency. To truly be effective we must look to the changes that they can make in 30-, 60-, 90-day increments. If we can implement those small, deliberate changes re: infrastructure investment, private sector streamlining and workforce redeployment, we will see positive changes and a rejuvenated economy. The LAX challenge on the other hand has both short- and long-term implications

David Abel

As was the case after both the Northridge and Bay Area earthquakes, if we all pull in the same direction, we can recover exponentially faster than if we go in different directions. Hopefully that message of leadership, collaboration and partnership will be gleaned from this summit and embedded in the language of any economic stimulus package emanating out of Washington D.C, the State and our local participants.

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