In a switch to a higher-profile marketing approach, the Orange County Economic Development Corp. will spend close to one-fifth of its yearly budget of $250,000 on an exhibit spotlighting some of the products and services offered by 85 of the county's businesses.
The exhibit, ShowCase '86, is billed by the EDC as the largest display of Orange County goods and services to date. According to the EDC's newsletter, the two-day event--to be held Feb. 28 and March 1--is designed to "educate the general public about the diversity of the county's economy."
Frank L. Smith, executive director of the EDC, speaks more glowingly of the trade show's purpose.
"We've got a bigger economy than Ireland or Israel, and it's important for the public to see and experience the products like cellular telephones, talking computers--even a talking lamp--that are helping expand that economy," Smith said. "I think the potential of the ShowCase is substantial, particularly in stimulating new ideas. Judging from the interest we've gotten, we anticipate making it a yearly event."
The show, he said, is "an opportunity for Orange County to blow its own horn. We manufacture parts for the space shuttle, heart valves, amino acids. We're a world-renowned leader in pharmaceuticals. Nowhere in the world is a heart operation performed in which there isn't at least one part from Orange County. We're surpassing the Silicon Valley in high tech telecommunications. We make everything from yachts to dories to some of the best oranges in the world."
Private, Nonprofit Agency
The 10-year-old EDC, which only recently developed a healthy budget by instituting membership dues rather than subsisting on grants from county government, is designed to take up where the county Chamber of Commerce leaves off, Smith says. The private, nonprofit agency works to lure businesses to the county and to ensure that those businesses already in the county expand.
"What we're interested in is quality and diversified growth. Obviously, we don't want to attract strip mining to Orange County," Smith said.
Smith, whose last job was running the Olympic Village at UCLA, has been the EDC director for a little more than a year. With the help of the EDC executive committee--which includes the heads of some of the county's biggest companies--he has made marketing Orange County a high priority.
An award-winning video extolling Orange County's economic benefits has been shown at a variety of EDC-sponsored events. But, by Smith's account, the largest marketing project the EDC has attempted under his stewardship is the ShowCase.
"Basically, we want to stimulate some interest by having county companies put their wares on display. Economic development in the '80s has gone through a maturing process. You can't just wine and dine executives and woo companies here. We're not a front runner (in attracting new business) anymore and what we need is a more sophisticated approach. ShowCase is part of that."
Show Held in San Diego
Impetus for the exhibit--slated for the Birtcher Tech Center in Santa Ana--came from a similar show sponsored by the San Diego EDC, generally regarded as one of the more aggressive development corporations in the state.
"We looked around to see what other things had been done to stimulate interest in quality growth," Smith said. "Several years ago, San Diego did a show and 39 companies participated. Facetiously, I told my staff to set a goal of 40 businesses so we could do at least one better than San Diego."
Invitations were sent to 700 county businesses and public entities and Smith said he finally had to limit participants to 85 companies. Some of the businesses participating include large firms like General Telephone, Pacific Bell, Northrop and Times Mirror.
Smaller Companies, Too
But smaller companies like Original Musical Instrument Co. Inc., which manufactures guitars and other stringed instruments, and Sleep at Sea with J, a firm that makes yacht and recreational vehicle linens, are showing their wares. And several biotechnology firms, which Smith says will be the "growth industry of the 1990s," also are represented, as are developers like the Irvine Co. and Birtcher.
Admission is free and there is no cost to the companies that will display their wares, Smith said. Birtcher donated use of one of the buildings at its Tech Center, he said, and most of the $40,000 to $50,000 cost of the event has been pumped into public service announcements touting the exhibit and into invitations to venture-capital groups, schools and colleges throughout the county.