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ORANGE COUNTY AT WORK: CAREERS, COMPANIES, CORPORATE LIFE : PERSONAL VISIONS : County Business, Academic Leaders Look Ahead 25 Years : D. P. Kennedy, President, First American Title Insurance Co.

May 03, 1987|JOHN O'DELL | Assistant Business Editor

They've come to Orange County in droves in the past two decades; businesses big and small. There were almost 50,000 of them at last count.

And each year, hundreds more arrive; finding in Orange County the climate, the skilled labor pool, the living conditions, the proximity to major national and international markets and financial centers that make this area one of the prime business addresses in the world.

But every once in a while, lost in the publicity given to stories of growth and success, comes word that a business has left Orange County, or has looked the county over and decided to pass it by.

The deserters and the no-shows are barely a trickle, but they are an early sign that not all is perfect in paradise.

On the flip side of climate, life style and location are air pollution, traffic congestion, housing that many workers can't afford and an uncertainty about the adequacy of the county's water supply.

Mindful that, for all it has going for it, Orange County still has some serious problems to grapple with, The Times asked a group of county business and academic leaders to consider the future--the Orange County of 25 years from now.

None of them pretended to have all the solutions to the problems we face, but each offered a highly personal vision of where the county is going and suggestions as to what it will take to get it there.

Most of the writers were cheerfully upbeat; one offered a fairly pessimistic look at what is to come, and even the most optimistic acknowledged that we face serious problems as we work to keep what we have today from becoming legend tomorrow.

Best of all, each of the six articles that follows offers serious and well-thought suggestions--some sure to become controversial, all worthy of consideration--for beginning to come to grips with the future.

Trying to predict what will happen in the Orange County economy during the next 25 years is an especially interesting challenge, in that I can't seem to predict events six months ahead with any degree of accuracy.

Still, it seems evident that all metropolitan areas in America will continue to be plagued with problems of air pollution, congestion and high housing costs. Orange County will be no exception.

Pollution will be with us as long as petroleum products are essential to our existence, and I frankly don't see much hope of immediate relief, both because of the geography of the Los Angeles basin and the fact that heavy use of petroleum products undoubtedly will continue for at least 25 years.

But let's not fool ourselves. The difference between Orange County and other areas is substantial. First, of course, is the matchless climate. We also have easy access to mountains, deserts and seashore. And in recent years, unequaled cultural opportunities have become available, and more will come.

This is important because labor-intensive industries are in constant competition for personnel. The quality of schools, the climate, the shopping facilities, cultural facilities, transportation system and proximity to recreational areas all are factors when competing for personnel in the marketplace. Orange County wins on many of these points.

On the negative side, the cost of housing is high, in part the result of the law of supply and demand. At what point the high price will stifle demand is difficult to predict. The county is far from recession-proof, but so far even sharp recessions have had little effect on the price of land and housing in general in Orange County.

Adequate transportation facilities are one of the more significant elements necessary for a comfortable existence, and it must be admitted that the present public transportation systems are less than adequate.

We old-timers remember the Pacific Electric red cars. They were ugly and bumpy, but they took you wherever you wanted to go. As the freeway system was constructed, it became commonly accepted that both modes of transportation were not needed--a tragic mistake.

Bus transportation does not seem to be the answer--people seem to prefer almost anything to a bus. Subways, apparently, are not the solution for many reasons, foremost of which is prohibitive expense.

So freeway capacity, unfortunately, must be increased, and some sort of public transportation created. Freeway rights of way are in place, and the routes are designed to cover the basin. Maybe monorails down the middle of these freeways are the solution.

And surface transportation is not the only transportation concern. Adequate airport facilities must be created to service our county so that it may continue to be a strong economic unit. Here again, study upon study has been made, and some little progress has resulted.

Whether we solve the transportation and housing cost problems, however, and whether the pollution and congestion irritants are alleviated, Orange County will continue to grow.

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