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ORANGE COUNTY AT WORK: CAREERS, COMPANIES, CORPORATE LIFE : PERSONAL VISIONS : County Business, Academic Leaders Look Ahead 25 Years : Art Perrone Jr., President, Geneva Business Services Inc.

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.

Before discussing what the future will hold for Orange County, a review of the county's past and the reasons for its growth is necessary.

The population grew rapidly after World War II, from 200,000 in 1950 to more than 1.4 million in 1970. The pace slackened during the next decade, hitting 1.9 million in 1980. And so far in the 1980s, growth has slowed to a trickle, with the population in 1986 just slightly more than 2 million.

But by the thousands or by the dozens, people have come to Orange County for economic opportunities and the quality of life.

The challenge will be to continue to maintain an economic base that provides job opportunities and deals with issues that affect the quality of life--issues like housing, transportation, education, space, clean air and crime.

The economic environment has been good, and remains good. The American dream of taking risks and making it big flourishes here.

Orange County has become the third largest recipient of venture capital in the nation (behind the Silicon Valley and the Boston area) and has been one of the leading counties in the country in terms of initial public stock offerings by companies seeking a broader base of financing.

This area is an incubator for new ideas and technology and is filled with hundreds of small businesses, the bulk of which are in the industries of tomorrow.

The county is very attractive to foreign investment, especially in real estate and selected technology and distribution-based companies. And foreign investment will continue to be attracted here because of the quality of life and because the new tax reform act has made the United States a tax haven for both foreign corporations and individuals.

Therefore, the conditions are such that we should see a continued healthy economy over the next five to 10 years.

But beyond that, the economic base could be endangered if we do not address ourselves to the reasons beyond work that people choose to live in an area.

If we don't deal with these issues intelligently, we will create an imbalanced labor force, with a shifting of people out of the area.

I believe that several major problems have become severe enough that they already are eroding the quality of life.

Transportation is the first.

We are a county of cars, without adequate highways. There are 1.6 million cars in Orange County--12,600 vehicles per freeway mile. More than any other county in the state, where the average is 3,700 vehicles per freeway mile.

As bad as the conditions are, and each day they get worse, they are apparently not bad enough that residents want to dip into their pockets to solve them. County voters rejected a 1984 ballot initiative to increase the sales tax to pay for transportation improvement projects.

The second major problem is housing. Affordable housing here is almost a joke, with the average cost of a new detached home now almost $200,000.

The bulk of the housing built here is tract housing. It doesn't age well, but homes built 10 to 15 years ago in many cases sell at more than 10 times original value. Current buyers are paying much more for less quality than the original buyers. And new housing is smaller in size with little or no outside space.

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