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ORANGE COUNTY AT WORK: CAREERS, COMPANIES, CORPORATE LIFE : PERSONAL VISIONS : County Business, Academic Leaders Look Ahead 25 Years : Joel Slutzky, Chairman and CEO of Odetics 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.

The magnitude of changes we will see in Orange County over the next 25 years probably will be equivalent to those seen over the last 50 years--such is the accelerating pace of civilization.

Thus, to ask someone today to make predictions about Orange County in the year 2012 is comparable to asking someone in 1937 to make predictions about the county in the year 1987.

A seer from 50 years ago might have predicted bigger and busier roads, but could he have envisioned the freeway system that ties Orange County together?

Could he have dreamed of a population of more than 2.1; the proliferation of planned communities, or the ethnic diversification of the county?

Finally, who could have predicted the byproducts of increased urbanization--major universities, colleges and shopping centers, an influential financial district or, on the negative side, pollution of the Newport Bay and airport congestion?

But Orange County's past development, impressive as it might be, has been largely a reactive one, a consequence of our proximity to Los Angeles County.

Probably the most important change I see during the next 25 years is that most of the important new trends will be initiated and controlled by forces that are within Orange County.

Certainly, the basic trends that have been developing over the last 50 years will continue evolving.

For instance, our population by the year 2012 will have increased 33% to 2.8 million; well over a third of the county will be of Asian or Hispanic backgrounds; the cost of housing will remain very high despite decreasing average unit size, and more and more people will be employed by high-technology and information-based service organizations.

I believe one of the most interesting of the locally initiated developments will be the emergence of Orange County as a major cultural center, anchored by the Performing Arts Center. In addition, look for the Newport Harbor Art Museum to emerge as a world-class facility.

We should also look for some exciting things to come from our high-technology companies in the field of electronics.

In fact, because our county will be more impacted than most in the nation by such problems as housing costs, traffic and lack of a low-cost labor base, our high-technology businesses can take the lead in solving those problems.

For instance:

- Look for office and factory work being brought to the people. This can be achieved through the greater use of communication channels and distributed computer networks.

- Look for new types of intelligent machine systems to enhance productivity. These intelligent systems will be able to interact with and adapt to new situations, new environments and new production line requirements. Use of these systems could lead to a resurgence in American manufacturing, particularly for those industries losing market share to Pacific Rim countries.

- In addition, look for a tighter integration of industry and education in terms of advanced research that will result in new technologies and, ultimately, in new industries for the county.

These developments will bring a higher sense of community identification and a much higher degree of interdependence among individuals and institutions.

However, just as I am confident that our seer from 1937 would choose today's world over that of yesterday, I believe Orange County's "good old days" still lie ahead. Slutzky, 48, helped found Odetics in 1969. The Anaheim-based high-tech electronics firm specializes in development of video and data recorders and robotic machines.

Slutzky received his bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering and bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois.

He lives with his wife and children in Newport Beach.

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