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ORANGE COUNTY AT WORK: CAREERS, COMPANIES, CORPORATE LIFE : PERSONAL VISIONS : County Business, Academic Leaders Look Ahead 25 Years : Jewel Plummer Cobb, President, Cal State Fullerton

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.

Orange County's economic outlook promises to be vibrant during the next quarter-century, provided that cross-disciplinary planning is initiated to ensure a pro-active rather than reactive approach to the future.

Given the rich base of talented human resources that already exists in the county, it is possible to form clusters of specialists to focus on--and solve--our major problems, which clearly include transportation, housing, air pollution, water supply, education and the quality of life for older citizens.

Education, business and industry increasingly should join with government in advancing the planning process.

Educational institutions such as California State University, Fullerton; the University of California, Irvine, and Chapman College, for example, can assist the planning process by serving as magnets to draw in expertise from elsewhere.

Secondly, besides more active planning, we need to ensure sufficient financial support for the entire school system, from kindergarten through the post-graduate level. Quality education that is highly accessible is a key to Orange County's future prosperity.

Elementary and high schools in the county currently are struggling with some of the largest class sizes in the nation, and this condition neither serves students well nor encourages teachers to remain in the profession.

Apart from the discouragement that comes from excessive class size, thousands of teachers are rapidly approaching retirement age. They will need to be replaced by the brightest candidates our colleges and universities can produce.

Thirdly, Orange County needs to become more active in addressing the increasingly heterogeneous ethnic population that will exist in the years ahead. Demographers tell us that Hispanic, Asian and black residents will constitute about half of Southern California's population at the outset of the 21st Century, and Orange County's mix will not be markedly different.

Ways to ensure that these individuals become productive wage earners and make other smooth transitions into Orange County life need to be addressed in all planning efforts.

An adequate supply of affordable housing, located close to places of employment, will contribute to a smooth transition for these individuals as well as for others who want to work in the county but who now find it difficult to locate here. At the same time, improvements in the availability of housing will ease traffic congestion by reducing the number of long-distance commuters.

Sound, long-range planning, matched by timely action on the part of government leaders, can broaden the range of housing now available and strengthen the urban infrastructure.

Finally, with respect to the overall quality of life in Orange County 25 years from now, I am confident the county will maintain the favorable economic position it now enjoys.

We already are strong in communications, aerospace and other high-technology fields, whereas other parts of the nation still are burdened with labor-intensive economies. I expect to see the county gain further strength in these areas with parallel growth in the white-collar industries such as tourism and the very high-tech fields.

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