And technology is just part of the story. In the shadow of downtown Los Angeles, a seemingly endless stretch of factories makes everything from mattresses to machine parts, guitar cases to gym equipment. Its existence is even more remarkable, considering that industrial smokestacks dropped like dominoes throughout America in the 1980s.
"The Sun Belt is the heartland of the American economy, and Southern California is the capital of the Sun Belt--far and away," Scott said.
Not surprisingly, the region remains a magnet for people. During the 1990s, almost 2 million more will live in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Imperial counties, pushing the population toward 16 million, according to the California Department of Finance. Of these, more than half a million will be immigrants, largely from Mexico and other Latin American nations, the Southern California Assn. of Governments projects.
But will tomorrow's arrivals enjoy the same upward mobility as those of yesterday did?
Inside his Guatemalan grocery shop on Pico Boulevard, Oscar Mansilla says it won't be easy. A farmer's son, Mansilla moved to Los Angeles from Guatemala City to seek his fortune in the 1960s. He got a minimum-wage job assembling auto brakes in Irvine, rose through the factory ranks--and saved his money.
Today, he owns two grocery stores near downtown and a hilltop house in Silver Lake.
"If you want to be rich, you can do it," said Mansilla, 51, a polite and friendly man, during an interview by a pinball machine. But, as customers in the Latino and Korean neighborhood looked over his soups, beans, powders and other Central American products, he continued: "It's harder now. There's too many people. Too much competition. Too many stores doing the same thing."
Entrepreneurs aren't the only ones who may have to push harder. To their chagrin, employers are finding that growing numbers of employees--including many native-born Americans--are deficient in basic jobs skills.
Kaiser Permanente, for example, finds it harder than ever to get new employees with a command of English, mathematics and the ability to think critically. "The worst-case scenario for me is that if this were to continue for 15 or 20 years, the entire entry-level work force would be largely untrainable," said A. D. Bolden, a vice president with the health-care firm.
Some of the worst growing pains will be caused by the unabating influx of people. It will mean more cars and trucks spewing out exhaust fumes, factories emitting particles, overall stress on a fragile environment. As a result, Southern Californians will have to attempt a high-wire feat in the 1990s: trying to reverse environmental damage without displacing factory workers and others struggling at the bottom of the economy.
Already, a spirited debate is in the air. In March, air quality officials proposed more than 100 restrictions on oil companies, factories using paint and solvents, automobiles and other sources of pollution. The measures--planned for the 1990s and after--would pay off handsomely, officials say: more than $9 billion yearly in health benefits alone, once they are in place.
In addition, they cite the intangible gain of transforming the Los Angeles Basin into a place of breathable air and vivid views. Such a change, goes the reasoning, would stimulate the economy by attracting people and businesses that currently stay away to avoid the smog.
"Clean air will bring a new gold rush to Southern California," predicts Patricia Nemeth, a deputy executive officer with the South Coast Air Quality Management District in El Monte.
But not everyone is so sure. Depending on how the controls finally take shape, some employers may choose to relocate; others may pass on higher costs to their customers.
"I see it as a very big question mark in the direction of the Los Angeles economy in the next 20 years," said Anthony J. Finizza, chief economist at Atlantic Richfield Co., which may face a costly conversion of its equipment to handle cleaner-burning motor fuels.
For tens of thousands of the poor, a critical question is how smaller manufacturers, especially users of paint and solvents, will respond. Southern California's ability to retain its low-tech industrial base has meant jobs for people such as John Enriquez, an Arizona native who grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico. Over the years, Enriquez, 60, has worked sanding, spraying and applying wood filler in furniture factories.
Today he is plant manager at Wise's Furniture Profiles, making $50,000 a year and in charge of 68 workers.
"This is an industry that permits people to learn a trade," he said in a deep, measured tone. "You can learn and you can progress." Cutbacks, he went on, "would have a tremendous effect on all of us, including me."