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Study Maps Out Road to Southland's Revival : Economy: A UCLA report details steps to transform the region into a manufacturing center for high-tech transit.


A new UCLA study offers a plan for Southern California to replace lost aerospace jobs with more down-to-earth work--by creating an advanced ground transportation industry in the region.

If policy-makers play their cards right, according to the report by UCLA's Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, Southern California could become the Silicon Valley--"or, rather, a series of Silicon Valleys"--of transportation, manufacturing everything from rail cars to buses to the components of smart highways and electric vehicles.

Commissioned by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the study suggests ways to leverage MTA's $183-billion 30-year plan, announced in 1992, to foster a transport industry.

This "enormous program of public works," the authors note, will be spending $6.1 billion a year on new transit projects--a shopping budget in the same league as the $8.8 billion the federal Department of Defense spent in Los Angeles County in 1990, the most recent year for which statistics were available.

While other studies and commissions have called for creation of an advanced transportation industry in California, the Lewis Center report is the first to suggest specific measures to reach that objective.

As to jobs, Project California, a public-private effort to make the state a transportation and telecommunications manufacturing center, has estimated that these industries could create 400,000 new jobs by 2010.

And the MTA's spending plan by itself could create as many as 66,000 new jobs, according to a 1992 projection by consultants Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc.

The new Lewis Center study declines to estimate how many more jobs would be made if a Southern California equipment-manufacturing industry were added to the Booz, Allen calculation. But Allen J. Scott, director of the Lewis Center and the report's co-author, with David Bergman, said Friday that if the study's recommendations materialize, the effect could be far broader.

"The number of jobs created would be much higher than (66,000) once an agenda is created that creates more jobs," Scott said. "If this agenda is created, we can more than double or triple the Booz, Allen estimate."

The report's recommendations include:

* Building a research and development center in Los Angeles to promote transport technology study.

* Raising capital investment funds through a private-public financial intermediary to help small manufacturing firms.

* Training workers in high-tech manufacturing skills.

* Supporting industry consortia such as Calstart, the public-private entity that is promoting California as a manufacturer of alternative-fuel vehicles.

* Setting up a transportation equipment research and manufacturing zone, perhaps around the defunct General Motors Corp. plant in Van Nuys.

The report is especially optimistic about the prospects for building rail cars in Southern California--a subject of considerable controversy after transit authorities in 1992 awarded Japanese-owned Sumitomo Corp. a contract to build cars for a Metro Rail project. Opponents heatedly argued that the contracts should have been let to California companies, and the county transportation commission rescinded the contract.

But the sad state of the U.S. transportation manufacturing industry as a whole, described in detail in the Lewis Center report, drove Los Angeles transit authorities to return to Sumitomo later to buy 15 new cars for the Metro Rail Blue Line. "The MTA in general is very concerned with its $183 billion," Scott said, "and how it can spend that money to best bring about economic growth in Southern California."

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