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Finding Bright Spots in Dim Economic Picture : Success of Some Valley Entrepreneurs Offers Hope for Future

July 31, 1994

Perhaps it is not so much that there is more optimism in the San Fernando Valley and its environs these days, just less pessimism. Indeed, this past week's three-part Times Valley Edition series on "Changing Fortunes: The Valley Economy in Transition" shows that the hard times for the region's economy have merely softened a bit. There is no large-scale recovery in sight.

A recent poll of Valley adults, for example, shows both real and perceived improvements, such as fewer households that have suffered through layoffs or firings. Still the numbers here, and in the economic data for the region and Los Angeles as a whole, are daunting. Yes, fewer folks feel that we are still in a recession, but 80% of the people felt that we were a year ago, and 66% still do.

Bankruptcy filings are down, but they are still far too numerous for anyone to find solace in the decline. Sales of single-family homes and condominiums here are half of what they were in 1988, and the average sales price of those units continues to drop. All over the region, the shells of partially built units stand as a symbol of the sour real estate market.

But it's important to focus on the positive, and there is much--surprisingly--to consider.

The brightest entrepreneurs, for example, can still take a simple idea and turn it into thriving business. There's Dan Sandel, an Israeli immigrant who kept hearing his friends in the nursing profession complain about the tedium of counting hypodermic needles. Among other things, he has created a 400-employee, $60-million-a-year Chatsworth business producing medical supplies . . . and automatic needle counters. There was also the story of a former aerospace engineer who began making lightweight electric wheelchairs in his garage, and who now owns a 24,000-square-foot factory.

Carlos Garcia's Burbank-based consulting firm has also found quite a foothold. He's helping businesses learn how to approach the Valley's fastest-growing population: Latinos. He's also advising Latino-owned firms on how to go mainstream, to the tune of $1 million in annual revenues.

Such efforts are helpful, but the vast majority of us still face an evolving economy that will include a significant number of jobs, but at lower wages, with fewer benefits and fewer hours.

Again, we can find guidance in the likes of those like Wylen Won, a $70,000-a-year director of a Sherman Oaks medical laboratory. Won still keep samples of Amway products on his desk, in case he, too, has to join the ranks of the "downwardly mobile."

Indeed, of the Valley residents who changed jobs within the past five years, nearly one-fifth of those aged 30 to 64 are working part-time jobs because they cannot find full-time jobs. And in a future in which more than half of the top 25 jobs will pay minimum wage, or slightly more, it behooves us all to try to become as valuable and as versatile as possible. Perhaps that's why one-third of the Valley residents in that poll said that they have taken some form of job training or additional schooling to boost their current careers, or vault to new ones.

As Wylen Won says, "it's just not safe these days to put all your eggs in one basket." No kidding.

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