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Alliance to Lure Business Proposed : Commerce: Council on Economic Vitality recommends regional recruiting effort. Competition among cities would still exist.

August 06, 1994|PHYLLIS W. JORDAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rather than competing constantly for new businesses, the cities in Ventura County should work together on economic development efforts that could boost the entire region, a county task force recommended Friday.

During a breakfast meeting with city mayors and managers, the Council on Economic Vitality proposed a regional alliance to exploit such trends as defense conversion and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A countywide approach could also focus attention on regional assets, such as the port, and on regional problems, such as defense base closings, said Supervisor Maggie Kildee, who heads the economic council.

The organization, a collection of public and private officials, expects to present full details of the proposed alliance or corporation by the end of the year.

City officials expressed support for the broad outlines of the plan sketched out Friday.

"It would make a whole lot of sense to join forces," Fillmore Mayor Linda Brewster said. "That way you're more powerful."

Still, she and other mayors questioned how the regional alliance would dovetail with the cities' efforts--and the inevitable competition that develops.

"I think the biggest question people have is what would these big (countywide) issues be," Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton said. "And how does this not get into another city's knickers."

As it stands, most cities have an economic development staff dedicated to attracting new business.

Neighboring cities often compete for the same industry, offering tax breaks and incentives to draw new jobs.

And often they conduct these negotiations with the utmost secrecy.

Under the plan proposed Friday, the regional group would not supplant the city efforts, but simply augment them with marketing and business assistance.

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The proposed Regional Economic Alliance could market Ventura County as a good business location.

Representatives, for instance, could visit companies in Mexico to forge economic links under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Camarillo Mayor Ken Gose said.

Or they could approach an industry about moving to the county.

Once a company decided to settle in Ventura County, the cities would then compete for the jobs.

"I think the whole alliance will work more advantageously for the large cities," said Brewster, whose rural community is one of the county's smallest.

"But the smaller cities have to be a part of it to protect their own interests."

She imagined a situation where a firm chooses Ventura County, but is looking for a decidedly rural setting.

The regional alliance could steer that company to Fillmore, a city set in the lemon groves along California 126.

City officials acknowledged that the regional approach could not eliminate the competition and secrecy that now surround such business deals.

"There's going to be some secrecy," Santa Paula Mayor Wayne Johnson said.

"There's going to be some towns that are massaging different organizations, and they don't want everyone else to know."

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