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Calabasas and Malibu Rank High for Entrepreneurs : Research: At No. 28, the two make the highest showing of Westside localities in a survey about attracting and keeping new, small businesses.

October 23, 1994|MARY MOORE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There may be better places in California than the Westside to start and grow new businesses, but six local communities are on a list of the state's top 85, according to a recently published study.

Malibu and Calabasas, which were ranked together, made a showing at No. 28, topping the list of Westside localities in the study, conducted by Cognetics Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., an economic research firm with a database of more than 14 million companies nationwide.

Century City came next, at 33rd, followed closely by Santa Monica, which ranked 34th.

North Hollywood and Burbank, considered as one, came in 43rd and the Los Angeles Wilshire area ranked 47th. In 71st place, and at the bottom of the list of Westside localities, was Beverly Hills.

To come up with its results, Cognetics counted the number of companies in the state that had started in the past four years and that were still in business with at least five employees. Cognetics also included firms that had started sometime during the last decade, but had grown substantially in the past four years.

Although some Westsiders were surprised that the combination of Malibu and Calabasas beat out Santa Monica in its appeal for entrepreneurs, others said that the Malibu area has an attraction of its own.

"The biggest thing for businesses wanting to come to Malibu is the name here, the mystique," said Mary Lou Blackwood, executive vice president of the Malibu Chamber of Commerce, which has not seen a rise in its membership--hovering at about 400--during the past four years.

"The perception here is that there is money in the community," she said, "and that visitors usually spend, too."

At least one Malibu executive offered a more simple reason.

"There's great air, it's beautiful and it's safe," said Tim Novoselski, president and chief executive officer of Miramar Communications Inc., an 80-person publishing company. Miramar moved from Culver City two months ago after employees expressed concern about their safety, Novoselski said.

"I don't think it's all utopia out here--there are mudslides and fires--but I love it," he said.

However, some real estate brokers who rent space on the Westside expressed doubt that Malibu is attracting many new businesses. Most of the strength for start-ups and growing firms is in Calabasas, they said, where lower rents and the proximity to Woodland Hills has caused new businesses to blossom.

And there is not much commercial real estate available in Malibu--just 297,000 square feet of office space compared to the 10 million square feet in Century City, they said. Currently, 90% of Malibu's offices are rented and the city has no plans to add more.

"It's an anti-growth city--they have made that really clear," said Tony Dorn, a senior consultant for Beitler Commercial Realty Services, a real estate brokerage firm.

In Beverly Hills, which ranked well below Malibu and Calabasas, the Chamber of Commerce has started a new recruiting program to bring in new companies, according to Kelly Morgan, the chamber's manager of economic development.

Yet most of the city's newest commercial tenants are well-established companies--Playboy Enterprises' West Coast headquarters and the retail store Barneys New York, for example. The city is being selective, Morgan said.

"We're looking for businesses that match the Beverly Hills business culture--entertainment companies, marketing offices, professional firms like accountants and attorneys," she said.

Santa Monica, which Cognetics ranked 34th in California and third among cities on the Westside as a haven for new, small companies, is the true local enclave for start-ups and growing firms, said one commercial real estate broker.

"There is more of the entrepreneurial environment in Santa Monica, where people are working in garages and in warehouses," said Howard Sadowsky, executive vice president of Julien J. Studley Inc., a nationwide commercial brokerage firm.

"I bet there are more entrepreneurs doing exciting stuff there that people don't know about, but garages don't make it on any lists."

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