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CUTTING EDGE SPECIAL: HIGH TECH IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
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Round Table Gives Its Spin on the L.A. Connection

Forum: Industry leaders discuss the dichotomy of doing business here. (It's not just beaches vs. smog.)

March 17, 1997

Today is the one-year anniversary of The Cutting Edge. To mark the occasion, we invited a small group of technology industry leaders to a round-table luncheon on the future of high technology in Southern California.

The group included Stephanie Brail, founder of Digital Amazon, a Santa Monica Web design firm; Sky Dayton, founder and chairman of EarthLink Network, a fast-growing Internet service provider based in Pasadena; Steve Glenn, chief executive of the Internet start-up PeopleLink and a partner in IdeaLab, a company dedicated to nurturing new Internet businesses; Jon Goodman, executive director of EC2, a business incubator affiliated with USC; James Larkin Jonassen, executive director of the Los Angeles New Media Roundtable; Steve Koltai, founder and chairman of CyberStudios, an emerging Internet entertainment firm; Steven MacDonald, head of the LA Business Team established by Mayor Richard Riordan to recruit and retain businesses; Harold Rosen, co-founder of Rosen Motors, which is developing a low-emissions vehicle based on turbine and flywheel technologies; and Jake Weinbaum, president of Disney Online.

They were joined by Amy Harmon, Karen Kaplan and Michael Hiltzik, who cover technology for The Times, and Cutting Edge Editor Jonathan Weber, who moderated the discussion. A full transcript is available on The Times' Web site at http://www.latimes.com/HOME/NEWS/CUTTING

Jonathan Weber: The idea of this lunch is to talk about some of the issues relating to high technology in Southern California--what it means to have a high-technology community in a city like Los Angeles, what some of the challenges are in further developing these industries, and what the government and the private sector can do to assure the continued strength of the local high-tech economy.

To start out, I'd like to ask each of you why it is that your business is in Los Angeles to begin with, and what it is about this region that helps make your company successful.

Steve Glenn: We started in Los Angeles because (IdeaLab founder) Bill Gross and his family live in Pasadena, and I live here. But it turns out that there are some really great advantages about being in L.A. and some serious disadvantages.

The advantage is that you don't have as much competition for folks. There aren't as many companies in the Internet space as there are, for example, in San Francisco, and so it tends to be a little bit easier to recruit people. But the downside is that a lot of people really don't want to be in Los Angeles.

Weber: Because of quality-of-life issues?

Glenn: Yes. You'll hear the usual stuff, about smog and about how it's not a real city and about crime and blah, blah, blah. But the issue that we probably can do something about is the pretty widespread perception that there isn't a real community for people who work in this industry.

San Francisco has South of Market. New York has Silicon Alley. There are pockets here--IdeaLab is trying to develop one in Pasadena, certainly EarthLink and CitySearch and some other companies are helping, and some companies in the Glendale-Burbank area are creating a nice center there, and Santa Monica too.

But you don't have organizations. For example, New York has Cybersuds, a mixer every month that brings people together and allows networking. Jim's done great stuff with Lawnmower [the Los Angeles New Media Roundtable], but it doesn't happen a lot.

Stephanie Brail: I disagree that it's not competitive in Los Angeles. I've been in this business since it started here, and I find that the Web design itself is competitive.

I think Los Angeles is a great place to be. I've considered whether or not I should be moving to New York or San Francisco, because I think that a lot of the more underground stuff--the really exciting stuff that I'm really interested in, the young people my age who are doing really exciting things--a lot of those people are in New York or they're in the San Francisco area.

I find that L.A. is a very entertainment-based Internet industry, and there are a lot of pluses to that. There's a lot of resources here for doing multimedia. On the other hand, as Steve was saying, community is not like it is in those other cities, and that's just a question of the geography.

Weber: Do others of you share that idea that there isn't a real community here?

Jon Goodman: I think the answer to that is yet. Because really what you're dealing with is critical mass. . . . Content is the key issue. And the creators of content are present in more numbers here in Los Angeles than anywhere else on the planet--storytellers, people who really understand dynamic communications. This is where they are. Content is and always will be king.

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