The buzz in Los Angeles may be about the hot growth in the multimedia and high-tech industries, about CD ROMs and computer "morphing" software.
But in the San Fernando Valley, old-fashioned manufacturing of everything from computer cabinets to vitamins to frozen pizza snacks continues to be a mainstay of the local economy, providing 77,000 jobs.
On Tuesday, Mayor Richard Riordan recognized the contributions of manufacturers by touring a handful of small and medium-sized firms that have stuck it out in the Valley despite the near demise of the aerospace industry, the sting of the recession and the destruction of the Northridge earthquake.
"I'm happy that you love Los Angeles as much as I do," he told a group of workers at Chef America, a Chatsworth firm that produces Hot Pockets and Lean Pockets, frozen meat-and-cheese-filled pastry meals.
Like the other firms visited by the mayor, Chef America had been tempted to abandon the Valley to pursue promises of lower building costs and easier permit approval processes in other cities and other states.
Instead, the five firms that Riordan toured have stayed in the northwest Valley--at the behest of Riordan's Business Team--and have invested about $60 million and retained or added more than 1,500 jobs.
Optimistic about the economy and the more business-friendly attitude of City Hall, officials for some of the firms have promised to expand in the next few years.
One of those expansions is planned at Quality Fabrications, a 50,000 square-foot Chatsworth facility that produces sheet-metal fabrications, such as cabinets for automated teller machines or computers. The company plans to add a second plant soon.
"It is due to the continuous support, involvement and commitment from Mayor Riordan's office and its business team that we decided to reevaluate our options and retain our expanded manufacturing capabilities in the Los Angeles area," said Pradeep Kumar, president of the firm.
In fact, the business team--a 20-member unit that works to attract and retain firms in Los Angeles--has focused most of its efforts on the city's manufacturing industry.
A Times analysis of the 1,333 businesses assisted by the business team in 1996 found that 417 of the firms were manufacturers, 373 were in the service industry and 256 provided retail services. Multimedia and entertainment firms ranked fourth among the firms, with 169 companies, according to the analysis.
David Merage, the chief operation officer of Chef America, credited the business team with cutting through the City Hall red tape that he expected when the firm recently decided to upgrade its facility to increase production.
"In this business, you cannot wait around for things to drag on," he said. "To have someone tell us that the city of Los Angeles wants us to stay is unheard of."
Jack Kyser, the chief economist for the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County, said the city is wise to continue to concentrate on manufacturing jobs because they provided a so-called "multiplier effect," meaning that each manufacturing job creates additional jobs, such as parts suppliers, drivers or retail salespeople.
"The Los Angeles metropolitan area is still the nation's second-largest manufacturing center," Kyser said. "Manufacturing is a crucial part of the economic base."