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HEARD ON THE BEAT / ORANGE COUNTY

Irvine Trumpets Itself as a Tech 'Destination'

April 27, 1998|BARBARA MARSH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Economic developers figure the best way to sell Southern California nowadays is to use a lot of "tech" lingo.

Medtech. Biotech. High tech. Auto tech.

Clearly, Irvine Mayor Christina L. Shea is talking the talk, as she goes national with the town's "Destination Irvine" campaign to boost both business and tourism.

"We're trying to take a small city and put it on the map," she says. "Most people elsewhere say, 'Where's Irvine?' They have no clue."

Earlier this month, Shea met with Los Angeles reporters and editors for Time, Newsweek and Business Week magazines--and says the "tech" part of her pitch seemed to interest them the most. She plans to head to New York City to underscore the city's message in meetings with the magazines' editorial higher-ups.

The "Destination Irvine" promotion began in 1993, in the depths of Southern California's economic recession. During the 43.5-square-mile city's rapid, seemingly effortless growth in the 1980s, it hadn't occurred to anybody to beat the marketing drum, despite aggressive come-hither campaigns by other towns across the country.

Irvine was caught flat-footed again three years ago when it took flack as one of the Orange County cities hardest hit in the county's bankruptcy.

In response, the city gave the local Chamber of Commerce $720,000 to fund the "Destination" campaign. Promoters worked first to brush up Irvine's image locally and throughout California. Now, with the economy in overdrive, and "techmania" sweeping the country, the city is going national with its campaign. Shea's arsenal includes UC Irvine, the school's nascent biomedical research park and the proximity to John Wayne Airport.

One ticklish item: The city's biggest landowner, the Irvine Co., has pushed so hard to market its growing 3,600-acre Spectrum development as a tech center on the east side of town that landowners in the older 3,350-acre Irvine Business Complex on the west side grumble that they've been drowned out, she says.

"Historically, we've had this battle back and forth," she says. "It's a problem that creates more need, not only for the city but for independent developers, to do more marketing."

Barbara Marsh covers health care for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-7762 and at barbara.marsh@latimes.com.

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