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VALLEY BUSINESS | Valley @ Work

Fate of Area's Economy Is Everyone's Business

November 10, 1998|KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mind your own business. Sounds like perfectly practical advice for meddling in-laws, nosy neighbors and various other persons prone to pry.

The underlying theme is that you ought not to concern yourself with matters that have no impact on you.

But as the world increasingly becomes a global village, with more than a few Valley-area businesses suffering chills from the Asian flu, the concept of what exactly is your business becomes harder to define.

In this column, we'll take the view that the fate of the region's economy is everybody's business.

If you live or work in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita or Antelope valleys, if you buy or sell anything in the sprawling stretch that lies between Glendale and Calabasas, Mulholland Drive and Lancaster, then what happens to the economy here is your business.

It affects everything from whether you can buy a home and how much you'll pay to whether your favorite dry cleaner stays in business.

It's involvement born of self-interest, an equal-opportunity motivator.

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The story of the Valley economy is one that any Hollywood producer would love. The comeback kid rises from the canvas after the one-two punch of recession and an earthquake that caused an estimated $40 billion in damage. The scrappy upstart, growing up in the shadow of Bunker Hill, shakes off the label of "bedroom communities" and trades in its citrus groves for computer switches and movie sets.

And with the story still unfolding, you'd better not step out for popcorn just yet. We're just now getting to the good part.

In a change from its bucolic beginnings, the Valley now qualifies as a "fully functioning metropolitan area," according to economic guru Jack Kyser.

The San Fernando Valley portion of the region is home to 43,000 private-sector companies employing more than 585,000 workers. So says a recent study by the San Fernando Valley Economic Research Center at Cal State Northridge. In general, the region's on the rebound.

Sounds interesting, but what does that have to do with you?

Again, the answer is: self-interest.

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago assuming, as did my peers, that business news was for rich white people. Since, according to my parents, I've never been either, I'd routinely skip over the financial section on my way to the comics or news I could use.

As a young adult trying to gain an economic foothold during the runaway inflation of the late 1970s, I quickly learned better.

Anyone who's ever tried to buy a car, or looked for work during an economic downturn, knows that there's much more to business news than diluted shares and convertible debentures.

And there is more to the businesses themselves than just endless stacks of ledgers and accounts receivable.

There are people, like jeweler Robert Assarian, an Armenian who emigrated from Lebanon in 1982 and 10 years later opened his own business in the Glendale Jewelry Mart. He still remembers customers by name, even five years after a sale.

There's Ed Gooch, ex-husband of health-food maven Mrs. Gooch, who for 32 years has operated the Indian Art Center, an internationally known landmark at the base of the Hollywood Hills in Studio City. After three-plus decades as part of the rugged landscape abutting bustling Ventura Boulevard, Gooch says he can't think of any location that would have worked out better.

There's Edward Zinke, who builds luxury homes in Calabasas, an old stagecoach stop that's now on the high-tech frontier. After showing a visitor his latest million-dollar creation, he laments the lack of lower-cost housing in the region and hints that a new, less pricey development may be in the offing.

There's Joyce Worley, director of A Child's Place Preschool, a 24-hour child-care center in Lancaster, where parents drop off young ones as early as 4:30 a.m. before making the southbound trek to jobs in San Fernando, Burbank, Woodland Hills and beyond. Worley looks at it as a home away from home that allows Antelope Valley job seekers to cast their nets wide.

And there are, of course, the usual suspects. The Michael Eisners and Edgar Bronfmans, representing Disney and Universal, two of the region's largest employers. Their imposing presence belies the fact that most Valley firms are small--58% have four or fewer employees and only 2% employ more than 100 workers, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

In the coming months, we will visit businesses, large and small, that collectively form the engine that drives the region's economy.

We will use this space to spotlight the rising stars on the Valley's economic horizon, such as the growing number of Latino-owned businesses, as well as to check in with the stalwarts. We'll alert you to trends that will reshape the landscape, and give a shout as we see bumps in the road ahead.

We welcome your ideas and suggestions.

Let's get to work.

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Valley @ Work appears each Tuesday. Karen Robinson-Jacobs can be reached at Karen.Robinson-Jacobs@latimes.com.

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