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Private Effort Aims to Boost Economic Growth in South L.A.

May 24, 2000|LEE ROMNEY and MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. has teamed up with WATTSHealth Systems Inc. to launch the first private economic-development organization to help retain and lure businesses to South Los Angeles.

South Los Angeles, which stretches from the Santa Monica Freeway to the Riverside Freeway, and from La Brea Avenue to the Alameda Corridor, had become one of the only remaining county swatches with no such private effort to improve its business climate.

"We became the hole in the doughnut," said Dean Jones, who is serving as executive director of the group, the South Los Angeles Economic Development Partnership.

The organization, which will be privately financed, hopes to help business development by assembling land packages, marketing the region and helping existing businesses locate financing and solve problems.

Clyde Oden, chief executive of WATTSHealth Systems and chairman of the board of Family Savings Bank, took the lead in forming the organization after commissioning a Pepperdine University study last year of the South Los Angeles economy.

"We're getting people to see this as an asset-rich region," said Jones, who also is a WATTSHealth Systems consultant. "There are 27,000 businesses in the region alone and over 2,700 light manufacturing companies, with an average of 25 employees. That's more manufacturing than [in] Detroit."

LAEDC will provide a business-development manager to the organization to help businesses stay in the area and attract outsiders, said Libby Thompson-Lumpkin, director of the organization's Regional Business Assistance Network.

The effort is modeled on others supported by the LAEDC, including the Gateway Cities Partnership, the South Bay Economic Development Partnership and the San Gabriel Valley Economic Development Partnership, as well as others in the San Fernando and Antelope valleys. Another is being considered for the Westside.

Thompson-Lumpkin said opportunities abound to upgrade South Los Angeles manufacturing facilities, particularly as available industrial space elsewhere in the county all but disappears.

Although the organization will work to coordinate efforts with city programs, it will be independent and privately financed, releasing it from many of the political burdens and bureaucratic delays of government-financed development efforts, she said.

It also gives existing businesses in South Los Angeles a place to turn for help and an outlet to help influence the region's growth.

Jack Kyser, LAEDC's chief economist, said the area's strength is in its existing business base and proximity to transportation corridors. The greatest challenge to South Los Angeles development, however, remains land assemblage. While small parcels are available, it is difficult to locate contiguous parcels for larger developments without tearing down existing businesses.

The South Los Angeles group will be headquartered at Family Savings Bank, at 3683 Crenshaw Blvd. An event there to formally launch the group will take place Thursday.

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