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VALLEY BUSINESS

Corridor Growth Area Blurs County Lines

Economy: Expansion rate in region west of San Fernando Valley, east of Thousand Oaks skyrockets.

October 17, 2000|ROSEMARY CLANDOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Economic growth is doing something no map maker can: It's erasing the line between Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

New businesses streaming into the 101 Freeway corridor between Calabasas in Los Angeles County and Thousand Oaks in Ventura County have sent economic growth rates skyrocketing, and forecasters and analysts are starting to look at the region as its own unit separate from the two counties.

The area has thrived, analysts say, because it's close to Los Angeles without actually being inside the city--with its higher costs, terrible traffic and faltering schools. Also, a few dynamic companies in the area are growing, paying better-than-average salaries and either spinning off new companies or attracting others.

The region has also been helped enormously by Amgen Inc., the world's largest biotechnology company, which is based in Thousand Oaks, said Bill Watkins, executive director of the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project.

"In large part it is due to Amgen, and we project them to continue to grow rapidly," Watkins said.

During the last year, Amgen's work force in the area has jumped 36%, from 3,523 to 4,800. Xircom Inc., a network equipment manufacturer in Newbury Park, jumped from 297 employees to 420 during that period, a 41% increase.

Two real estate companies, Fred Sands Realtors in Westlake Village and Countrywide Credit Industries in Simi Valley, also had significant increases in employees, another reflection of the growing economy.

"We are seeing some unprecedented building activity," said Dave Adams, city manager and planning director in Agoura Hills. "We've got more development that will occur in the next 18 months than what has occurred in the last 10 years put together. And that's just in Agoura Hills."

After the aerospace industry bottomed out in the mid-1990s, cities in the two-county corridor tried to attract new businesses. High-tech firms have led the revitalization, said Charles Maxey, dean of Cal Lutheran University business school.

The cities of Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills and Calabasas are tightly linked economically because of geography--all are west of the San Fernando Valley and east of the Conejo Grade.

They are "tied to the hip to Los Angeles," said Watkins. "They are heavily influenced by what goes on in L.A., more so than in Ventura or Oxnard.

"When you look at the data, you've got relatively high property values, high income levels, high education levels and high labor-force participation levels," he said.

Those characteristics make the area appealing to businesses looking to relocate, he said. Once one business comes and succeeds, others tend to follow.

In Agoura Hills, Adams said the city helps new companies work through the permitting process. The city also boasts about its absence of gross receipts taxes and utilities taxes.

To maintain a close relationship with city leaders in Westlake Village and Calabasas, Adams says he attends monthly meetings at which officials from all the cities address business expansion issues.

That's a good idea, Maxey said. In a recent study he conducted of 262 Ventura County business people, more than 50% saw so-called "stop-light issues" standing in the way of future growth.

"People perceive public policy problems," Maxey said. These issues include general regulations on businesses, environmental regulations, work force availability and fees and taxes.

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Adams said some business owners have complained about environmental restrictions, but most people seem content.

"All of us out here are probably a little more sensitive to the environment than other cities might be," Adams said.

"It is something that our residents have not wanted to concede on, at the risk of diminishing their quality of life. Most developers recognize [this] before they come in and start talking with us."

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