Editor, Jason Schaff As we enter 2011, it’s hard to know where to start in compiling my list of things that need to be looked at in the new year. Obviously, I’ll discuss only things related to the local business community in this list. It’s hard to know where to start because things seem so incredibly erratic and uneven. There’s improvement on many fronts – except the job front. So any optimism gets dampened pretty quickly. So taking this dilemma into consideration, let’s begin. • Small businesses must find a way to deal with the so-called “new economy,” the term that simply means that things are going to be harder from now on. So, how do they deal with the fact that money will continue to be harder to obtain and customers will continue to be fickle because they have so many places where they can buy products and services? The answer is innovation and creativity. Businesses must find a way to be the best in what they do – even if it is the best in just one tiny little thing. That one tiny little thing can make them rise above the pack. Sometimes it’s hard to be creative. • Speaking of niches, the San Fernando Valley still must get its marketing act together to show why it is the best place to do business in the greater-L.A. area. Yeah, it’s a nice place to live, it’s close to stuff we always say. But why is it the best place to do business? This is where the Valley Economic Alliance comes in. At the writing of this column, a new president and CEO for that organization was about to be chosen, so this makes it a perfect time to work on this marketing problem. • But first the Alliance must clearly define itself. What should its role be in local economic development? What does it do or can it do that other organizations don’t do? I say marketing – and pretty much leave it at that. The Alliance seems to be a little scattered in its duties. In fact, if you ask a lot of people in the local business community what the Alliance does, they really can’t tell you. And we all know it does a lot. But it doesn’t seem to be focused. The Valley Economic Development Center hooks businesses up with money. The Valley Industry and Commerce Association is a lobbying organization for businesses. That leaves the Alliance to market the Valley as a whole and that certainly is as important as getting money and gaining political influence. • We need to make a concerted effort to gain major clout in the regional economy, all the valleys that is, as a whole. Each valley can do their own thing to their own best interest, but by joining together on certain things all can benefit. Yes, I know there is a Council of Governments, but I’m thinking more in terms of business groups not policy groups that get together and try to boost specific industries that all of us can nurture. Everybody can still compete for business but there will be enough business for everybody if a concerted effort is made to attract certain industries. Alternative energy for example. Antelope Valley looks to have the best chance for a lock on that, I think, as far as the companies that produce the wind and solar energy. But I believe that the surrounding valleys can help build the industry by providing a place for all support companies to grow. • Let’s identify the industries that we really can nurture. We have many industries here. But many such as aerospace and biotech have been erratic in recent years. The base is there but economic and political factors have kept them from flourishing consistently. • This industry strategy is a way to create jobs. But obviously in order to create jobs, you can’t ignore the policy and government aspect of it all. That’s where the rules are made and often the rules hurt business. There needs to be even more engagement on the business-government level. • Last thing on my list: What about the new Jerry Brown governorship and its relationship to business? Brown says he’s going to suggest pretty much every sector of the state make the hard choices to make California solvent. He’s going to look at several business tax breaks as he targets things to balance the budget. This includes incentives for redevelopment projects and hundreds of millions of dollars of enterprise zone tax credits designed to encourage investments in neighborhoods. The enterprise zone credits seem especially vulnerable since many legislators in Sacramento these days don’t like them anyway and there have been efforts to do away with then this past year. The feeling is that they don’t affect job growth. The zones have been extended beyond so-called disadvantaged areas to places like Warner Center that don’t seem like they need help. Business groups need to work with Brown on that to seek a compromise. • Businesses need to make it clear to Brown that destroying business incentives overall to plug a few billion dollars in the budget hole is shortsighted. It keeps California at a disadvantage in growing its economy. As I said, sometimes it’s hard to be creative. Business-government creativity is needed right now. Business Journal Editor Jason Schaff can be reached at (818) 316-3125 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.