Sharing the Responsibilities in Economic Development GUEST COLUMN By Bruce Ackerman If you asked a dozen people what the words “economic development” meant to them, you would probably get two dozen answers all of which would be correct descriptions. The concept of economic development has been around in one form or another since the beginning of modern business. My interpretation, as the head of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, is reflected in our organization’s mission: Grow and strengthen the economy of the San Fernando Valley region to improve the quality of life in all our communities. Few would challenge that simple goal grow the economy and improve quality of life. But what does that really mean? How does anyone actually tackle that simple task when its implementation involves and touches almost every element in our communities? Let me suggest that a good “economic development” strategy must encompass a total “community development” plan. The San Fernando Valley is a uniquely complex region when it comes to economic and community development. As defined by the Alliance and most other governmental and planning authorities, the Valley region includes five cities Burbank, Calabasas, Glendale, San Fernando, and one-third of the City of Los Angeles as well as Hidden Hills and some unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. Within the Los Angeles portion, there are 30 distinct and identifiable communities some with population counts over 150,000. Our residents comprise one of the most ethnically diverse populations of anywhere in the world, with students in some of our school systems speaking over 65 foreign languages. The Valley covers over 350 square miles, has a total population of 1.7 million residents, and is home to more than 70,000 businesses. If the region were a separate city, it would be the fifth largest in the country. It has a thriving economic base employing close to 700,000 workers. The Valley is home to the largest number of aerospace firms in the United States, the third largest number of entertainment firms, the fifth largest number of manufacturing firms, and the sixth largest number of finance, insurance and real estate firms. Burbank has more major production studios than Hollywood, Woodland Hills is the headquarters for several of the largest health care insurers, and the combined cities of Burbank, Calabasas and Glendale have more Fortune 500 corporate headquarters located there than any other cities in Los Angeles County. Yet, when it comes to issues relating to economic and community development, such as new business recruitment, retention and expansion of existing businesses, finding balanced solutions to problems of transportation congestion, inadequate housing and healthcare, improving the quality of education, and developing a well-trained and job-ready workforce, there historically was no coordination of problem-solving efforts on a regional basis. Looking regionally And this is where our concept of “regional community development” comes into play. As the economic development and regional marketing collaborative serving the Valley, we are the self-appointed “guardians of the economy.” Our role is providing the leadership for economic stewardship in the region. Our interpretation of economic development is serving as “civic entrepreneurs” using the incredible power of private-public partnerships to facilitate solutions to community-wide problems, and then mustering the resources to implement solutions. By coordinating the assets of our various governmental agencies in a cross-jurisdictional approach with the needs expressed by business and residents alike, we are creating a strategy for building sustainable communities that are both livable and economically viable. Three years ago, we launched Vision2020 a pioneering program with the ambitious goal of creating a master plan for the development of the entire San Fernando Valley over the next 2 decades. Why? Because nothing like it exists. There is no regional government for the Valley. We felt confident we could help create a regional “governance” function by coordinating and communicating the existing planning efforts in each of our cities and communities. Utilizing “best practices” examples, and by sharing ideas through ongoing forums and roundtable meetings, this vision is becoming a reality. By embracing smart growth principles, including cultivation of mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly “town centers”, Vision2020’s long-term goal is to ensure that the future San Fernando Valley is a healthy and friendly place in which to raise families and operate businesses. Focus on Northeast Valley One of the areas of economic opportunity to which we are committing resources is the development of the northeast San Fernando Valley. There is no other area in our region with the amount of undeveloped and under-utilized property that exists in the communities of Sylmar, Pacoima and Sun Valley. And there are very few areas with the level of need that this area has need for better housing, more jobs, better shopping and services, access to adequate and affordable health care. The development potential for business, and the related jobs creation, is enormous. But as stated earlier, it needs to be a balanced, sustainable and community-wide effort. Good economic development focused on new businesses opening, providing new jobs and payroll, will have an immediate positive impact by pumping more spendable income into the local economy. Revitalizing some of the local retail areas like San Fernando Road, Laurel Canyon, Foothill, Van Nuys, and Glenoaks Boulevards will have a double impact increased economic vitality as well as an improved community image. Other areas of opportunity for focused economic development include the NoHo Arts District in North Hollywood, the downtowns of Reseda and Canoga Park along Sherman Way, the administrative center complex in Van Nuys, and the commercial sector of Panorama City an area for which we have already created a development concept plan, in partnership with the Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. All of these potential projects, and the communities surrounding them, would benefit greatly from the “mixed-use, urban village, town center” concepts being planned for them. Creating community prosperity is a shared goal and responsibility. Bruce Ackerman is President and CEO of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley.