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Monday, Jan 30, 2023
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‘A Good Run’

By MARK R. MADLER Staff Reporter Starting next month, a familiar face won’t be in the Sherman Oaks office of the Valley Economic Alliance. Kenn Phillips, who has served the business attraction and retention organization for more than 20 years, is stepping down as chief executive effective at the end of March. Phillips was named chief executive in 2014 after 15 years as senior vice president. Prior to joining the Alliance, Phillips worked for Boeing Co. for 17 years as community relations manager. He has also served on the board of Sherman Oaks and Encino hospitals and as a commissioner for the L.A. city’s Workforce Investment Board. The Alliance was formed in 1994 in response to that year’s Northridge Earthquake that devastated the Valley. The organization serves the cities of Los Angeles, Burbank, Glendale, Calabasas and San Fernando. Phillips took time out of his schedule to talk with the Business Journal about his time at the Alliance, how the organization can address homeless and transportation issues and his future plans. Question: Any initial thoughts on leaving the Economic Alliance? Answer: It has been a good run. I left Boeing Co. to come here. Bill Allen at the time was the president and CEO and he addressed many things I was doing for Boeing I could be doing for the rest of the community and that was the draw to bring me here. As for leaving here, I think no matter how long you are with an organization you still have some things you wished you could have done. What were some things that you wanted to do but didn’t get the chance? The Alliance has reinvented itself many times. The organization has been around for 26 years and I have been here for 20 years. At one time it was secession, but that was before my time. When I ended up getting here, they were talking about the need for transportation. There was a great deal of people who had already come together to focus on developing the Orange Line. That was one of the larger successes for the Economic Alliance. It was already in play; they were still building it and I got to see it launch. What was your greatest accomplishment at the organization? One of the first projects … was we brought together the four community colleges (in the Valley) in order to develop an entire branding program called the Training Alliance. The idea was to co-brand those (schools) with us. We were representing business; they were representing higher learning so that they could go ahead and provide some additional on-site training directly to local businesses. That was one of the first things we did with the workforce and education. What else? We were able to get (former Los Angeles Unified School District math teacher) Jaime Escalante here and we did our very first Education-X or Ed-X, kind of a like a Ted Talk. We did our very first one in the Valley (in 2006). You never know how many people are going to be interested in something like this. We offered it for free. It was a lunch event and our very first one and we had 750 people attended. What’s your advice for Valley businesspeople? If it were a small business, to go ahead and always make sure you have advisors around you. Most businesses don’t do that. When we are helping set up a new business, we make sure they have trusted advisors around them. If they don’t have any – for instance they don’t have a banker on their team, an insurance guy on their team, an attorney on their team – we bring on our own board members to show why it’s important to have trusted advisors around them. Those individuals who are able to get the mentoring and coaching directly from their trusted advisors are much stronger. What about larger companies? Bigger businesses need a different type of help. They have their own CFO; they have their own marketing team. They have all these individual groups. But are all these groups communicating in order to accomplish the bigger goal? A lot of times that is not really true. They might have their own quests; they might not understand what the overall mission is or what the CEO or chairman is interested in. Those are the elements that are important to bring together – making sure that a leader can bring everybody together and to parse out the things that they can delegate. What does the Valley economy need more of? Today or in the future? Today it is a little bit different (due to the coronavirus pandemic). Right now we are doing a lot of layoffs. That is very different from a couple weeks ago. They were saying in Las Vegas that some of the larger hotels are laying off 50 percent of their workforce. The retail sector, restaurants, airlines – everybody is being immediately hurt by this (pandemic). What do we need today? We need a little bit cooler heads to figure out very shortly all of this is going to have a quick turn. What do you think should be done? Staying at home is one way. But there are a lot of other things you can do. Many times what employees say to us when we are consulting with businesses is there is never enough time for training. Guess what, there is plenty of time for training right now. You can imagine that (business owners are saying) we’re not going to do anything for the next two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks. Can you imagine how much training you can get done for your entire staff in that period of time? Several years worth. As soon as we get out of this your staff could be much stronger. And a lot of training is online anyway. You could be paying your staff, right now, to be a stronger workforce. What were your biggest challenges at the Alliance? Any nonprofit always has a challenge of raising money. In the case of businesses, everybody has gone to a grant system so they can allocate the money more fairly. It is also much more time consuming. Before we used to write a memorandum of understanding that was one page. Now with these grants, they are eight pages. One we just finished was a little over 50 pages. It is a lot more competitive and there is a lot less money. Before the Alliance used to get larger grants. Not so anymore. Everybody has difficulty with fundraising, no doubt about it. What other challenges? The other piece that a lot of people have is getting their board involved. It is more than just showing up for a meeting, it is quite something different when they are actually quite engaged and involved. I am so proud of our board. During our last board meeting I said that we are in the process of completing a grant for a women’s business center. A lot of people are competing for this grant. I said please raise your hand if you can do the following – every single quarter we need a total of eight to 10 more people who will visit these businesses and be an advisor to them. The time commitment is one hour per business. If you want to do three, that would be three hours per quarter. All we were looking for was eight to 10 people to visit at least one business. Twenty people from our board raised their hand and said they wanted to do it. This is a new crop of individuals who are committed to help others and to be there for them in their business. How can the Alliance address the homeless issue? Great question. I think we are looking at this all wrong. Regarding the homeless, most things I read is that everything is a deficit. If you look at all the people who are new going homeless, we look at mental illness, we look at age, the amount of children. We always look at the deficits associated with this. We never look at the asset part of what they can bring to the table. Most of these individuals we know were working, they were professionals. Some of them have degrees, most finished high school. It is possible if we had a good program – either an apprenticeship, an internship, and externship type of program – that would be paid while they are learning they would have money to provide for a home. You also have to take care of mental health. But not everybody has mental health issues. Sometimes people are just poor. They lost their job; they’re running from paycheck to paycheck and now they are homeless. That is a percentage of those individuals. If you can focus in on part of these immediately your homeless issue declines a lot. The numbers are still staggering but you have to start somewhere. So why not start with reducing the number dramatically so that you can go on to help others? How about transportation issues? Transportation follows housing. Putting more housing on transportation corridors makes a lot of sense. I think that in order to increase ridership from people who would normally not ride, you have to provide more of an experience. As an example, wouldn’t it be interesting to be able to have a gym that is also light rail? You’d be able to strap in and not be able to go anywhere other than riding a bike or a Peloton; you are getting a great work out and then when you get to work you can take a shower. We want to make sure people are healthier but right now it takes them an hour to get to work each way. What are we doing to improve their experience? We aren’t doing anything. What are your plans for after leaving the Economic Alliance? I cannot say yet. I was hoping to be able to tell you. I can tell you it is environmental. I can tell you it is something that impressed me so much that I want to make it a part of the next few years. Will you help with the transition of your successor? Yes, we had a transition meeting (March 16). There is a good amount of candidates that people have already asked to be considered. I don’t know what the total numbers are, but I did see some of the people and they are extremely strong individuals. These are well known people in the Valley? Oh, yeah. I’ve done lots of work with many of them. How is the search for a replacement going? It is going really well. They asked for considerations from other people that would know other people. They put it out into Indeed and a few other areas. There may be some talent out there that we don’t know. They grabbed that list. I did not see everybody but I did see a lot of them and it was a very strong list.

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