SARA FISHER

Staff Reporter

The guy who quietly walked into downtown's Inter-Continental Hotel looked an awful lot like Alan Greenspan.

Wait a second, it was Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and arguably the world's most powerful government official.

Greenspan swooped briefly into town on March 11 to attend the annual meeting of the Federal Reserve Board district directors. But he also met with a handful of local business executives as part of an ongoing effort to keep the Fed's finger on the pulse of the U.S. business scene.

Not that anyone is terribly anxious to talk about it. An Inter-Continental Hotel spokesman would not disclose any details about the length, location or even menu for the breakfast meeting, saying that the hotel was asked not to divulge such information.

Indeed, the normally secretive Fed was predictably cryptic in describing the visit. Asked if Greenspan often met with local business leaders, Federal Reserve Board spokesman Bob Moore replied, "It's not unusual, but it's not common."

Carol Eckert, a spokeswoman for the Federal Reserve's 12th District Bank in San Francisco, said, "Mr. Greenspan did at this meeting what the directors do fairly frequently, which is to gather grass-roots information in local business communities. It doesn't happen a lot at the chairman level because of his many other commitments. Frankly, we would like to have him out here in the 12th District more often."

The session was off the record, meaning it was closed to the media and the public. Representatives of industries unique to Los Angeles were invited, said Eckert, who declined to elaborate on the selection process or who attended.

But according to one attendee, Grayson Hoberg, chief financial officer for Pasadena-based EarthLink Network Inc., the industries represented were real estate, entertainment and the Internet.

"When the Fed calls, you don't ask why," said Hoberg, who primarily discussed e-commerce taxation with Greenspan and the board directors. "It was an impressive meeting, and insightful into how the Fed works."

Hoberg noted that "Greenspan did not react in either a positive or negative way to what I said. He also didn't refer at all to how much the Internet has affected the economy recently, which surprised me. He and the other directors did, however, ask surprisingly perceptive questions that reflected a remarkably thorough understanding of the Internet industry. I was impressed."

The Federal Reserve districts compile anecdotal information from such discussions and pass it on to the Washington policymakers about eight times a year, giving them a sense of what is really happening throughout the United States. At times, information gleaned from local business leaders signals policy changes that the Fed's hard data won't reflect until much later.

"Most people don't realize the importance of the grass-roots input, or the fact that the grass roots reach up all the way to the top levels of the Fed," Eckert said.

Greenspan last visited Los Angeles in January 1998 to tour South Central.

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