For 20 years, Bill Allen, son of television personality Steve Allen, followed in the path of his famous father, leading the production of such hit series as "Designing Women," "Remington Steele," "St. Elsewhere" and "Newhart." He even served five years as president of an independent television production company founded by former NBC television executive Grant Tinker. But Allen found a second calling: leading efforts to revitalize the local economy. Just after the devastating Northridge Earthquake, the San Fernando Valley resident was tapped for a one-year stint as president of the newly hatched Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley. He ended up serving five years. In that time he played a key role in bringing the Orange Line busway to fruition and launching the "Valley of the Stars" business marketing campaign. His efforts drew the attention of other local economic development officials, and last year he was tapped to head the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., the non-profit charged with retaining and attracting businesses to the Southern California region. Economic development may seem distant from his show-business upbringing, but Allen said his job helps him "carry out what my father and mother instilled in me."


Question: You grew up in a household with internationally famous actors as parents. What was that like?
Answer:
My parents may have been famous, but they didn't start out famous or wealthy. Both of my parents were born to poor families: My father spent time in an orphanage when he was young and my mother was born to missionary parents in China. As soon as they achieved any degree of success, they started giving back to the community. And they did not want to raise their children like celebrities. They purposely chose to live in a middle class neighborhood in Burbank, a place where they could raise their children as a normal family.


Q: That must have been hard to do, given your parents' standing in the entertainment world.
A:
Yes, we traveled to places all over the world and had attention lavished on us. Not everyone can drop in and have dinner with Bob Hope like I did when I was young. But my father would constantly tell me: "Don't ever forget the opportunities you've had that others haven't. You must look to the people who don't have those opportunities and give them those opportunities."


Q: You started out following your father into the television business.
A:
I first worked in CBS in their comedy series programming department. Then I joined a very innovative production company founded by Grant Tinker and Mary Tyler Moore. Part of my job was to coordinate the productions. We worked on innovative shows like "St. Elsewhere" and "Newhart." I had the greatest respect for Grant Tinker: He really took risks to back a show like "Hill Street Blues," which really revolutionized television series.


Q: You rose to become president of MTM Television and then you left. What happened?
A:
MTM was acquired in the early 1990s by a British company. The new owners overstretched the company and had to sell to Pat Robertson, who at that time had the Family Channel. That's when I decided it was a good time to sell my stake in the company.


Q: Is that when you became involved in economic development?
A:
Yes. I had actually had some involvement in civic affairs as a television executive, working with Marcy Carsey and others on issues like family programming. I viewed that as part of my family upbringing, to always contribute back to the community. After I sold my stake in MTM, I was looking for something else to do. Just at that time, Grant Tinker, (Galpin Ford owner) Bert Boeckmann and other business leaders asked me to serve as the CEO of this new group they had just put together called the Valley Economic Alliance. Remember, this was just after the Northridge Earthquake had devastated the Valley and businesses and homes were still red-tagged. The General Motors plant had closed and the whole region was reeling economically. I call it the "perfect storm" for us in the San Fernando Valley.


Q: That sounds like quite a jump from your previous career.
A:
Not really. In the television industry, I was bringing everyone together around a vision of what the shows should look like. Now, I was doing this for business and the San Fernando Valley. The vision was to attract new industries, to make the Valley less reliant on aerospace. To do that, we needed a marketing campaign, and that's when we came up with the Valley of the Stars campaign that's been so successful to this day.


Q: What do you view as your most significant accomplishment as head of the Valley Economic Alliance?
A:
The Orange Line. When I first came on board, one of the biggest priorities was to get more mass transit into the Valley. But the folks at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority told us that the Valley was not going to get subway service beyond the North Hollywood station. They had just had the problems on Hollywood Boulevard and their costs were going through the roof. Another problem was that no one could agree on just what the Valley needed. Some thought we needed subway, others more buses, others wanted a monorail.


Q: So how did you help get the Orange Line started?
A:
The most practical alternative was what I call a "rubber tire" mass transit system, where for a fraction of the cost of a subway, you could get a dedicated bus lane to go through the Valley. I then brought Valley business and civic leaders into consensus around this concept. We also reached consensus on the route along Chandler Boulevard and an old rail corridor that the MTA already had the rights to. We are the ones who brought the plan for a bus lane to the MTA, along with the route. Bob Hertzberg (then a state Assemblyman) and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky then saw to it that we got the funding. The whole thing took six years from concept development to completion last year at one-tenth the cost of a subway.

Q: What about the secession issue? Where did you stand on that?
A:
I was initially opposed to secession. I'm an inclusive person by nature, not exclusive, so the whole concept of secession was not appealing to me. But later, I became persuaded that there would be benefits if the city were split off into two separate cities.


Q: How did you arrive at that conclusion?
A:
It all centered around a single $40 million federal grant that went to South L.A. The grant was to help children and was to be awarded to the area with the highest concentration of poor families. Now the Valley, especially the Northeast Valley, has pockets of poverty. But nothing could compete with South L.A., which ended up getting the grant. I asked the feds at the time if the Valley had been a separate city, would the Valley have gotten the grant. The answer was, "Of course." That convinced me that if the Valley was a separate city, it would be eligible for a lot of federal and state assistance that now goes elsewhere.


Q: But you didn't actively campaign for secession?
A:
No. I was never a member of Valley VOTE. Very late in the game, I said that we should explore whether there was simple pride at stake here or whether there was logic in having a separate city. In the end, I became a reluctant supporter of secession. Nonetheless, I was very pleased when secession was defeated. The campaign had raised awareness that the San Fernando Valley is underserved in many ways; since the vote, things have improved markedly.


Q: It sounds like you really took to this career shift.
A:
Yes I did. I found I thoroughly enjoyed it. This became my avenue to carry out what my father and mother instilled in me: giving back to the community. Initially, I was asked to serve only one year as chief executive, just to get the Economic Alliance off the ground. But as I went out to meet with small-business people, I found that helping them to have an environment that facilitates growing their companies is intensely satisfying. I was moved by the number of people who had lost their jobs throughout the Valley and relished the opportunity to help thousands of people get back to work.


Q: But you went back into the entertainment business.
A:
In October of 2000, my father passed away. I had to step in and take over as trustee of his businesses. There was Meadowlane Enterprises, which licensed classic television series and Meadowlane Music, which published a music catalog. (The Meadowlane name came from my mother, who was Jayne Meadows before she married my father.) I was the only one in the family who had the managerial experience to run these businesses. I ended up purchasing the companies.


Q: So how did you get back into the economic development game?
A:
About three years ago, Lee Harrington, (then president and chief executive) at the LAEDC approached me and asked me to consider replacing him after he retired. At the time, I was still managing my father's businesses. But last summer, when he announced his retirement, I went ahead and applied.


Q: What are your main goals at the LAEDC?
A:
I want to increase the participation of senior business leadership throughout the county in our efforts. I'd really like to see more involvement from the entertainment industry, aerospace and international trade. I'd also like to see more representatives from some of the county's 88 cities on our board.


Q: The LAEDC's board is pretty big as it is.
A:
Yes, the board now has 150 people on it, which is way too big. This probably means restructuring the board. We probably will look to a smaller governing board and a larger advisory board. The governing board would supervise the running of the organization while the advisory board would be focused on key policy areas, like infrastructure, education, life sciences, regional airport planning, etc.


Q: But the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce already has a focus on many of these same policy areas. How would this be different?
A:
Yes, but we will not take advocacy positions like the Chamber does. We will not be lobbying officials for this policy or that policy. Instead, we will come up with policy alternatives that the public sector could then use to inform their decisions. It's a more holistic approach.


Q: What else do you want to do at the LAEDC?
A:
I would also like to promote the consulting practice of the LAEDC. We have a world-class research team here, led by Jack Kyser and a top-notch policy and consulting team led by Wally Baker. There are many companies and organizations that can use these talents. Also, I don't see any other business organizations leading what I call a "regional branding" of L.A. We've got many states coming in and poaching our businesses. We need to fight back. We need to put out a positive image of L.A. both for those companies that are here and considering leaving and for companies considering entering the L.A. market sort of like the "I Love New York" campaign.


Q: We already have that Randy Newman song, "I Love L.A."
A:
Seriously, we need to market the fact that we are the nation's business capital. Sure, New York may be the financial capital, but if you want to get business done on a global scale, you have to come to L.A. We are the most diverse economy on the planet. We can help any global business succeed. That's the message we have to get out there. And the LAEDC is the organization to do that.


Q: Isn't that what L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is trying to do with his Business Team?
A:
Yes, but that's just for the city of Los Angeles. I'm talking about the entire region, extending into Orange County and even the Inland Empire. We'll start by making sure this message is incorporated into all of our current materials. Then we'll look at spending dollars on a marketing campaign. I'll point to just one example of what I mean: When you come into LAX, there is no reference whatsoever to L.A. as a place to do business. If we could put up a sign saying "L.A., the Business Capital of America," that would make people think differently about this region.

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