Will Los Angeles be a beneficiary of the Olympic Games?

Even though the games, which open next week, will be in distant China, they could result in residual and real benefits for Los Angeles.

How so? Well, consider what Peter Ueberroth said last week: While Chinese officials see the games as a way to show off the country to the rest of the world, they don't quite realize that the games will bring the world into China, exposing their population to a wave of foreign influences and attitudes. That wave will wipe away fears and prejudices, and embolden the Chinese to look overseas to study, do business or just travel.

What the Chinese officials don't know yet is that once you open up a closed country, it's hard to snap it shut again.

For that reason, Ueberroth said the upcoming Olympics will be the most significant international event ever.

Now, hyperbole may be no stranger to Ueberroth. But, let's give him his due. He was the guy who ran the very successful 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and he is now chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, so he knows a thing or two about the Olympic Games and their effects. He's probably on to something. The Olympics may well help pry open China.

And where would a more open China look? It likely would turn to the United States as much as any other country. We know that Chinese like doing business with Americans more than, say, the Japanese. That's one reason General Motors has made more inroads in China than Toyota or any other carmaker.

And if the Chinese look to America for cultural, business and other ties, they likely will consider Los Angeles their main port, literally and figuratively. We not only unpack more shipping containers from China than any other city, but Los Angeles has a tremendous Chinese and Chinese-American population, and a good deal of Chinese-oriented businesses, as evidenced by the many Chinese banks here.

Yes, the Olympics could help drag China into the 21st century, and a more open China may decide that a primary route to the rest of the world goes through Los Angeles.

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A new report last week said that consumer spending was down again. It said consumers are skittish about the economy and inflation. Although I'm just one consumer, I know my spending is down. But it's not because of the economy. I'm fed up with retail clerks.

For one thing, they're an endangered species. You can count more condors in the sky than clerks on the floor at Macy's. And when you do find one, it's obvious they're on the sales floor by mistake because they're clearly not there to help you. The last time I asked a clerk at Home Depot to look for something in the back because it wasn't on the sales floor, he snickered, "Sure, dude," and sauntered off, never to be seen again.

How long would it take a manager to tell all incoming clerks they must smile at customers, ask if they can help, say "thank you"? Would it take a minute to give that little speech? Thirty seconds even? I mean, we went to the moon and everything. You'd think a little speech like that could be told to all clerks before the end of the decade.

Honestly, I'm curious. Retail managers, please tell me, why can't you hire a few more clerks and give them that little "be helpful" speech? What am I missing here? (My e-mail address is below.) If enough explain, I'll include some of the responses in a future column.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com .

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