By LARRY KANTER
In an unprecedented effort to keep L.A.’s entertainment industry centered in Hollywood, more than 150 show business companies have joined forces to halt the exodus of their peers to Burbank, Glendale and the Westside.
To launch that effort, the group known as the Hollywood Economic Alliance this week will release a study indicating that Hollywood’s economic picture is far rosier than many Angelenos may think.
According to the report, which was completed by the Valley Economic Development Center Inc., Hollywood’s entertainment and media-related companies have grown at a dramatic rate over the past four years despite widespread perceptions that the area is in a state of disarray.
Among the study’s findings:
– Quarterly payroll in Hollywood’s entertainment industry has jumped 72 percent between 1992 and 1996, rising from $440 million to $590 million.
– Employment was up 7 percent, from less than 14,000 in 1992 to almost 15,000 in 1996.
– In radio and television broadcasting, the number of firms in Hollywood has jumped 58 percent in the past four years, from 21 to 33; employment in those sectors has soared 273 percent, from 1,065 in 1992 to almost 4,000 last year.
– Entertainment industry jobs have an average wage of $45,337 a year.
“The industrial base in Hollywood has been ignored,” said John J. Rooney, president of the VEDC. “Most people thought the entertainment industry was declining. The truth is, it actually has grown. Companies want to be in Hollywood.”
Commissioned by the Mayor’s Office, the study is the first phase of an ambitious, $350,000 campaign to buff up Hollywood’s tarnished image in effort to attract and retain businesses in the area.
“There’s a lot at stake for the whole city,” said City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who represents Hollywood. “Hollywood is like the airport or the harbor. It is a citywide attraction, and it has to be healthy.”
The Hollywood Economic Alliance which also will draw on the area’s tourist trade and health services industry joins other recent efforts aimed at turning Hollywood around, such as the establishment of a business improvement district along Hollywood Boulevard and the proposed redevelopment around Mann’s Chinese Theater.
Even more significantly, the effort represents one of the first times the highly competitive players in the often insular entertainment industry have joined forces with the rest of the business community.
“Heretofore, we have not been organized to have a single voice that gets heard,” said Chris Baumgart, president of Shoreline Professional Video Systems. “We’ve not been able to get what we’re due as a critical business citizen of Los Angeles.”
Throughout the 1990s, a number of entertainment firms including the Hollywood Reporter, the Screen Actors Guild and Motown Record Co. abandoned their homes in Hollywood for new digs on L.A.’s Westside, the Miracle Mile and other areas.
And despite the recent economic growth indicated by the study, one of the area’s largest employers, Fox Television, is in the process of moving much of its operations from Hollywood to Century City.
Although the fate of the site is not clear Fox has held out the prospect of keeping one or more of its divisions in Hollywood Goldberg said she does not believe it will be vacant for long.
“There are lot of people lined up for that facility,” she said. “It’s a good space, and it will not be empty.”
The Hollywood Economic Alliance is patterned after the Valley Economic Alliance that was formed to retain businesses in the San Fernando Valley following the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake.
The VEDC, which helped form the Valley group, is calling for establishing a “media district” in Hollywood that would provide specific incentives for entertainment and media companies to locate and remain in Hollywood.
Such incentives would be similar to the recent cap on gross receipts taxes for multimedia companies in the city of Los Angeles, said Leron Gubler, executive director of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
In addition, the alliance hopes to install a state-of-the-art network of fiber-optics to lure Internet and multimedia firms to the area. It also is considering creating another business improvement district, this one composed of production companies, to tackle such issues as lighting and street safety a key consideration for such businesses, which tend to operate around-the-clock.
“You have to create an atmosphere where people are going to feel comfortable doing their work,” said Mark Kaplan, president of Todd-AO Studios. “The comfort level of people in the entertainment business is very important.”
In addition to the entertainment industry, the VEDC study also pointed to growth in Hollywood’s tourism business and its often unnoticed health care sector.
The number of tourist-oriented businesses, for example, was up 10 percent over the past four years, from 586 in 1992 to 644 in 1996. Overall employment dipped 12 percent to about 6,200 in the same period.
In Hollywood’s health care industry which consists of offices, clinics, hospitals and dental labs payroll rose 5 percent to $100 million per quarter, although employment fell 13 percent to 10,287.
But it is the area’s entertainment companies that appear to be taking the lead for the first time.
“The studios are typically very competitive, almost to the point of being cutthroat point,” said Jeffrey Edell, president of Soundelux Entertainment Group. “Now, it’s kind of like a rallying cry during a war. We’re trying to do something to better the grounds that everyone is playing on.”