State officials are so pleased with a pilot program that allows new Los Angeles garment manufacturers to register for city, county and state permits in one location that they want to expand it to cities throughout the state.
The program, officials say, not only makes it easier for new manufacturers to get through the permitting process, but increases compliance to reduce the number of sweatshops and manufacturers that pay employees under the table.
“Before, you could probably go to the city and get one license and operate without the state knowing about it,” said Benjamin Sarem, a business development specialist at the California Trade and Commerce Agency. “Now you can’t do that anymore.”
But members of the garment industry say that while the pilot program has good intentions, its limited scope makes it almost inconsequential.
“I think it’s going to affect a small number of people,” said Bernard Lax, president of the Coalition of Apparel Industries in California, a political action group representing the garment industry.
Lax said that since only a small number of new garment manufacturers and contractors go into business each year, and since the program only applies to first-time applicants, its benefits will be minimal.
“It’s questionable how many new businesses there are in the garment industry these days,” he said.
The program which allows new manufacturers to apply for a county health permit, city business license and state license all in one City Hall office has been in place since late January.
Through April, 91 new garment businesses registered through the one-stop office. City officials say that they expected 1,200 garment manufacturers and contractors to register through the one-stop office in its pilot year.
“We were expecting more, but it’s difficult to say,” said Sylvia Nesbit, an assistant director with the tax and permit division of the City Clerk’s Office. “This is only the fourth month into the program.”
But Sarem said he has been impressed with the program, and he has invited representatives from cities throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties, as well as from San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego to a presentation in June.
“I’d like to expand this program to all these areas by January of 1999,” he said.
The state funds a computer system that allows the city, county and state to swap non-confidential information about new garment manufacturers. It also reimburses the city for staff time spent on the program.
Sarem said the computer system eventually will be expanded to include information about all garment manufacturers, not just those registering for the first time.
“This is one of the things we’re looking into expanding into existing manufacturers too,” Sarem said. “We needed a point at which to start, and we started with the new (manufacturers).”
But Lax of Apparel Industries said there is also another problem with the pilot program: All but a very few people know that it exists. “Whether the message is even getting out how are people even supposed to know?” Lax said.
Indeed, the city has done no promotion for the one-stop program, and the state’s efforts have largely consisted of press releases and opinion pieces to newspapers. Lax said the state should be taking out ads in industry journals.
“The first thing most people do when they go into an industry is pick up a trade paper,” Lax said.
Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Association, was more supportive of the pilot program, but said that enforcement will be almost meaningless until it is expanded to existing garment manufacturers. “The ones who are operating now are still sheltered,” she said.