By Todd Nicholson

You may have read in the local papers recently that the Orange County Business Council is creating a new department to be known as the Orange County Tourism Council. The purpose is to distinguish Orange County as a distinct and separate world-class tourism destination, increase the number of visitors and their length of stay in the county and to increase the number of travel, tourism and hospitality jobs locally.

The economic impact of visitors to our community emphasizes the importance of this effort. Tourism generates direct and indirect spending in Orange County totaling $12 billion a year. In 1996, nearly 39 million people visited Orange County for business and pleasure and spent $5.1 billion on food, entertainment, lodging, shopping and other tourist related items. That generated income supports 146,000 jobs and nearly $250 million in taxes for state and local services.

And, properly marketed, we believe there is an opportunity to substantially increase those numbers. But to launch a major marketing campaign you have to have a slogan. The Big Apple has “I Love New York”; Las Vegas has tried “The American Way to Play” and “Open 24 Hours”.

Well, we launched a campaign which lasted six months (somehow decisions by committee seem to take a bit longer than anticipated) to identify a slogan for Orange County. During the process, the Orange County Register picked up on the story and encouraged readers to send in their suggestions. And, suggestions we got. Hundreds and hundreds.

Orange County citizens demonstrated remarkable creativity and some even showed good taste with their suggestions.

Let me share with you just a few that were not chosen:

Orange County — a slice of the good life; squeeze us into your next vacation.

Orange County — where the fun groves and groves

Let the funshine on Orange County

Orange County — home of virtual fantasy

Home of Mickey; land of sun; OC CA is #1

Orange County — California’s escape from LA

Orange County — The Big Squeezy

Hi Gorgeous. Do Orange County

From Sea to Bankruptcy

Orange County, a navel experience

My grandmother wears Army sneakers in Orange County

Orange County has everything; it will really relax you and make you sing

Well, enough of these suggestions.

As good as these and hundreds of others were, they were not selected. We selected ORANGE COUNTY … THE PERFECT CALIFORNIA.

Few would dispute our fabulous weather, our glorious beaches and the outstanding tourist attractions such as Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. But those of us who live and work here know — although sometimes we take it for granted — that we have much more than those attributes that make us close to perfection.

Orange County is at the heart of the Technology Coast of Southern California. Our

region, looked at as a 100 mile circle, encompasses the greatest concentration of

technology research, development, manufacturing and commercialization in the world.

Many of the most important technology-oriented academic and research institutions in

the world are located in our region … Caltech, USC, UCLA UCI, UCSD, JPL, Scripps,

and Rand, to name a few. State Universities such as Dominquez Hills, Pomona,

Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, San Bernardino and San Diego.

Our region is home to centers of excellence in industry clusters such as aerospace,

medical devices, telecommunications, electronics, computers and peripherals,

software, multimedia and bio technology.

Among our corporate residents are major high-tech companies such as Rockwell,

Boeing North America, Western Digital, ICN Pharmaceuticals, Gish Biomedical,

Filenet, Beckman Instruments, Allergan, Advanced Logic Research, Toshiba America,

and the list goes on and on.

And, at the heart of this incredible region is Orange County, a thriving, entrepreneurial, globally-competitive economic dynamo.

Consider these points:

– Our economy is up. Its growing 2 and 1/2 times the national economy and jobs are up 2.4%.

– Exports are up. Up nearly 20 %, ranking Orange County 13th among 253 metropolitan areas in the country.

– Crime is down. Orange County’s seven largest cities report that serious crime has declined 20% and it is the fifth consecutive year of decline.

– Air pollution is down. Poor air quality days have dropped dramatically — more than 50%.

– And, recently Orange County was ranked the #1 best place to live in all of North America by Places Rated Almanac, which ranks areas in nine categories ranging from climate, and crime, to education, the arts, health care and job availability. (By the way, this almanac is produced through the University of Washington in Seattle, a city which was ranked the second to Orange County.)

There is very good reason for optimism. Despite having suffered the devastating

effects of defense cutbacks, recession and internal and global upheavals, every

economic forecast and corporate survey confirms that Orange County’s economy is

showing sustained growth and staying power.

Let’s take a look at the facts:

– Despite representing just one-half of one percent of California’s total area, Orange County contains eight percent of the state’s population and generates 9.3 percent of its gross state product.

– If it were an independent country, Orange County’s economy would rank 28th largest in the world; an economy larger than that of Hong Kong, Greece, the Philippines or New Zealand.

– Orange County is the birthplace of the medical devise industry and it is the computer memory capital of the world.

– One-fourth of all multimedia firms in the US are located within a thirty mile radius of where we are today.

– Orange County firms export more than $10 billion annually, ranking us 13th in the US.

– Over 125,000 jobs in Orange County support international trade activities. Real growth in exports is expected to increase more than 10% annually and imports are projected to increase over seven percent annually.

– We have the second largest concentration of computer companies in California and the largest concentration of programmers in the State.

– Our unemployment rate is an unbelievable 3.1 % compared to LA’s 6.7 percent and 6.2 percent statewide.

– Compared to other US counties, Orange County ranks in the top eight in its diversity of manufacturing and 97 % of all Orange County businesses employ less than 100 persons.

Business leaders statewide feel increasingly optimistic about the state’s ongoing

economic recovery. An annual survey conducted by UCI’s Mark Baldassare for the

California Business Roundtable, found a 25-point drop in business leader’s negative

perceptions of business conditions over those identified a year ago. The state’s

liability laws, which were identified by business leaders for the fourth year in a row as

the issue having the most negative impact on California’s economy may lose their

ranking next year with the recent defeat of Proposition 211.

As we all know, strong business and economic growth benefits everyone. It

provides the financial fuel for essential services, important infrastructure and support

for community and cultural groups — all of which create a high quality of life for

residents and make the area an ideal place to live, work and raise a family.

Todd B. Nicholson is a 25-year veteran of Orange County business organizations and was the founding President/CEO of the Orange County Business Council, a regional alliance of companies diligently working to improve business and economic growth as a means to enhance the quality of life in Orange County. He recently announced his resignation to pursue other interests, but plans to stay involved in the economic future of the region.

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