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SUMMIT

Six months after a major “call to action” summit was held to work on solutions to some of L.A.’s most pressing economic problems, organizers and participants are expressing frustration over what they call a lack of visible progress.

“A lot of the things that I assumed would be quick to implement have taken longer than expected,” said Regina Birdsell, executive director of the New Los Angeles Marketing Partnership, which organized last November’s Economic Action Summit.

“I am somewhat disappointed,” echoed Vera Campbell, owner of Design Zone, an L.A-based apparel manufacturer, who sat on one of the summit panels. “A great amount of time and effort was invested in this summit, and there doesn’t seem to have been a whole lot of follow-through.”

The few actions taken have tended to be relatively simple, like creating databases or putting on small seminars to teach lobbying techniques to industry groups.

But even something as straightforward as setting up a database of high-tech companies in the region has turned out to be more involved than anticipated.

“I thought all you would need to do is obtain already existing lists, send out some questionnaires and make a few phone calls,” Birdsell said. “It turns out that you have to make a lot of phone calls, over several months. And then, after all the calls are done, everybody involved asks: ‘Did we think of everybody?’ And then, new tips come in and you have to keep on going.”

As a result, many of the “immediate action” steps outlined at the summit could take a year or more to get in place. “I would expect that by the first quarter of next year you will see much more movement,” Birdsell said.

As for one of the summit’s larger goals bringing together the disparate elements of L.A.’s business community and getting them to speak with a unified voice progress has been equally slow and frustrating.

“I would not say that the business community here in L.A. has any more cohesion or unity to it now than it did before the summit,” said Jeffrey Gaul, chief financial officer of Digital Planet, a Culver City-based Web designer. “That’s something that I don’t think could ever have been changed in such a short time; at least a year or two is needed for that. What I am starting to see, though, is people talking about these issues now, for the first time, as a result of the summit. The key now is for them to follow through.”

Gaul said that cohesion is still needed, despite the fact that the current economic good times tend to mask deep-rooted problems.

“Business needs a clear path to follow when it comes to local and regional issues. That makes it easier to be proactive when major stumbling blocks emerge,” he said.

One of the missing ingredients is a core group of professionals dedicated to providing leadership and follow-through on ideas, according to Pepperdine University fellow and local business pundit Joel Kotkin.

“No one has yet figured out how to set up an effective business leadership organization in Los Angeles,” Kotkin said. “For the first time in years, people here are trying very hard now. But what you really need is a small, focused group of professionals backed by 10 to 15 players with serious money. A group like NewLAMP is a good start and has done some good things, but it’s being disbanded next year.”

Birdsell said the summit has opened up a dialogue between various sectors of the business community and also between business and political leaders in the L.A. area.

“As long as everybody’s talking to each other, that’s progress. That’s where the sharing of ideas takes place and cities or industry groups find out about things that they can try themselves,” she said.

One of the few concrete accomplishments to come out of the summit has been an entertainment industry survey conducted by the Economic Development Corp. of L.A. County. In that survey, the EDC asked entertainment executives to identify skill sets that students need to get jobs in the industry. The EDC says it will soon conduct similar surveys of executives in other industries.

The EDC also is seeking $800,000 in government funding to set up an inventory of all college and university curricula in Southern California for industries to draw on.

“These steps weren’t even being talked about before the summit,” said EDC President Lee Harrington.

The EDC also is working to set up the region’s first comprehensive listing of industrial sites in the eight cities through which the proposed Alameda Corridor will pass. That inventory list will not be completed, though, for several more months. That would be the first part of what summit participants hope will become a comprehensive inventory of all industrial sites in the county.

One area where aspirations have hit harsh reality is transportation. The summit gave the Southern California Association of Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority the task of revising regional transportation plans. But the MTA’s latest plan to finish work on the Metro Red Line subway to North Hollywood and re-evaluate rail plans for East L.A., Mid-Cities, the San Gabriel Valley and western San Fernando Valley has caused bitter controversy. Reaching a consensus on transportation issues among local business and political leaders seems a long way off.

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