Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp Interview

The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation was founded in 1981 to advance and support industries, companies, educational and nonprofit organizations here in LA County. If it was a country, LA County would be the 18th largest economy in the world. The LAEDC is both a leader and a collaborator, supporting and organizing targeted solutions by mobilizing the diverse resources in communities across our County.

AMA Los Angeles President Philip Rebentisch interviewed Chris Rico, the Director of Innovation + Digital Media Industry Cluster Development, to learn more about the LAEDC’s mission.

PR: LAEDC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, but is it a quasi-governmental organization or an independent company that collaborates with the County government?

Chris Rico

CR: We are a quasi-governmental agency and we were charted by the County about 37 years ago. We receive some County funding, but it’s a fraction of our annual budget. All or nearly all of the 88 cities in LA County are members, and we work closely with city, county, and state governments. Many people assume we’re connected to the Los Angeles Mayor’s office, but we are not part of LA city government.

PR: So you can’t help me out with Kings playoff tickets?

CR: No, sorry.

PR: How has the LAEDC’s mission changed since its inception in 1981?

CR: The way we approach economic development has changed. We are much more proactive. During the 2007-08 economic downturn we were bleeding a lot of jobs. We circled the wagons with other nonprofit organizations and governments and created a 5-year plan for economic development from 2010 to 2015. It was really about how we maintain jobs and how we could grow the economy. That’s at the macro level, but we also continue to work with individual businesses.

PR: LA County is a diverse place, not only in geography, but also in culture and business interests. Given the multitude of options, what is Propel LA and its priorities?

CR: Propel LA was the result of our five-year plan that I mentioned, and their job was to implement the plan. We have set goals and objectives, and we are constantly analyzing the data to see if we are meeting these goals and objectives.

PR: There’s a quote on your website that states: “LAEDC directly helped 181 businesses overcome challenges through strategic, confidential consulting resulting in 8,436 jobs either retained or created in L.A. County during our fiscal year ending June 30, making a huge impact in the lives of families in our region.

I’m interested in the story of how LAEDC achieved those results. Can we talk a little the general process that overcame the challenges in that quote? Was this via the Business Assistance Team?

CR: We deploy the Business Assistance Teams in the field to work one on one with individual businesses to help them stay open; or assist them with re-locating from one city to another that may have a different tax structure. So, we take both the macro and micro views into account.

PR: You are the Director of Innovation and Digital Media Industry Cluster Development. Let’s talk about the last half of that title. What is cluster development?

CR: We’re trying to grow whole industry sectors like we have with aerospace, but now with advanced transportation and life sciences. We’ve also set up the Digital Media and Entertainment Council. The real emphasis is on workforce development for all of our cluster developments. How do we bring industry to the table? How do we assess their current and future needs for skills and occupations? That’s the demand side of the equation. On the supply side, our Center for a Competitive Workforce is a partnership between LAEDC, LA Area Chamber, and the region’s community colleges. The CCW is a new model for aligning industry with education, to ensure community colleges are developing curriculums and talent for exactly what industries need. A big goal is to lift up individuals in underutilized communities.

PR: LA has a vibrant start up culture. The first half of your title is Director of Innovation. Are you plugged into the startup culture? Do you attend a networking event every night?

CR: When I first took on this job, I was committed to going to all those things. More importantly for me now is nurturing those relationships with people who are out there doing that networking. Innovate LA, our annual County-wide innovation festival provides the venue for these organizations to help their members. I’m more focused on the macro and the broader vision of telling LA’s story.

PR: LA is synonymous with the entertainment industry and glamour, but that’s only part of our story. Do you think we’re doing a good job in telling the story of industry diversity beyond the palm trees on Sunset Blvd.?

CR: Our messaging is that if you want to innovate, come to LA. We’re trying to get all organizations to look at the ecosystems and get everyone driving in the same direction. At the end of the day, what we want to do is create companies that create jobs. On February 8, we hosted the new Digital Media and Entertainment Industry Council Meeting and a Digital Media Expo. At the event, we will present a new industry report on the Entertainment and Digital Media industry, including a deep-dive on workforce development systems and the related jobs forecast. The report is a product of the Center for a Competitive Workforce.

PR: We’re pleased to be a Media Sponsor to help promote that event which I am attending.

Our chapter has developed synergistic relationships with other professional organizations in LA and beyond. As content creators and marketers, how can we all help you tell the story of LA County?

CR: The idea is for the LAEDC to create a massive branding campaign and guidelines so that organizations like the AMA can take part. It is incumbent upon those organizations to go and create content that can live within the common story, and let’s make it a regional effort.

PR: In political terms, Los Angeles has been described as not being business friendly. Is innovation a way to dispel this perception?

CR: It’s a good question. We’re one of the 20 finalists for the secondary Amazon headquarters, and what we have to offer is unlike any other city. The business friendliness of LA is its 220 different cultures, and we have the greatest creative class on the planet. We are much more productive than other regions because you’re prone to be more effective when the weather is nice. You go to places that are commonly cloudy and the city shuts down on sunny days. This diversity of industry is why the four hyper loop companies are here, why Elon Musk came here, it’s why Richard Branson is here with Virgin Galactic. The talent, the diversity of industry, the diversity of people, I can go on and on about the type of work that can be produced.

PR: Thank you so much for taking time to speak with me today and we look forward to working with you.

CR: It was my pleasure, thank you.