Zooming Out on LA

There’s no longer any question that Los Angeles has arrived as a global city—if Hollywood’s reach doesn’t make the case then the Asian money behind its new skyline and preparations for a record-setting third Olympiad should.

The more apt question these days is which Los Angeles excites the world?

The Los Angeles of Rodeo Drive? Or the Huntington Gardens? Or Disneyland?

And there’s the rub—because none of those places is in the City of Los Angeles.

Rodeo Drive and the Huntington Gardens are both in the larger territory known as Los Angeles County. The former is famous as the high street of Beverly Hills, the latter a staid cultural preserve in San Marino.

Those two toney and independent towns are on opposite sides of LA County, which covers 4,000 square miles and includes 88 municipalities altogether.

You have to expand to the larger concept of Southern California to get to Disneyland, which is in Orange County, directly south of LA.

LA gets a lot of credit for its neighbors’ achievements, as well as its own—but the outsized image is a two-edged sword.

The latest report from the World Trade Center of Los Angeles provides some insights, giving data on foreign-owned businesses with operations in Southern California.

You might expect LA County to punch above its weight on foreign investment as the undisputed center of the sun-dappled landscape, with its population of 10 million approaching half of the region’s total. Among the assets likely to appeal to foreign investors at the practical and executive levels are the biggest airport in Southern California, twin seaports that are the busiest in the U.S., three research universities, 76 hospitals, numerous renowned museum and performance venues, nine professional sports teams, and 66 Consulates General.

Yet LA County looks to be just another option for foreign investment on Southern California’s expansive landscape.

There are nearly 12,000 foreign-owned firms in Southern California, and LA County is home to fewer than half of them.

The same goes for the 461,447 jobs at foreign-owned enterprises throughout the region–and for the $18.1 billion in annual wages they generate.

The numbers get worse for LA County when you consider investments coming from key overseas markets, including the UK, a leading trade partner of Southern California.

UK businesses combine to account for 76,000 jobs and $6.1 billion in annual payroll in Southern California, with about two-thirds of each total landing outside of City of Los Angeles or LA County.

A number of other top 10 sources of foreign investment in Southern California also index low for LA.

Los Angeles is a global magnet when viewed from afar.

But consider LA within its regional setting of Southern California and it’s about on par with a lot of other places that are miles away from Hollywood or the ports or a courtside seat to watch LeBron James perform for the world-famous Lakers basketball franchise.

The data on foreign-owned businesses and where they locate in Southern California serve to concentrate the mind on LA’s problem, which range from a federal corruption probe of City Hall to rampant encampments of rough sleepers and a municipal budget devastated by Covid-19 while feckless politicians fiddle.

Meanwhile, some of the best public schools are down in Orange County, there is world-class golf out in the Riverside County burg of Palm Springs, and you’ll find world-class resorts up in Santa Barbara County.

And you can check just about anywhere for better roads.

LA’s image is big.

But it seems foreign investors have learned that hype doesn’t fill potholes.

Jerry Sullivan is founder and chief columnist for SullivanSaysSoCal.com.