LOS ANGELES — Eastern media love to hate California: “The Promised Land now seems like the Valley of the Damned,” opined U.S. News & World Report in the wake of recent natural disasters — earthquakes, fires and mudslides — which came on top of recession, deep cuts in defense spending, cratering real estate values, a state budget crisis and social disintegration symbolized by immigrants on the dole and riots that followed the Rodney King verdict.
The typical California news story paints a picture of a state going down ~ the tubes. Result: A feeding frenzy by the media and by beggar-thy neighbor initiatives of other states trying to lure companies from California. These are serious problems in the worlds of politics and business worlds where images count. That’s why Southern California civic leaders, business executives and policy analysts met here last week to launch an initiative to examine the region’s underlying strengths, its importance to the nation and its prospects for the future.
Led by GTE, the Los Angeles World Trade Center, Rebuild Los Angeles and others (including the Center for the New West), the group will show that reports of Southern California’s death have been greatly exaggerated: Los Angeles is still the nation’s top manufacturing center and leading port, California has the nation’s premier collection of fast-growing, leading-edge companies and high-tech industries — entertainment, environmental control technology, computers, biotechnology, textiles and others. California has a world-class, multicultural labor force, and many of its most successful entrepreneurs come from its immigrant population.
Most important, the group hopes to show that a prosperous California and its leading “city state” — the Los Angeles metropolitan area — is vital to the prosperity and well-being of the rest of the nation — especially the adjacent Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest regions.
The challenge is daunting. Reason: As California’s achievements are diminished by media bashing, its woes are also blown out of proportion. Example: How many would know that fewer than half as many people died in the last two Los Angeles earthquakes, fires and mudslides as perished in the unseasonable cold that lingered on America’s Atlantic seaboard this past winter? Arguably, the Eastern cold spell also did as much damage to buildings and infrastructure as the earthquakes did to Southern California.
No popular myth about California is more at odds with the facts than the image of vastly increasing outmigration. Contrary to popular belief, people have been moving into and leaving California in large numbers for years. Since 1980, annual in-migration to California fluctuated between 289,000 and 436,000 while out-migration fluctuated between 224,000 and 389,000.
Since 1991, out-migration has indeed crept up — about 5% in 1992-93. But during the same period in-migration has cratered — down by nearly 20%. Result: The big change in California is not the increase in the numbers leaving but the sharp reduction in the numbers moving into the state. In fact, the net out-migration from California in the last three years — 76,545 people — is less than the number of New York and New Jersey residents who moved to the Golden State during the same period, 94,447. If California is draining, the Northeast is hemorrhaging.