Since 1981, the Los Angeles Economic Development Council (LAEDC) has worked to attract, retain and grow businesses among LA County’s 10 million residents, via free business assistance and attraction programs, economic research and analysis, real estate advisory services, trade and investment assistance, and public policy leadership. The organization’s ultimate goal has been to create prosperity through job creation.
LAEDC members and partners include the area’s largest corporate employers, philanthropic organizations and non-profits, county and city governments, research institutes, and leading colleges and universities, all working together to improve the skills and knowledge base of the L.A. workforce, address the issues affecting business growth, all in order to boost LA’s presence in the world economy.
Helping such a large organization create thought leadership, as well as actionable initiatives, is no small task, as LAEDC Director of Innovation Chris Rico can tell you.
Rico, who came into the position in April of 2015, has spent the past two decades in a series of positions throughout the area’s entertainment, technology, and civic organizations — doing everything from film & TV development, running progressive political campaigns, teaching special needs kids in inner city schools, and was most recently a senior advisor to the philanthropy platform Bright Funds.
All these disparate roles have helped crystallize Rico’s focus to bring together LA’s tech ecosystem, in order to show the world the area’s breadth of tech talent.
In addition to helping more traditional companies navigate an economy filled with disruptors, Rico and the LAEDC help startups understand their role in the larger LA ecosystem. And in talking to numerous businesses throughout the region, one item become abundantly clear — Rico’s number one role is to change people’s perception of LA.
“How LA is portrayed in the popular media has nothing to do with the hard work thousands of companies and organizations are doing to create innovation. Says Rico, “I don’t believe there’s a city on the planet that is innovating in so many fields as Los Angeles.”
And as planning begins for Innovate LA, the multi-day event previously known as Innovation Week(s), Rico is aiming to build an event that in time will be seen globally as one would a SXSW, an Art Basel, or a New York Fashion Week, with pavilions and events clustered around key industries from Pasadena to Long Beach, from downtown to Playa Vista, to all points in between.
With over 160 events during the course of 22 days, 2015’s Innovation Weeks proved to be a bit tiring. But it did bring together over 100 partner organizations, who see what each other is doing and offered them new opportunities to connect with each other, as well as with the overall business community and the general public.
And as Rico looks to streamline the event in order to magnify its impact, he sees Innovate LA as, “A marketing opportunity for something that’s hard for people to quantify or get a handle on — there’s so much happening here right now, just an explosion of what’s happening here at one time.”
Rico duly recognizes the power that the Oscars have on LA’s global impact, but notes that the world needs to see that LA is more than just Hollywood, that there are numerous other verticals. Rico wants to make sure that Innovate LA not only highlights LA’s economic and industrial diversity, from manufacturing and healthcare to social and civic innovation, but also marries LA’s presence in art and culture, which is inextricable with the area’s commercial base.
In addition to Innovate LA, Rico is spearheading an initiative to build an online portal which collects and maintains all the necessary information on regulations and resources that anyone would need to run a business in LA county, from startup to late-stage growth companies. Says Rico, “It’s difficult for people to do business here because you have 5-10 resources when you look on Google, whether it be from the City, the County, or anywhere else, and oftentimes the information may not be accurate or up to date. By bringing all this business info onto one site, we can guarantee the continuity and longevity of such a resource as years go by.”
And as for the future of the area, says Rico, “I’m bullish on LA — we’re at a real inflection, we have a real opportunity to give good guidance in this process that’s happening naturally, to support the process and give it direction.
“We are on the 37th floor of a tower downtown; I can look out my window and see all across the southland, and that’s where we sit with this birds eye view, a comprehensive understanding of whats happening, and can use whatever arrows we have in our quiver, from economic & public policy, to help [the area’s economy] keep doing what it’s already doing.”