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Villaraigosa says Asia trip will bring jobs, investment

December 15, 2011 |  6:55 pm

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Just back from an 11-day trade mission to China, Japan and South Korea, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa promised that his trip would create jobs through increased investment, trade and tourism. 
“It’s clear, as Asia rises, so does Los Angeles,” the mayor said.

Villaraigosa ticked off the meetings he had with high-placed officials, including China’s vice premier and vice president, South Korea’s prime minister and the mayors of Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Seoul.

He also meet with top officials of major Asian companies that play key roles in the city’s economy, including China Shipping, which is doubling the size of its terminal at the port, and Hyundai Merchant Marine, which plans to invest in a new pier at the port that may be as large as 200 acres.

The mayor defended the trip’s $295,000 cost to the city and the events intended to help Los Angeles-based businesses. “I’m the salesman-in-chief for the city of Los Angeles,” he said.

Several  Asian companies plan return visits to Los Angeles, according to the mayor’s office, which is hoping they will establish local business outposts. They include South Korea’s Lotte Group, a high-end retailer, and China’s Huawei Technologies Co., world's second-largest provider of telecom and Internet technology.

Villaraigosa also attended events with Los Angeles businesses that are expanding their ties with Asia, including Forever 21, a cheap-chic clothing retailer that opened three new stores in China, and Ikonic Entertainment Group, which is partnering with a Chinese firm to build a martial arts-themed park.

Jack Chen, Ikonic’s co-chairman, attended the mayor’s news conference and projected that the firm would hire several hundred employees in Los Angeles in the next few years.

The mayor began his news conference by expressing his awe at the rapid development of infrastructure in Asia and later noted that the changes at Shanghai’s port made it unrecognizable from his visit five years ago. He contrasted that with the inability of a gridlocked Congress to pass a transportation bill, which continues to stymie the construction of major road and rail projects.

“All around the world, they’re making investments that boggle the mind,” he said, noting that Californians are still debating high-speed rail five decades after Japan began to develop the technology.

The mayor, joined by some top city officials, made his comments in the soaring lobby of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. Gary Toebben, the chamber’s president and chief executive, noted that the trip followed on the heels of the approval of a free-trade agreement with South Korea. He said it was critical for mayors and governors to make overtures to Asia and encouraged the mayor to return. “We have lots of work to do,” he said, “and I applaud you for your trip.”

The trip included stops in Tokyo and Sendai in Japan. Sendai was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. City officials traveled there to learn what Los Angeles could do to prepare for such a disaster.

Jim Featherstone, the general manager of the city’s Emergency Management Department, said the delegation was deeply impressed by the country’s early warning system, which he said saved lives by stopping elevators, bullet trains and surgeries. “We need an early warning system, as well,” Villaraigosa said.

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-- John Hoeffel

Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Credit : Al Seib/Los Angeles Times

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