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Villaraigosa plans trade mission to Asia

October 24, 2011 |  6:30 am

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa plans an 11-day trade mission to Asia in December
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa plans to return to Asia on an 11-day trade mission in December, traveling with a contingent of city officials and business leaders to try to drum up jobs for the city. 

The group, which will include port, airport and tourism officials, is scheduled to travel to China, Japan and South Korea, the city's three-largest trading partners. Asia is home to eight of the city's top 10 foreign-trade businesses, according to the mayor's office.

"We have had success in expanding investment across our city by Asian business leaders," Villaraigosa said in a prepared statement, "and will use this trip for crucial personal meetings, which we have found are a key tool and best practice in working with our friends in Asia."

The mayor and his cohort are set to travel to Beijing, Chongqing and Shanghai in China; Tokyo and Sendai in Japan; and Seoul in South Korea. They plan to hold dozens of meetings and events with government and business leaders, seeking to encourage firms to locate in L.A. and invest in local companies, to promote tourism, to press for more imports from L.A. and to tout the city's port. The mayor's office noted that the trip comes just after Congress approved a free-trade agreement with South Korea.

The mayor's office said OnGreen would showcase up to 20 Los Angeles firms involved in clean technologies, Forever 21 would open three retail clothing stores in China, and Gensler, which designed Asia's tallest building, would try to expand its business on the continent.

According to the mayor's office, Japanese-owned companies employ 16,200 people in Los Angeles and pay $792 million in wages, South Korean-owned businesses employ more than 1,500 and pay $85 million, and Chinese-owned businesses employ 600 and pay $32 million.

On his last trip to Japan, Villaraigosa met with the owners of Famima!!, an upscale convenience store chain. Since then, the mayor's office said, the company has opened six stores in L.A.

Villaraigosa's administration also takes credit for persuading Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer BYD to locate its North American headquarters downtown, bringing an estimated 150 engineering and management jobs to a renovated building on South Figueroa Street.

"We have attracted China's leading green company to our city," Villaraigosa said in a statement on Monday's planned grand opening of BYD's office. "We see BYD's Los Angeles opening as a catalyst that will usher in good jobs, global investment, and a more sustainable future."

Tourists from Asia continue to play a crucial role in the city's economy, and the trip aims to stimulate that. Last year, 829,000 tourists from China, Korea and Japan visited Los Angeles, according to the mayor's office, which noted that new direct flights have been added between L.A. and Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul.

Villaraigosa plans to travel to Sendai to meet with local officials, emergency responders and researchers to learn about how the area responded to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, with the goal of better preparing Los Angeles for an earthquake. The planned delegation includes local earthquake expert Lucy Jones, a seismologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

The mayor also traveled to Asia in 2006. This time, he is expected to take a smaller number of business leaders with him, and they will visit fewer cities on a tighter schedule.

Among those expected to join the mayor are: Mickey Kantor, a lawyer who is a former U.S. trade representative and secretary of Commerce; David Fisher with the Capital Group investment management firm; and Ambassador Jose Villarreal, commissioner general of the U.S. Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo.

The estimated $295,000 cost of the trip will be paid by the port and airport, the mayor's office said, and the departments will not use any taxpayer dollars. Business leaders and others are covering their own costs, Villaraigosa's office said.


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-- John Hoeffel

Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks to the Sacramento Press Club during a luncheon on Aug. 16. Credit: Steve Yeater / Associated Press