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CEOs discuss how California can be fixed

October 19, 2010 |  1:22 pm

How do we “fix California?”

Better education, stronger intellectual-property laws and streamlined development processes.

Those were some of the solutions batted about this morning at the Milken Institute State of the State Conference, where financier-philanthropist Michael Milken moderated a panel with four California chief executives about strategies for making the state a better place to do business.

“I feel that we are in the process of losing the California dream,” said Kellie Johnson, head of Ace Clearwater Enterprises, an aerospace supplier. Her company can’t find enough skilled workers to fill positions, she said. If it hires people, sometimes they don’t show up on the first day of work.

“In order for me to compete, I need to operate in a business environment that welcomes what we do,” she said.

Her suggestion: Students should be exposed to the careers that exist in manufacturing, and community colleges and high schools should offer programs that make that career path an attainable one.

“One of the reasons we have significant employers leaving the state -- they can’t surround themselves with the type of workers that they need,” said Art Coppola, CEO of mall owner Macerich.

The state should also tax sales that occur over the Internet, rather than just those in bricks-and-mortar shops, he suggested. Coppola also wants to see the state give green lights to LEED-certified buildings, so developers aren’t hamstrung by environmental regulations that make building a slow process.

That streamlining should apply to utility projects too, said Ted Craver Jr., CEO of Edison International. Large infrastructure projects take decades because of state and federal regulations, he said.

Michael Lynton, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, rather predictably wanted the state’s lawmakers to crack down on piracy so that entertainment businesses could be more successful. The south part of the state seems more invested in that idea than the north, he said.

“Where California goes in regulation, so goes the nation,” he said.

Other speakers at the daylong conference include state Controller John Chiang, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Jon Hamm. No, not that Jon Hamm. The Milken speaker was Jon Hamm, CEO of the California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen.

-- Alana Semuels