When the Northridge Earthquake devastated swaths of the San Fernando Valley in 1994, business leaders knew the crisis demanded a coordinated response.
To facilitate federal and state aid, a group of leaders formed an organization that in 1995 took the name Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley. Later it was renamed the Valley Economic Alliance.
As the impact of the earthquake faded, the group shifted to promoting the Valley as an economic resource for companies. The Alliance gained traction with the appointment of Bill Allen as its first permanent president in 1997. The former head of Mary Tyler Moore’s television production company, he connected the Valley with the entertainment industry.
“Bill brought in all of the entertainment industry,” current Alliance Chairman Randy Witt told the Business Journal. “He was instrumental in raising our profile.”
Today, the organization works for the recruitment and retention of Valley companies, together with a long-standing emphasis on education and infrastructure advocacy for local businesses.
Even before the Northridge Earthquake rattled the Valley economy in 1994, local business organizations were discussing ways to spur development as the region’s once-thriving aerospace and manufacturing industries entered into decline.
But once the 6.7 tremor hit, business leaders decided the time for talking was over.
That’s when Robert Scott, then chair of the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley; Ben Reznik, then chair of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association; and David Honda, then chair of the Valley Economic Development Center launched a campaign to revitalize the local economy.
Led by Scott, the group set up emergency workshops to help businesses assess infrastructure damage and apply for federal funding.
They also welcomed U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown — who arrived by helicopter atop the roof of Sherman Oaks Hospital — to tour debilitated business districts and figure out how to distribute a federal recovery package. During the trip, Brown suggested business leaders designate a specific group to manage the relief funds.
In response, the leaders founded the Valley Economic Alliance, which would go on to become one of the region’s most vital institutions. For the past 25 years, the Alliance has served as a conduit between Valley business groups including VICA, VEDC, United Chambers and the Valley International Trade Organization, which together work to advance economic growth and improve the quality of life of Valley residents.
“It’s really an umbrella organization,” said Alliance Co-founder Honda. “We’re much stronger as a group than on our own.”
One of the Alliance’s first actions was to apply for a $350,000 FEMA planning grant to assess the makeup of the Valley economy.
“We were surprised to find that our economy was really based on entertainment,” said Honda. “So, the idea was to see, ‘How do we capitalize on this?’”
Shortly after receiving the planning report by Stanford University, the Alliance hired MTM Television President Bill Allen to lead the organization. Allen was entrenched in the local entertainment industry, and upon heading the organization, was able to engage local television and film studios to support and invest in the group’s early initiatives.
“Bill brought in all of the entertainment industry,” said current Alliance Chairman Randy Witt, who first began working with the group in 1996. “He was instrumental in raising our profile.”
Allen helped devise the Alliance’s ongoing ‘Valley of the Stars’ marketing campaign, which aimed to recast the Valley — home to Warner Bros. Entertainment, Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Co. — from a suburban backwater to the engine behind Hollywood.
“We wanted to let the world know that this is where the stars come to live, to work, to produce the entertainment that entertains the world,” Allen said.
The Alliance began producing tourism pamphlets, promotional videos and even a street banner campaign. It also launched its annual Valley of the Stars fundraising Gala Awards Ceremony in 1998. True to its name, the first event was sponsored by Disney and featured awards to Bob Hope, Bert Boeckmann of Galpin Motors and Allen’s father, television host Steve Allen.
Another of the Alliance’s early successes was its GRAD program, which was designed to help local students earn a high school diploma and provide scholarships to those attending college. Impressed by its hands-on approach, Disney and Boeing Co. became donors to the program.
“We brought a manufacturing laboratory, which is a big trailer to teach kids in high school and in a community colleges,” said Witt.
He added that the Alliance also helped Los Angeles Valley College receive a federal grant to create a bus driver training program as well as adult education classes.
“We feel that an educated workforce is very important,” Witt said.
The group was also a strong advocate for bringing a Metro line to the Valley. In 1997, it held a series of transportation summits with business leaders and local officials to come to an agreement over the Orange Line bus system.
“It was a tremendous example of how if you bring business groups and city officials together. … You can actually get a consensus and see public agencies to do what I think they’re quite willing to do, which is serve the needs of the public” Allen said.
More recently, the Alliance helped inform the business community about the 2016 transportation tax Measure M as well as the $1.3 billion Orange Line light rail extension project. Last year, it played a key role in moving the site of a railyard along the planned light rail line in the middle of Van Nuys Boulevard. The yard would have displaced 186 business and more than 1,500 employees at its proposed location.
Allen left the Alliance in 2000 and was replaced by San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership President Bruce Ackerman, who held the position until he passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2010. During that time, Ackerman refined the Alliance’s four primary initiatives, which include economic development, education, nurturing sustainable communities and marketing the Valley.
Today, the organization aims to follow through on these objectives by hosting events, roundtables and job fairs, which are often attended by industry leaders as well as government officials.
“Giving businesses a voice and connecting resources with leadership, that’s what we do,” said Kenn Phillips, who took over as president in 2014.
The organization also works directly with companies to help identify tax incentives, apply for small business loans and take advantage of public-private partnerships.
The continued collaboration between the various Valley business groups that make up the Alliance, Phillips added, is the key to providing these resources.
“Over the past 12 years, we’ve coached financially stressed businesses to save over 10,000 jobs,” Phillips said. “It’s quite remarkable how much time people give and their sincere commitment to help the Valley community.”