Staying at the Top of Global Trade

LA: The 20th Largest Economy In The World & Growing

Los Angeles is known for its ability to reinvent itself.  As the global economy continues to evolve, the needs of international companies and firms are also changing rapidly.  To ensure that international partners are able to succeed in Los Angeles, the World Trade Center Los Angeles (WTCLA) is undergoing a transformational process to revitalize its programs and services.  Since June 2015, WTCLA has been working tirelessly to reestablish itself by forging new partnerships and rekindling old ones, and they are in the midst of working on several major events and projects that will change Los Angeles and how businesses interact with international partners.

The WTCLA is a not-for-profit, public-benefit organization dedicated to attracting foreign direct investment to the Los Angeles region and facilitating business opportunities between Los Angeles and international companies. In support of its mission and goals, the WTCLA provides two major types of business assistance services: Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Attraction Services and Export Facilitation Services.

Los Angeles County is one of the largest and most important economies in the world. There are over 4,300 foreign-owned establishments that have successfully invested billions of dollars in the Los Angeles region. The economic success of Los Angeles is intricately tied to foreign trade and investments. With 88 cities and over 100 unincorporated areas in Los Angeles County, WTCLA is the central network of resources for foreign trade and investment. WTCLA has assumed the much needed role as the region’s clearinghouse of international trade information, the ombudsman, the facilitator, the trouble-shooter, and the advocate for international businesses.  The programs and products created over the past year by WTCLA have empowered international firms to successfully access the Los Angeles market.

As the nation’s top destination for FDI, the gateway for international trade, and the center for innovation, Los Angeles enjoys a distinctive advantage over many regions.  In recent years, competition for foreign investments has grown fierce, and many other states and regions are now fighting for the international businesses that Angelenos often take for granted.  To solidify the hard-earned position as the #1 international trade hub for the nation, it’s going to take a concerted effort by the public and private sectors to ensure that LA remains at the top. I sat down with Stephen Cheung, President of WTCLA, to discuss the facts and future of our global economy and the role WTCLA plays.


LA DREAMS MAGAZINE: Why is it important to have a clearinghouse of information and assistance for trade and investment throughout all of LA County?

STEPHEN CHEUNG: Finding the right partners can make or break a project, and the sheer size of Los Angeles could create a potential barrier to entry for companies.  That is the reason why WTCLA has developed essential matchmaking and consulting services to connect the right partners and service providers to international companies.

Furthermore, Los Angeles is the nation’s top trading hub and the premier trade gateway to and from the United States. In 2015, Los Angeles was ranked as the #1 customs district in the U.S. with over $393 billion in two-way trade.  Los Angeles is home to North America’s #1 and #2 container ports: The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and is responsible for over 40% of the ocean-cargo coming into the United States.  LA is also home to the world’s #1 origin and destination airport with LAX connecting 74.5 million travelers to and from 135 cities in 39 countries around the globe.

In just one year, the WTCLA has introduced innovative projects and products that are redefining how international firms access the LA market.

DREAMS: How does WTCLA assist companies in LA with international trade and investment?

CHEUNG: Companies in Los Angeles are primed to take advantage of the well-established trade infrastructure in Los Angeles.  With more than 80% of the world’s purchasing power located outside of the United States, enormous opportunities exist for companies to increase their exports and revenue. Many of LA County’s businesses are selling goods and services outside the region but require help to expand sales internationally. WTCLA works closely with the numerous export-related programs like the Trade Connect Program offered by the Port of Los Angeles to help local companies successfully export their products and services to the global market.

DREAMS: In reality, as the 20th largest economy in the world with 10 million residents, 88 different cities and many unincorporated areas, our region is more like a country. How does WTCLA help foreign investors navigate our region?

CHEUNG: People often ask what is the difference between Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County?  Is Hollywood a city or a neighborhood?  Why is Marina del Rey an unincorporated area in Los Angeles County, and what does that mean for my business? For decades, international companies have struggled to understand the differences between doing business in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Glendale, Beverly Hills and the other cities in the region.

These are important questions that many businesses need to answer before deciding on a location. Our new website provides all of these answers, facts and contacts, eliminating any confusion.

DREAMS: Many of the major cities within LA County have their own economic development departments and this is the first comprehensive information website. Do you envision more cooperation?

CHEUNG: Yes. WTCLA launched this new website to provide global businesses extensive data and informational resources to help companies succeed in Los Angeles. The new website is specifically designed to provide access to critical economic information and features each of Los Angeles County’s 88 cities and spotlights their geographic location relative to Downtown Los Angeles, population demographics, key industries, and unique business operating requirements.

The new site also provides international companies with key information about why they should locate their business in Los Angeles. We have over 10 million residents who live in LA County with a total personal income of $500 billion.  Over 320,000 companies call Los Angeles home, and we are the nation’s #1 manufacturing center with over 360,000 workers in this industry.  This enormous base of consumers and businesses have contributed greatly to the local economy.  In fact, Los Angeles County was the country’s largest county GDP in 2015, reaching a staggering $663 billion.

If the County was a nation, it would be the 20th largest economy in the world.  When it comes to doing business, there is no better place than Los Angeles.

DREAMS: What other initiatives have you launched?

CHEUNG: WTCLA also produces the Foreign Direct Investment Report. The United States is the premier destination for Foreign Direct Investments (FDI).  As one of the most important economic centers of the nation, Los Angeles County has received billions of dollars in global investments because of its diverse and robust industries.  The needs of international companies are unique, and a catered approach must be carefully developed to serve this clientele.  To fully understand the investment ecosystem that guides foreign investors’ business decisions, it is vital to obtain a better and more accurate assessment of current trends and patterns of foreign investments coming to Southern California.

Therefore, the WTCLA and LAEDC recently released an in-depth analysis of FDI for Southern California that provides local companies, international businesses, non-profit organizations, and governmental agencies key information about foreign investors to help guide and shape key business and policy decisions.  This new FDI Report revealed that an estimated 9,105 Foreign Owned Enterprises (FOE) are located in the six counties of Southern California, making the region the top destination for foreign investors in the nation.  This powerful information demonstrates the strength of foreign investments in the local region and the immense impact that foreign companies have on the domestic economy. The FDI Report also found that the 9,105 FOEs in Southern California directly employed 366,415 employees, and supported an estimated wage bill of $23.6 billion.

48% of Southern California’s FOEs are located in Los Angeles County.  These foreign firms have a much larger impact than merely the direct jobs they provide. International firms also support the supply chains within their respective industries.  The overall number of jobs that are impacted by foreign owned establishments, including direct, indirect and induced jobs are 8.1% of all jobs in Southern California.

The FDI Report provides a good first glance at the impact of foreign investments to the region.  WTCLA is currently working with a local university partner to reach the 9,105 FOEs to understand how to better serve this important sector.  The results from the second phase of the FDI Report will be released exclusively during the 2017 SELECT LA Investment Summit on June 14-15, 2017.

DREAMS: Other than countries of Asia, what other countries are major investors in LA?

CHEUNG: In April 2016, the WTCLA made incredible progress in its goal to secure Los Angeles’ rightful place on the international stage.  WTCLA conducted its first trade mission during the revitalization process to elevate the profile of the Los Angeles manufacturing industry at the Hannover Messe Trade Show in Germany, the world’s largest and foremost industrial technology trade fair.  Hannover Messe hosted more than 200,000 attendees from more than 70 countries, including global investors, buyers, distributors, resellers and government officials.  For the first time in the fair’s history, the United States was selected as the Partner Country, a status that provided more than 390 U.S. businesses and organizations an unprecedented opportunity to be featured.

Of the 7,000 exhibitors at the trade fair, WTCLA was one of only a handful of companies and organizations selected by the German and U.S. governments for an opportunity to present to the heads of state of the respective countries.  WTCLA had the great honor to showcase Los Angeles’ powerful industries and economy to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama.  This historic visit firmly elevated the international profile of the Los Angeles region on the global platform, and secured LA’s position as the center for international trade and innovation for the United States.

HANOVER, GERMANY - APRIL 25: U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd from L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) (L) look at a gripping device at the World Trade Center Los Angeles stand at the Hannover Messe industrial trade fair on April 25, 2016 in Hanover, Germany. This is likely Obama's last trip to Germany as U.S. president. The Hannover Messe is the world's largest industrial trade fair. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

HANOVER, GERMANY – APRIL 25: U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd from L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) (L) look at a gripping device at the World Trade Center Los Angeles stand with Stephen Cheung (2nd from R) and Michael Smith (R) at the Hannover Messe industrial trade fair on April 25, 2016 in Hanover, Germany. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

DREAMS: Can you explain the 2016 SELECT LA Investment Summit and its importance?

CHEUNG: The 2016 SELECT LA Investment Summit on June 16-17 was Southern California’s premier international trade event that brought together global investors with business and governmental leaders from Southern California to facilitate and secure foreign direct investment, and gain exclusive insights on market trends and opportunities in the Los Angeles region.

SELECT LA kicked-off on June 16th to a crowded VIP Reception in Fox Studios’ backlot, and the Summit conference followed on June 17th at the JW Marriott in Downtown LA. The Summit featured keynote speeches from elected officials, executives and industry leaders. Many luminaries made noteworthy remarks on the importance of FDI and trade in LA including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, and U.S. Commercial Service Director General Arun Kumar.

SELECT LA was a huge success. Thirty-five speakers relayed their experiences and expertise to an international and domestic audience of more than 350 high-level executives from around the globe. The in-depth panel discussions and plenaries included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti reinforcing Los Angeles’ commitment to supporting international businesses. The Chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Hilda Solis extolled the region’s advantage when it comes to unparalleled workforce and talent pool, while Arun Kumar, Director General of the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service, showcased why the United States is an advantageous location to conduct business.  In all, 33 countries were represented at SELECT LA, with international attendees comprising 54% of all participants. Over 40% of the audience were key decision makers.

The conference hosted four panel discussions led by exceptional industry leaders in entertainment, real estate, infrastructure, and technology, in addition to three breakout sessions. The breakout sessions featured WTCLA’s seminal Foreign Direct Investment in Southern California report, LAEDC’s International Trade Outlook report, and a New Forms of Media Entertainment discussion panel that emphasized LA’s current golden age of content production.  Speakers included Jack Gao of Dalian Wanda, Thomas McGrath of STX Entertainment, Martin Willhite of Legendary, Nick Van Dyk of Activision Blizzard, David Shaheen of JP Morgan Chase, Michael Speer of Brookfield, Sonnet Hui of Hazens Group US, Lucy Rumantir of OUE, Todd Tydlaska of CBRE, William Pomerantz of Virgin Galactic, Stella Li of BYD Motors, Drew Murphy of Edison International, Sheldon Swartz of DJI, Karl Brier of JP Morgan Chase, Deborah Flint of Los Angeles World Airports, Gene Seroka of Port of Los Angeles, Noel Hacegaba of Port of Long Beach, Michael Cano of LA Metro, Rick Jacobs of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, Dan Goman of Ownzones Media, Field Garthwaite of Iris.TV, Rick Crooks of Full Screen, Andrew Jameson of Forward Entertainment, Mitch Berman of Berman Strategic Advisors, Christine Cooper of LAEDC, Bill Allen of the LA County Economic Development Corporation, and Steve Olson of O’Melveny’s.

Speakers, panels, and breakout discussions emphasized the importance of attracting foreign investment into LA as a means of integrating ingenuity and entrepreneurship, and retaining a diverse market. The two-day event distinguished LA as a successful destination for investment. LA is entrepreneurial, highly-educated, culturally and economically diverse, and a source of growth and innovation. This is why investors and businesses are increasingly choosing to select LA as the preferred site for new and innovative projects.

The World Trade Center Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation are currently planning the exciting new program for the 2017 SELECT LA Investment Summit scheduled for June 14-15, 2017 in Los Angeles.  The 2017 SELECT LA will present an array of opportunities to match international investors with local partners, such as table exhibits, one-on-one interactions, plenary panels and breakout sessions led by local and international executives, and an interactive match-making session.


Jack Gao, Dalian Wanda; Joni Topper, JPMorgan Chase (WTCLA Board Member); Bill Allen, LAEDC CEO

DREAMS: Describe the importance and focus of the California-China Trade Network.

CHEUNG: In the short year since WTCLA’s revitalization efforts, international partners from around the world have recognized WTCLA’s role as the leading international trade service organization in the Los Angeles region.  In April 2016, the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) selected the World Trade Center Los Angeles as the Southern California partner of the GO-Biz California-China Trade Network, a new multi-organizational partnership to help bolster and expand the state’s trade and investment efforts in China.

“Trade and investment between California and China is critical to the success of both our economies and the GO-Biz California-China Trade Network allows the state to provide more resources to businesses seeking assistance,” said GO-Biz Director Panorea Avdis. “GO-Biz is leveraging existing regional resources under the state banner and expanding on our ongoing efforts in China.”

In 2013, Governor Brown opened the California-China Trade Office in Shanghai during a trade mission to China. The mission of the Shanghai office was to facilitate trade and investment opportunities between California and China. Under the new partnership, the World Trade Center Los Angeles, along with three Northern California partner agencies, will work to expand California’s presence in China to other cities and provide a broader representation of regions.

Since the opening, the trade office has helped California businesses access trade and investment opportunities in China and promoted California businesses in major metropolitan areas of China such as Shanghai and Beijing. The office has also helped attract Chinese investment into California and facilitated inbound Chinese delegations traveling to California.

DREAMS: Clean energy technology is considered by some to be the world’s next innovation that will change everything; from manufacturing, transportation, and home living – especially in creating a cleaner environment. What has WTCLA been doing to advance this global innovation?

CHEUNG: In January 2016, the WTCLA and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) solidified their partnership with the signing of a memorandum of understanding. The agreement between the two organizations allows the LACI to better serve its 30 portfolio companies in not only navigating international markets, but also assisting in holistic business activities throughout the region.  Through this new partnership, WTCLA has established a foreign desk housed at the incubator that will provide services to local companies seeking international opportunities.  WTCLA will also work with LACI to attract international companies to open operations at LACI.

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