As a rule, business leaders often say the best thing government can do for economic development is to get out of the way.
In Orange County, that ideology generally holds when unemployment is at 3 percent. But when it’s more than 8 percent, business leaders say its time for them to help government with economic development.
“We’re taking care of ourselves,” said Lucy Dunn, president of the Orange County Business Council, in a conversation about the council’s plans. The council intends to ramp up its efforts to attract and keep local businesses and push public agencies to adopt policies and programs that can spur job growth.
Dunn believes it doesn’t hurt to have someone who knows how government works to make that happen. “Thoughtfulness and connections will help drive that needle back toward 3 percent,” she said.
To lead the effort, Dunn has tapped Matt Petteruto, former chief of staff for Supervisor Bill Campbell.
“What’s so good about it,” said Campbell, is that “typically when you have a chamber of commerce saying to a county government, ‘We’re for economic development,’ that means, ‘We want the government to spend money’ on some sort of activity.”
“That’s not how the county operates,” Campbell said. “Matt gets that and can communicate that. He can identify what the county can do and can’t do.”
Identifying what’s possible is Petteruto’s specialty, Campbell said. His former aide is the type who is “on top of everything” and often “kept me focused on the most important thing.”
Despite the limited-government rhetoric that often issues from the all-Republican Board of Supervisors, Petteruto is a rarity — the only chief of staff in recent memory that left government for the private sector.
Yet he won’t be going very far away.
Petteruto said he’ll be working with cities to help promote business-friendly practices as well as developing a website to promote Orange County cities to the private sector.
Another agency likely to be on Petteruto’s radar is the Orange County Transporation Agency.
While the county government doesn’t steer large sums of money to the private sector for large projects, “OCTA knows how to roll out the money,” Dunn said.
“There is an argument to be made that OCTA is one of the most powerful government organizations in the county now,” Dunn said. The billions spent by OCTA in recent years helped Orange County keep its unemployment rate lower than most other counties.
Petteruto plans to sell Orange County’s independence from the budget mess in Sacramento by highlighting that Orange County developed its own transportation strategies, such as Measure M, the ballot initiative.
“Nothing rhymes with Orange,” Petteruto said. “We do things differently here in Orange County.”
He also plans to launch a website focused on attracting companies considering a move to Southern California.
Petteruto sees a lot to sell. The region has the lowest unemployment rate in the state. It’s a uniquely urban environment despite the media perception that it’s a Los Angeles bedroom community.
In addition to leading efforts to spur more creative regulation in the public sector, Petteruto will oversee the business council’s “red teams,” which are organized to help retain businesses that intend to relocate by seeking concessions from local governments.