Note: This story appeared as a "Spotlight" on Oct. 22, 2009
by Kristine Breese
For Bohnett Fellow Frank Lopez, economic development isn’t just important or interesting—it’s personal.
His interest in the subject dates to the early 1980s, when his family moved to the United States from Mexico, after devaluation of the Mexican currency led to one of the worst recessions in the country’s history. “What resulted from the Mexican recession was something similar to what’s happening in the U.S. today—the diminishment of wealth and high levels of unemployment,” says Frank. Experiencing as a child the harsh consequences of what he calls “poor economic decision making” is what drives his academic and professional interest in economic development today. “I have experienced firsthand the impacts that a severe recession can have on individuals and families, and all I want to do is to use my skills and knowledge to help craft better economic policy so that families in LA won’t have to go through what we did.”
As a Bohnett Fellow working in the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, Frank has spent much of his time working to ensure that they won’t. One of the ways the city hopes to mitigate the effects of the recession on neighborhoods and families is by building a new clean technology industry in Los Angeles. “Everyone in the world is talking about green jobs, and we feel that we have all the right resources needed to become one of the clean technology capitals in the world.”
Over the last ten months Frank has been working on coordinating and leveraging those resources through the development of CleanTech LA, a multi-organizational collaboration between the City of Los Angeles, UCLA, USC, Caltech, and business organizations like the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. The project aims to establish Los Angeles as the global leader in research, commercialization and deployment of clean technologies. “You would think that coordinating these large, diverse and often competing organizations would be almost impossible, but when they realized thousands of jobs and billions of dollars were at stake, we suddenly had organizations coming together and working together in ways they never had before.”
Another way Frank is helping to create a new clean tech industry in L.A. is by looking for ways to use the city owned Department of Water and Power (DWP) and the Port of Los Angeles as economic development tools. “The DWP is the largest municipally owned utility in the country, and nearly half of all imported goods in the U.S. come in through the Port of L.A. So as you can see, these large departments have the economic power to create global markets.” Building on the work of a previous Bohnett Fellow, Frank spent the summer creating an economic development program and budget for the DWP and overseeing the development of the Port’s Technology Development Center, which he hopes will help attract more clean tech firms and jobs to LA.
“I know this type of work might sound kind of dull or ‘wonkish’ to some, but not to me,” Frank says. “There’s nothing dull about creating a new economy in L.A. that will bring thousands of new good-paying jobs.” Frank explains that this is a very exciting time for both himself and the city, and without the Bohnett Fellowship it wouldn’t have been possible. “I feel as if our local economy is at a major turning point, and it’s both exciting and rewarding knowing that because of the Bohnett Fellowship, I am helping to build new and better policies that will help our economy and environment at the same time.”