Orange County may be celebrated for its beautiful beaches, temperate climate and, of course, Disneyland. But that only partly defines the region, and one group of local CEOs vows to tell the whole story.
Google the words “Orange County,” and the first thing that pops up is a Wikipedia description touting an enviable list of attractions — Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, Newport’s historic harbor and its many yachts, coastal communities that boast swaths of sandy beaches. Scroll way down — deep into the narrative — and you’ll spot a reference to O.C.’s “tech coast” status. Then the story loops right back to the region’s identification as “a tourist center.” While locals embrace that moniker with pride, most agree it only paints half the picture of what Orange County has to offer. An illustrious list of Fortune 500 companies calls Orange County home — Ingram Micro, Pacific Life and Edwards Lifesciences are among them. It’s also where Quiksilver, Blizzard Entertainment and Vans launched and grew their enterprises into global brands with headquarters in O.C.
A group of local business leaders says that’s an important picture to paint, and they want to spread the word that Orange County is a thriving hub for businesses, big and small — a place where entrepreneurs can launch their ventures, where global brands can establish roots and where a pool of talented people are ready to help drive their success. Why? Because growing businesses create new jobs, and job creation is a cornerstone of a healthy local economy. But here’s the really important part: This particular group is guided by a pledge to grow business while also growing community goodwill.
“We believe the purpose of business must involve both an economic and social value add, especially in these days where capitalism is under attack and young talent is hungry to work for companies that commit to making a better world in the work they do,” notes Doug Wilson, whose curriculum vitae includes his role as CEO of Next Solutions consulting and an executive fellowship at The Center for Higher Ambition Leadership. It’s a Boston-based nonprofit organization made up of executives and thought leaders who believe that businesses can drive change and be a force for good in their communities. Wilson’s also cofounder of the newly formed CEO Leadership Alliance-Orange County, or CLA-OC for short. He and cofounder Dick Gochnauer, a former chief at Essendant (a national distributor of business tools and supplies) met through The Center for Higher Ambition and were inspired to bring together Orange County’s own thought leaders. “We knew the CEOs of Orange County cared about the future of our county, but… there was no center of gravity here for them to work together to help drive change,” Wilson says. “That was the inspiration for the CLA-OC.”
The group includes top execs from many of the aforementioned powerhouse corporations, as well as Irvine Company Office Properties President Doug Holte, PIMCO CEO Emmanuel Roman and Golden State Foods CEO Mark Wetterau. They’ve set their sights high. They want to help O.C. generate 100,000 new high-value jobs by 2028 — and that’s on top of the current employment forecasts.
“It’s clear that we need to keep existing companies here, grow new companies and attract innovative companies into O.C.,” says Gary Meister, a retired Western Digital executive who serves as CLA-OC’s chief initiatives officer.
And as you would expect from a group of brilliant leaders, they’re formulating strategies to put Orange County more clearly on the map as a professional mecca and a home to companies that care.
Initiatives include a pilot project to address hunger in O.C. schools (because a healthy body means a healthy mind and a healthy future). Also soon to launch: a program aimed at the recruitment and retention of a talented workforce in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (also commonly referred to as STEAM); a marketing plan to showcase everything that makes Orange County a desirable place to live and do business; and partnerships with organizations like the Orange County Business Council, and The Cove at UCI and OCTANe, which foster relationships among entrepreneurs, investors and advisors.
There are plenty of companies cheering them on. Take Chipotle Mexican Grill, which moved its headquarters from Denver to Newport Beach this past summer. Its chief people officer, Marissa Andrada, says Chipotle chose Orange County for its access to top talent across “key business drivers” in digital, technology and innovative marketing.
“We’re focused on transforming our culture and building world-class teams to help us achieve our corporate mission of changing food culture for the good and purpose of cultivating a better world.”
Then there’s CoreLogic, a data and analytics firm with 5,800 employees around the world. It spawned from First American Corporation and chose Irvine for its headquarters to “take advantage of the numerous opportunities as the City of Innovation,” says President and CEO Frank Martell.
And then there’s Vans, which launched with humble beginnings as the Van Doren Rubber Company in Anaheim back in 1966. Today, its wildly popular casual footwear can be found in 84 countries. But it still calls Orange County home. “In the 53 years that we’ve been located in Orange County, we’ve seen the area continue to grow and prosper as more companies look to either be headquartered here or have a local presence,” says Cheryl Van Doren, whose father, Pete, cofounded the company with his brother Jim and two other partners.
“When we were scouting for our new home for our growing brand, we needed a space that could house our creative culture. Our Costa Mesa headquarters was not only a blank canvas for us to create a dynamic work environment but is located in a thriving community. Our employees are encouraged to explore the culture outside our walls and bring their inspiration back to their work.”
And with its beaches and parks, outstanding educational institutions like UC Irvine and Chapman University, and its welcoming climate, there’s fertile ground for inspiring success. And that’s all good.