CITYWIDE — A look at the top 10 employers in Santa Monica shows a stable economy shedding its old standbys of a decade ago to embrace its new moniker — “Silicon Beach.”
The list used to include names like Specialty Labs, now in Los Angeles, Sanford Papermate and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, Inc. in the bottom three spots, behind institutional employers like City Hall, local hospitals and the K-12 and community college districts.
Those companies have since made way for new media and creative companies including video game creator Activision Blizzard and popular music icons Universal Music Group and MTV Networks.
All told, the top 10 accounted for 16.48 percent of the estimated 79,444 jobs in Santa Monica in the 2011-12 fiscal year, up from 13.36 percent just nine years before.
The list shows a firm foundation from which to build the local economy because those employers in the top spots aren’t going anywhere, said Andy Agle, director of Housing and Economic Development with City Hall.
Agle cautioned against extrapolating too much from the top 10 list, noting that it’s a sampling of businesses throughout Santa Monica as others left and new ones have come in rather than a direct reflection of economic trends in the city by the sea.
However, the percentage of jobs provided by the city’s largest employers remains well under 20 percent, showing a diverse economy not dependent on any one industry or company for employment.
“If we were Flint, Mich., we would be concerned because if (General Motors) closes or moves, we would have a major unemployment problem,” Agle said. “We have such a diverse economy, and even our largest employers are the city, the college and the school district, who are unlikely to close or move.”
There has been some shakeup in the list compared to a decade ago, particularly when it comes to the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.
The hospital system increased its employment in the area by more than double, from 994 employees to over 2,000. It jumped from fifth largest employer to second, under City Hall and just above Santa Monica College.
Santa Monica-UCLA is not just a hospital anymore, said Ted Braun, a spokesperson for the organization.
“We are a medical campus that features not only a new, state-of-the-art hospital, but also an award-winning outpatient surgery building, top-notch imaging centers and medical offices,” Braun said.
Santa Monica-UCLA opened a new medical office building on 16th Street and a new Medical Center adjacent to it, both in 2012 alone.
“We’re growing to better serve the community’s health needs, and that’s reflected in the larger number of employees,” Braun said. “And what better place to live, work and receive health care than Santa Monica?”
Santa Monica-UCLA may have seen the biggest gains, but the real turnover came at the bottom of the list, where music, media and gaming firms busted into the top 10, replacing older companies with a more production-oriented ethos.
“We’re not creating new technology, but we’re the content capital of the world,” said Brad Cox, senior managing director with Trammell Crow Company and chair of the Santa Monica Alliance, a joint effort by City Hall and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce to meet the needs of local businesses and tempt new businesses into Santa Monica’s borders.
Cox attributes that to the quality of life available in Santa Monica, which has attracted companies looking to retain the best and brightest employees that also have less need for an extensive physical presence.
The investment in City Net, a dark fiber system capable of transmitting 10 gigabytes of data per second over broadband, made it possible for content-intensive firms to set up shop in the city.
“They have huge files they move back and forth amongst production units,” Cox said. “Dark fiber is a competitive advantage for them.”
Infrastructure lays the groundwork to foster a tech culture and continues to attract new business who want to stay on the cutting edge, said Laurel Rosen, president of the chamber.
“These companies recognize that ‘Silicon Beach’ is the place they need to be to be surrounded by the top tech innovators in California,” Rosen said.
Some of their creative employees spin off into their own firms, bolstered by the availability of flexible office space like that of ROC, which just took over the former Google site, and Coloft.
Venture capitalists have populated the city, as have intellectual property attorneys, creating a synergy that fosters new businesses, the same kinds of businesses that Santa Monica has been trying to use to bolster its economic firepower without adding to its carbon footprint.
Tech firms are particularly attractive to that end, as city officials acknowledged in late 2011 when they adopted a set of strategies to create a sustainable economy with high-wage jobs that require fewer non-renewable resources.
City Hall still has room to improve, however.
The imbalance between jobs created in Santa Monica and the housing available in the city remains a problem for workers who spend hours on traffic-choked roads and freeways.
“Employers that are going to stay and attract the highest and best talent need to focus and locate their business operations,” Cox said.