Why San Pedro Can Be An Innovation District for Southern California

By Jenny Krusoe, Executive Director, AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles

For much of the 110-year history of the Port of Los Angeles, San Pedro has been a beacon of innovation and economic vitality for all of Southern California and beyond. That’s particularly true now, as the port leverages an array of environmentally friendly and forward-facing technologies to automate the way it handles the nearly $1 billion worth of goods that flow through its 7,500 acres every day.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

But the port’s continued innovations bring a need for economic diversity and investment to the rest of the community of San Pedro and nearby Los Angeles neighborhoods.

AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles was founded to bring together the forces that can create and ride that next wave of innovation and opportunity, while developing solutions with global impact. In particular, the organization and its partners are focused on attracting and nurturing the next generation of companies leveraging the opportunities created by the vast ocean at our front door

Since its founding, AltaSea has become a convening force for LA Harbor communities, marshaling the area’s science and research institutions, non-profit and educational groups, a business incubator and more. It has begun to transform one of the port’s oldest wharfs into an ocean-focused center for scientific research, STEM education and sustainable business creation.

AltaSea’s efforts parallel those in other neighborhoods across the country and beyond, as detailed by the Brookings Institution, which has been leading efforts to identify and champion what it calls “innovation districts.”

In “The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America,” Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner detail why these districts matter:

  • They foster creation and expanding job opportunities by bringing together “companies, entrepreneurs, universities, researchers and investors.”
  • They typically are close to low-/moderate-income neighborhoods, and can provide badly needed work and educational opportunities to disadvantaged populations.
  • They counterbalance suburban/exurban sprawl by encouraging denser work and residential options, leveraging mass transit and urban-core neighborhoods to bring people back into the heart of cities.

In these innovation districts, concentration of resources is everything, bringing together many different disciplines and creators to foster new kinds of businesses, transforming neighborhoods, recharging local economies.

The creation of such districts in many cities reflects the desire by many knowledge workers and other creative people for workplaces that are close to vibrant, culturally engaging neighborhoods where they can live, play, work and thrive. The era of the sterile and isolated suburban corporate campus is fast fading.

Instead, entrepreneurs are “colonizing” declining or largely neglected urban-core neighborhoods, taking advantage of these areas’ typical access to inexpensive housing and work-spaces, mass transit, and cultural and educational institutions.

Brookings has identified dozens of such districts in cities around the world. This trend isn’t foreign to Southern California either. Here, by the Port of Los Angeles, AltaSea has organized a string of similar initiatives while beginning to transform 35-acres of the port into a Gensler-designed center for ocean-based research, education and incubation.

It’s already paying off with a range of partnerships and initiatives. Notable partners include Dr. Bob Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the LA Harbor, Ben Lecomte’s The Longest Swim, the Southern California Marine Institute, and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. They understand the power of partnering to transform a community such as San Pedro into an outpost for the future.

AltaSea funding partners include the Annenberg Foundation, U.S. Department of Commerce, philanthropist Morton LaKretz, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, the Goldhirsh Foundation, the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, and the Port of Los Angeles among many others. They have invested in our vision for this area’s future, and for the creative and entrepreneurial collaboration that can build it.

It’s this sort of shared vision, investment and leadership that can create not just an innovation district, but true innovation, from clusters of companies, creative minds and supportive institutions that together can build a stronger urban fabric with greater opportunities for everyone. We’re proud to be a part of it.

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