As an economic engine, Los Angeles County looms larger than a lot of sovereign nations. It has a population of 10.2 million people, of which 44.6 percent are Hispanic. In 2004, it had a local GDP of $400 billion, an employee pool of nearly 4 million workers, and a transportation system with more than 7 million registered trucks and cars, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. It is the largest manufacturing center in the United States and the biggest port for international trade.
It also ranks as the largest Hispanic market in the nation. Advertisers spent more than $584 million to reach Los Angeles Hispanics last year (see "Media Markets," December 2005 issue). In terms of affluence, "Hispanic households in Los Angeles have slightly higher income" than Hispanics elsewhere – 8.5 percent of them with incomes above $100,000 according to the HispanTelligence® report "The U.S. Hispanic Economy in Transition: Facts, Figures, and Trends."
Hispanic Progress Personified
Gloria Molina personifies the progress Hispanics have achieved in Southern California. Her rise from Chicana activist to chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2005 (a position that rotates annually among the supervisors) parallels the growth of Hispanic influence and affluence throughout the Southwest. That explains, in part, why she is winner of the 2006 Hispanic Business magazine Woman of the Year award.
The other part of the explanation is Ms. Molina's high-intensity management responsibility. The county's budget for 2005-06 totals $19.88 billion. As board chair and supervisor of L.A. County's huge First District, Ms. Molina has focused both on how that money is spent – and working the angles on how to secure more.
She considers her biggest victory of the past two years the allocation of half a billion dollars in federal funding for a six-mile extension of the L.A. County Light Rail system to her constituents in East Los Angeles.
The coup, which also produces many thousands of area jobs through 2009, became reality in late December 2005 as Ms. Molina officiated at the tunnel dig kickoff: A crowning moment of her term as chair. "We've been working on it for 15 years, but now we're building it!" she exults. "Eastside residents are some of the most transit-dependent in all of L.A. County. The extension will connect them to the rest of the county's light rail network."
Another major victory came last November with the election of Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor of Los Angeles. Although Ms. Molina doesn't take credit for the win, her support and example certainly helped. "That's part of the leadership responsibility I have," she says. "We all have worked for so many years to see Latinos in these positions of power."
In fact, it was Ms. Molina's 1991 election as the first Hispanic woman on the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors that marked a nationally visible step forward in the region's Hispanic political empowerment. Her district, with its 60-plus cities and communities, including a good portion of the city of Los Angeles, and its downtown area, is 74.9 percent Hispanic, according to 2000 Census figures.
"She represents the major change in demographics in Los Angeles – namely, the growing Latino population," says Martin Saiz, professor of political science at California State University in Northridge.
"Any politician at the elected level in Los Angeles County is a significant national politician, almost by default. This is the largest county in the country in terms of population. That alone gives her prominence. There are not many people in the country who have that kind of constituency."
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