n 1991, USC’s Board of Trustees convinced my wife and me to come to Southern California to be a part of something great and historic – the development of the principal global center for trade and communications for the 21st century. Since then we have seen riots, earthquakes, floods, fires and a major recession, but we haven’t seen anything to change our conviction that this is the place to be in the years ahead.
About three years ago, the board adopted a bold strategic plan to advance USC to the next level of excellence. This plan grew out of a long and careful examination of our current and potential strengths; and thus it is no accident that two of its four over-arching priorities are directly linked to USC’s identity as an anchor institution in Southern California. One calls on us to increase our use of Southern California as a dynamic urban laboratory uniquely suited for research and teaching about the world’s urban concerns.
The other calls on us to expand our global partnerships by capitalizing on Southern California’s position as the American gateway to the Pacific Rim.
So USC has examined its own future, and found that its location here in Southern California is a tremendous asset as we approach the next century. We see our location as a real plus – and we’re willing to stake our future on it.

TWO DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS have allowed Southern California to explode onto the international scene – first, an incredible abundance of natural and social resources, and second, an absolute determination to find solutions wherever resources are lacking.
Let’s take an inventory of Southern California’s assets.
First, we have here an unsurpassed amount of intellectual capital – perhaps our most precious asset in the new information age. We have 175 accredited colleges and universities in our region. Combined, they generate roughly $30 billion annually in regional economic activity and directly support more than 120,000 full-time jobs. That makes higher education an important “hidden industry” in Southern California – one that is roughly the same size as aerospace or tourism.
The region boasts six members of the Association of American Universities – the 62 leading North American research universities. Those six are USC, Caltech, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego and UC Irvine, which together represent the highest concentration of major research institutions anywhere in the world. Combined, they bring in more than a billion dollars annually in research and development funds to the Southland.
We also have one of the largest concentrations of college graduates in the world: a quarter of the adult population has a college degree, and half have finished at least one year of college. Our college-educated population more than doubled during the 1980s and is still growing rapidly. All of this bodes very well for our region.

OUR SECOND MAJOR ASSET is transportation infrastructure. Our port, comprising both Los Angeles and Long Beach, is by far the busiest port in the United States, and the third busiest in the world. The L.A. and Long Beach ports combined move about twice as much goods as New York City. This is testimony to the great importance of our role as the nation’s link to the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America.
Southern California has also been undertaking a public works effort of mammoth proportions to provide us with better roads, railways, ports and airports. In short, Southern Calif-ornia is building the transportation infrastructure it needs to thrive in the new global economy.
Third, Southern California is the communications capital of the world – not simply the entertainment capital of the world, but the communications capital.
American motion pictures and American television represent the most powerful and ubiquitous form of communication in history, and these two industries are headquartered in L.A. The combination of Hollywood and great technological expertise gives Southern California a clear advantage in the field of communications. We, alone among the cities of the world, can combine creative content with hardware on a global scale.
Fourth, Southern California is the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in history. We have substantial numbers of people here from every culture and every nation on earth, which gives us a leg up in the new global economy – at USC, we call it the “global advantage.”
These are just some of the tangible assets Southern California can boast about. But let’s also take stock of some of the intangibles that give this region strength.
First among these is a can-do spirit – a sense of possibility that is sometimes absent in the East or Midwest. Second is resilience – the ability to bounce back from adversity; we have seen this time and time again in the past few years. Third is ingenuity – the ability to find a solution where no one else would have looked. And fourth is flexibility – we don’t suffer the social gridlock so common in the East and in Europe.

TO SUM UP, THIS REGION has what it takes to dominate the world stage for years to come. Don’t let the experts tell you Southern California’s future is bleak. Although we are seeing a renaissance of confidence, many skeptics are waiting to pounce on us should any new difficulty come our way. Don’t listen to those negative voices without challenging their pessimism. In our homes and places of work, we should plan for the future with neither pessimism nor unfounded optimism, but rather with a lasting confidence in this region’s long-term potential.
Southern California may lose some luster from time to time, but it has an abundance of underlying strengths that will serve it well for years to come. That’s why, after five wild and woolly years here, I still believe that this is the place to be.
A few days after the Northridge earthquake, after much of the world had pronounced Southern California dead, the British weekly The Economist looked across the ocean and very prophetically announced that there was still much life in this region. In an editorial it declared that, “Rather than lamenting what it has lost, Southern California has everything to look forward to.... Los Angeles fails only when it forgets what it is; when it loses heart and looks backward. At its best – looking forward – there is no more inspiring city in America.”

This essay is adapted from “The Future of Southern California,” remarks given by USC President Steven B. Sample to the California Club Executive Forum in September 1996.

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Photo illustration by Ann Cutting

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