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Wednesday, Apr 17, 2024


As I sat in the middle of Glassell Street in Old Towne Orange, having breakfast with my wife, Lynne, it was like being at a café on the Champs-Élysées of Paris.

Granted, Orange doesn’t have the Eiffel Tower nor the Arc de Triomphe and the students weren’t wearing berets.

Still, I marveled at how quickly local restaurants moved outdoors. Somehow, in relatively short order, our enterprising city of Orange’s business owners transformed a usually traffic-laden street into a delightful setting for dining and people-watching.

That’s the beauty of a free-market economy.

In times of economic distress, entrepreneurs respond in creative and innovative ways to solve problems. Rather than giving up, business owners and their team of workers were able to get the tables, umbrellas, tents, indoor/outdoor grass and artificial trees and plants that helped keep their restaurants alive.

At Chapman University, when COVID-19 made it impossible for us to present our Chapman Economic Forecast at the Musco Center, I was ready to throw in the towel and cancel it. That would have been the easy thing to do. However, when our creative team at Chapman presented an exciting vision for how we could present our forecast virtually, I was both intrigued and challenged.

Like our merchants in Old Towne, I’m proud that our team pulled it off. Instead of the 1,000 attendees in the Musco Center, some 20,000 virtually attended our Chapman forecast, a count that continues to rise as new viewers visit the website to see the recorded presentation.

An important part of our virtual strategy was to supplement our Chapman forecast with conversations with Orange County industry leaders. Those conversations became part of a web series that we labeled “Chapman Connects.”

The reason I’m so excited about this series is the way it advances our A. Gary Anderson Center’s mission to disseminate the kind of information that strategic leaders need to manage their public and private enterprises and be innovative in our business environment.

Just as our Old Towne merchants and our Chapman forecast needed to innovate creatively in a rapidly changing COVID-19 environment, I found it fascinating to hear how some of our most respected community leaders are doing the same in their businesses. What I found particularly insightful is an overarching theme of the leaders I had the privilege of interviewing.

Namely, that the strategies that led to the phenomenal success of serving their institutional visions are the same strategies they are using to deal with the challenges posed by COVID-19.

For example, Mike Mussallem, CEO of Edwards Lifesciences Corp., told me how the remarkable growth of his company was nurtured over the years by developing a shared understanding that Edwards will always strive to be a bold innovator in its field of medicine.

That vision, in turn, led Edwards to perceive COVID-19 not just as a challenge but also as an opportunity to respond innovatively to the many problems it poses.

Building on the theme of innovation, Mark Percy, president of the CEO Leadership Alliance of Orange County (CLA), spoke of how his organization represents a united effort on the part of our business, educational and community leaders to position Orange County as a top-tier innovation hub.

Percy pointed out the multiplier effect that results in every innovative job creating five other jobs. I was especially intrigued by his comments relating to CLA’s “flywheel strategy” that involves the balancing of generating talent and innovative jobs.

My third guest was the publisher of this newspaper, Richard Reisman. The success of the Orange County Business Journal in the face of the many disruptive changes affecting print media is a remarkable story that also involves being a bold innovator. It turns out OCBJ’s growth and positioning as an innovative journalistic leader is mainly grounded in a strategy of building a core team of the best and brightest in business journalism. That strategy has spurred it to be the leading communicator of COVID-19-related information to the business community.

The best thing about serving as a moderator of Chapman Connects is that it allows me to learn from the leading movers and shakers in our community.

I hope you’ll log on and listen in. Each episode is available for viewing at your convenience. You’ll find the three conversations I just mentioned on the Chapman Connects web page, along with several others, as well as a link to our recent Economic Forecast Update. All this programming is complimentary, too, thanks to generous sponsors.

We have some great organizations represented on the upcoming Chapman Connects’ schedule, including the Orange County Register on Aug. 18 and the City of Hope on Aug. 25.

While these are challenging times, the insights gained through Chapman Connects give me enormous hope for the future of Orange County as an innovative tech hub.

Previously recorded episodes are available on demand. New episodes become available at 3 p.m. PST on their publication dates. Learn more about Chapman Connects at chapman.edu/connects.

Editor’s Note: Jim Doti, president emeritus of Chapman University, is one of the nation’s foremost economists.

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