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Despite economy, local businesses thrive

July 21, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The latest unemployment numbers paint a bleak picture for U.S. workers, but there are some companies enjoying the benefits of a weak American dollar."It's bad because we're struggling on the high prices of gas and we're not earning a lot. We're just barely surviving," said Alexander Guzman, a Cerritos resident.

"Everybody's losing jobs. The economy is going down and there's nothing we can do but just pray it'll get better," said Jeannie Hickman, a Long Beach resident.

The country's unemployment rate jumped to 5.5 percent in June, the highest it has been in 20 years.

In California, the unemployment rate is 6.8 percent, the highest the state has seen in nearly five years.

However, some, like Frank Robinson, are not experiencing economic difficulties. Robinson founded Robinson Helicopters in Torrance in 1973. Today, his company is the number one helicopter manufacturer in the country.

"We export 70 percent of our production and the weak American dollar has lowered the price of our helicopters in the various foreign markets by that same percentage," said Robinson.

Helicopters are more affordable in places like Europe, Australia, South America and South Africa. Robinson's increasing export business has stood out so much that, in January, President Bush paid his company a visit.

In three years Robinson has nearly doubled in size from 600 to now more than 1,300 employees. Business is doing so well that the company is looking to hire hundreds of new employees.

Some of the employees aren't experienced technicians. Bryan Llamas was working for Jamba Juice a year ago. Now, he builds helicopter tail cones for Robinson.

"I have not worked in aviation at all but it's pretty cool. I love it. It's awesome. Just to see that helicopter flying up, just be like, 'Wow I got that up there,' you know, 'I wonder if that's my tail cone flying up there,' you know," said Bryan Llamas, a Robinson employee.

Another company, L.A. Helicopters in Long Beach, is also capitalizing on the weak dollar. Business is up for the company by 40 percent over the last year.

"Fuel here, even though it's expensive on our terms, it's still cheaper than in other countries," said Michael Rogers, L.A. Helicopters.

Even though L.A. Helicopters is only hiring about 10 new employees this year, local economist Jack Kyser believes it is a good example of potential job opportunities.

"You have a two-track economy. You have some sectors like housing, financial services really hurting. Then you have other sectors that are doing really well, like classic aerospace. For example, Northrop Grumman has been very successful in recent months in getting a lot of really nice contracts, so that's good news. International travel, that's good news," said Jack Kyser, Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.

Although there may be a lot of businesses not doing so well at the moment, experts say companies like Robinson are a bright spot in a weak economy.

 

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