Column: LA Could Be a Blueprint for What Real Estate Looks Like When Workers Return
Photo by izayah ramos on Unsplash

In mid-March, a majority of companies had to send their employees home and tell them to stay there indefinitely. Most business owners were abiding by what they hoped would be a short-term situation. Few could have imagined 10 months ago that at the beginning of 2021 they would still lack a bonafide game plan to get back up and running. In fact, the longer this pandemic has dragged on, the more it's become clear that the typical, pre-pandemic workplace is not something we'll see again for quite some time.

Reflecting on what the country looks like today, it's a real possibility that in the not-too-distant future L.A. sets not only the stage but also a new standard for what a health-conscious commute and a productive work life looks like as a model for apprehensive Americans.

Commercial real estate brokers in crowded cities such as New York have heard from countless clients that the city's population density complicates matters materially. Even employers who hope to get back to the office as soon as possible are reluctant to return to buildings where they may deem it ill-advised to step into the lobby or to use the elevator to get to their desired floor. Safety comes first for everyone.

Sprawling Los Angeles, however, offers a different landscape. Downtown L.A., once abandoned by businesses in favor of other neighborhoods and nearby cities, has seen a documented boom in recent years. It's a proud home to law firms and financial companies, yet it's not by any means the only area that appeals to L.A. businesses — and that's a benefit. What makes L.A. so unique is how expansive it is. There are so many options for where to plant your flag. Being in the city center is not necessarily the best spot for most businesses. In fact, there's very much a floating 'center of town,' depending on where tomorrow's companies intend to establish themselves.

For many decades, we've heard about how the so-called hub and spoke model - having one central headquarters in the heart of the city with smaller offshoot offices in the suburbs - would be the future of commercial real estate. Last spring, conversations began to bubble up again in that direction, though those realities haven't yet manifested. Companies ultimately want to keep their teams intact and together. In cities other than L.A., if that's your intent, you're stuck with the major downtown area, and paying a steep price for it since every other organization is looking at the same limited supply of offices. But, because L.A.'s culture and infrastructure is already spread out, there's no reason to hesitate to move your office headquarters elsewhere, where it makes most sense for your company, within L.A. County's 88 cities.

Moving away from the urban center is not as much a concern for L.A.-based businesses. In fact, with the state of affairs on the ground right now, it's a major draw. The commute is proven to be employees' greatest concern. A car-dependent culture such as L.A.'s doesn't require any rethinking or rejiggering of transportation to accommodate the same transit shift that is hitting other cities so severely.

In recent years, big tech companies including Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook have made sizable real estate commitments to shift their focus and operations, thereby considerably reimagining their local presences. Despite the ongoing pandemic, these projects are chugging along, and the payoffs begin with thousands of new jobs being created in the coming years. Expect this trend to accelerate in the future. If it's good enough for those giant tech companies, others like them will take notice, and smaller companies will follow.

For example, Hollywood is being transformed around streaming content, and it's all taking place within driving distance of the entertainment capital of the world. What's notable, though, is that these companies are deliberately choosing areas such as Culver City to stake their claims. In such a city, they have the space to put down both traditional offices and fully built-out studios where they can shoot, produce, edit and release content. Although the technology and the thinking have evolved, Los Angeles remains at the epicenter of the global entertainment industry.

That's what makes L.A. such an exciting place to be right now. With an industry in transition, it creates opportunity for others to reshape what comes next. While those types of seismic moves take time, they begin with the biggest players' real estate investments that are then quickly followed by the next crop of companies looking to find their slice of the growing pie.

While there are still challenges in the world of commercial real estate, the office is not dead. As with many other industries, commercial real estate will have to adapt and grow to the needs of businesses and entrepreneurs across all cities. But if you're trying to figure out what possibilities lie ahead, and how innovation can take place within existing infrastructure, look no further than Los Angeles.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.