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Los Angeles’ Korean apparel manufacturers eye move to El Paso

Los Angeles’s loss could be El Paso’s gain.

A story in the business section of Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times says Korean-American businesses in the Los Angeles garment district are considering making a mass move to El Paso.

The Korean-American Apparel Manufacturer’s Association in Los Angeles is responsible for at least $10 billion in annual revenues as well as 20,000 jobs. An increase in minimum wage in California, however, coupled with rising rent and strict labor laws, has them looking to move elsewhere.

“I cross my fingers that they come here,” Downtown El Paso business owner Wontae Kim said. “I heard about two months ago from my friend in the same fashion business in Los Angeles downtown.”

Why El Paso?

One of the Korean business owners in Los Angeles making the pitch for a move to El Paso points out in the Los Angeles Times story that El Paso was once home to plants for denim companies including Levi’s and Wrangler, has abundant skilled laborers, fewer regulations, much cheaper rent and direct flights from Los Angeles.

An official at the Korean-American Apparel Manufacturing Association confirmed that a representative from El Paso’s Cushman and Wakefield commercial real estate office was in Los Angeles on Wednesday meeting with them when ABC-7 called. She also told ABC-7 the association has scheduled a visit to El Paso for Sept. 15 and 16.

There’s already a heavy Korean presence in El Paso. Kim estimates that more than 100 businesses in Downtown El Paso, or about half of them, are owned by Koreans.

“I think its going to help actually,” said Won Cho, another apparel store in Downtown El Paso. “I think it’s going to be good for El Paso. You’ll get more jobs and a better economy.”

ABC-7 asked Kim if he thinks Los Angeles business owners are serious about moving to El Paso.

“Oh, they are very serious,” he said. “They have several options, but El Paso is first position on the list.”

ABC-7 spoke briefly Wednesday with the City of El Paso’s director of economic development, Cary Westin. He would not speak on camera, but did tell ABC-7 he’d heard about interest from the Los Angeles Korean apparel manufacturers.

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