Astghik Hakopyan, legislative aide to Sen. Anthony Portantino, with Sen. Portantino at the meeting, which was primarily via Zoom

California Committee Chaired by Sen. Portantino Examines Trade, Technology and Travel Relations between California and Armenia

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SACRAMENTO, Calif.  — The Select Committee on California, Armenia and Artsakh Mutual Trade, Art and Cultural Exchange chaired by State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D–Burbank) held an informational hearing on Monday, June 12, 2023 titled California and Armenia: Trade, Technology and Travel Exchange. Topics of discussion included the need for direct flights and increased air cargo capacity between Los Angeles and Armenia, the California-Armenia Trade and Services Desk, and technology incubators in the City of Glendale.

“We had an important conversation on how to improve trade and technology exchanges between California and Armenia,” stated Senator Portantino. “We also discussed the need for establishing direct flights between Yerevan and Los Angeles due to the large and vibrant Armenian community in my district. I am thankful to all the participants who provided testimony and critical insight on how California can strengthen our economic relations with Armenia.”

The hearing began with an update on the California Trade and Services Desk in Armenia. In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom and Armenia’s Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the Armenian Mission to the United Nations in New York City formally establishing the California Trade and Services Desk in Armenia. As the facilitator of the trade desk agreement, Senator Portantino was in New York for the historic event. In 2021, the Senator also represented California for the placement of the California State Seal at Impact Hub in Yerevan. The Select Committee’s hearing provided an opportunity for representatives from Impact Hub, the official host of the California Trade and Services Desk, to give the State Senate an update on the economic developments and opportunities that have been generated from the agreement.

Additionally, the hearing included a report from the City of Glendale on its efforts to create a tech hub in Southern California. Glendale was represented by Mayor Dan Brotman who detailed the local tech scene and Glendale’s Tech Week.

“I would like to thank Senator Portantino for holding an informational hearing on how we can deepen our economic ties with Armenia and Artsakh,” stated Glendale City Mayor Dan Brotman. “I would also like to thank him for entrusting Glendale with a $1,000,000 grant to launch two technology accelerators, including Hero House. By combining the great work of Hero House with our Tech Week, Tech on Tap and other programs to support and connect entrepreneurs from around the world, we hope to build a technology ecosystem in Glendale that will strengthen the entire economy of Los Angeles County and Southern California.”

The hearing provided the Select Committee with the opportunity to hear directly from Hero House, a tech incubator who was the recipient of a $500,000 state grant, about how it expended the state resources and the positive outcomes it generated. Armine Galstyan, Managing Director of Hero House, gave an impressive and detailed summary of the economic activity stimulated by the grant.

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“In 2020, SmartGateVC received a $500K grant from the Governor’s Office of Business & Economic Development to establish a startup accelerator in Glendale, California. SmartGateVC is an early-stage AI fund focused on investing and launching promising companies in California. The accelerator program in Glendale supported 33 companies from 10 countries, serving as a launch pad for their entry into the US market. These companies have already raised over $6M in funding, enabling them to establish operations in Glendale and some even relocated their headquarters to Hero House Glendale. The program garnered recognition for Hero House and supported companies in prestigious publications such as Time Magazine, Forbes, and others. Through strategic partnerships with local universities, research labs, tech players, and corporate entities, SmartGateVC continues to foster a collaborative environment for exploring technology and innovation,” stated Armine Galstyan, Principal at SmartGateVC.

The final topic of discussion centered around the need for a direct flight from Los Angeles to Yerevan. The 25th State Senate District is home to the largest concentration of Armenian Americans in LA County, while California is home to the most Armenian Americans in the country.  Armenia is popular destination for both travel and exchange of goods. Currently, a number of airlines offer flights from California to Armenia through transfers in other cities.

“Access to a global pool of amazing talent is key to the success of any tech hub like Los Angeles. That’s why connecting LA to Yerevan with a direct flight makes complete sense and is long overdue. Over the past year, Dot818 has been working with major US airlines, legislators, as well as LA-based tech companies with offices in Armenia, such as Plat.AI, to make LAX-EVN a reality within the next two years,” stated David Tonoyan, CEO of Dot818, a technology-building company.

At the request of Senator Portantino, the California State Senate Rules Committee first established the historic Senate Select Committee on California, Armenia, and Artsakh Mutual Trade, Art, and Cultural Exchange in 2017 to expand business opportunities through trade, economic development, cultural awareness, and education between California, Armenia, and Artsakh.

Members of the Senate Select Committee on California, Armenia, and Artsakh Mutual Trade, Art, and Cultural Exchange include Sen. Bob Archuleta (D-Pico Rivera), Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), Sen. Brian W. Jones (R-Santee), Sen. Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), Sen. Henry I. Stern (D-Los Angeles), Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Sen. Caroline Menjivar (D- San Fernando Valley), and Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita).

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