One of L.A.’s most reported stories is also one of its least appreciated or understood. That’s the influx of Chinese to this area.

The No. 1 destination for Chinese immigrants to the United States: Los Angeles County, where 31 percent of them choose to land. In all, close to 4 million Chinese now live in the United States – double the amount from 2000. The county now has in excess of a half-million Chinese-born residents. That’s more than the population of Long Beach.

I mentioned that, for a big and well-reported story, it is not appreciated. That may be partly because most of those immigrants go to the San Gabriel Valley. If you haven’t spent much time there in a while, you may be amazed to see how many signs are in Asian languages and the general Chinese-induced transformation there.

The town of San Gabriel, for example, is more than 60 percent Asian, and the main thoroughfare, Valley Boulevard, has a number of construction projects going on, many of them to accommodate the burgeoning Chinese population. A new 316-room Crown Plaza Hotel, for example, will be feng shui compliant because most of the guests presumably will be from China. (Interestingly, one condition for getting a permit from the city was that the hotel had to include one mainstream restaurant. Residents complain they don’t have enough non-Asian eateries.)

Bloomberg had an interesting story in October about how the bedroom community of Arcadia is being transformed by wealthy Chinese who are buying middle-class homes (for inflated prices), tearing them down and building 8,000-square-foot mansions. Homeowners there get cards stuck in their doors offering immediate, all-cash buyouts. (Arcadia is popular because its lenient building codes allow mansionization.) Last year, an estimated 150 homes – 53 percent more than normal – were razed and replaced with megahouses.

This wave of immigration from China has been pretty well reported, but it may not be fully understood because of this: These immigrants really are different from others this country has seen. The Chinese are not fleeing a war, a desperate political situation, a potato famine or a crushing economy. No, they’re wealthy. China has nearly 200 billionaires and by last count a zillion millionaires, many of them looking for a safe haven, a noncommunist sanctuary, where they can park their money. They may be yearning to breathe free, but they are definitely not huddled masses.

And these immigrants are educated. According to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, 47 percent of adult immigrants from China had at least a bachelor’s degree – much more than native-born American adults at 30 percent.

That institute also said they are more likely – much more likely – to be employed in management, business, science and arts occupations. In all, 51 percent of them are so employed compared with 38 percent for native-born Americans.

Yes, this time, it’s the wealthy and educated who are coming here. And they’re motivated to move. That Bloomberg article cited a magazine for the wealthy in Shanghai that estimated two-thirds of China’s millionaires had immigrated or planned to do so.

These immigrants are having a big effect on business here even outside of the 626 area code. We see it regularly at the Business Journal. For example, the article on page 5 of this issue mentions that one reason – a small reason, but one reason – for the rise of extended-stay hotels in Los Angeles is to cater to Chinese visitors.

It’s interesting that civic and business leaders are always on the lookout for ways to attract investment and economic activity. Maybe an established business will move here, maybe an industry cluster will get rooted here. Yet, in a little-understood way, in an unappreciated way, the Chinese are providing an enormous economic boost to Los Angeles on a scale that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at