At the June 11 Long Beach City Council meeting, 9th District Councilmember Rex Richardson plans to present recommendations for new economic inclusion strategies that would address housing and homeownership, small business, city procurement processes, workforce and youth development, diverse entrepreneurship and economic resiliency. At the same meeting, he intends to propose creating economic incentive zones to promote growth in areas of the city experiencing economic inequity.
The recommendations are outlined in the Everyone In Economic Inclusion Implementation Plan, which Richardson will ask his fellow councilmembers to adopt and subsequently direct the city manager to work on implementing. The plan was developed through a series of community and stakeholder workshops as part of the Everyone In economic inclusion initiative spearheaded by Richardson, the Long Beach Economic Development Department and the nonprofit Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
There are four major recommendations included in the plan, including creating a procurement strategy for city contracts that focuses on local businesses and inclusivity. Richardson told the Business Journal that the city council’s method of ensuring that city procurement is inclusive – whether that be of LGBTQ individuals, minorities, veterans or other groups – has been to “sprinkle a preference on top of our policies.” He would like that to change. “I think we’ve got to take a step back from sprinkling it on top and talk about baking it in,” he said.
As an example, Richardson cited the experience of a local business owner who had to prove her heritage in order to certify her business as African American-owned. He noted that contract procurement processes are often different depending on the agency a business owner is trying do business with. In Long Beach, for example, the city government, Long Beach Unified School District, Long Beach Transit and local college and university all have their own contract procurement policies, he said, explaining that they could also require different methods for businesses to certify as minority-owned. “Imagine if you had to go through five or six different processes just to prove that you’re a black person,” he said. “There should be some process where you can simply certify once, and that counts for all the agencies that are doing business here. That’s a simple thing.”
Another component of the inclusion plan is to create a municipal small business council that would connect local small business owners to services and resources. “What if simply by having a business license in the city you are automatically eligible to participate for free in a municipal small business council that has regular meetings, has a staff person, has the opportunity to branch off and have a minority business council or an African American Business Council?” Richardson queried.
Richardson suggested that the cost to hire someone to run the council’s programs could be paid for by adding a small fee, perhaps $3, to the business license cost in Long Beach. Aside from that, the council’s services would be free, unlike those of other business agencies in the city, such as the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce or the various business improvement districts, he explained.
Also included in the plan is a recommendation to establish a community development corporation, a nonprofit agency that would focus on economic development at the community level. A priority for this corporation would be creating a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-certified counseling center for homebuyers.
Long Beach has for generations been “a tale of two cities,” as Richardson put it, with diverse communities clustered along major freeways. These areas experience more pollution and tend to have fewer resources and services such as banks and medical offices, he continued. In these areas, many residents struggle to afford to buy homes or keep their existing homes, and creating a HUD center would help those residents by advising them on how to keep their homes or stay within their communities, he explained.
The Long Beach Community Action Partnership, a nonprofit in North Long Beach, has agreed to spearhead the process of creating a community development corporation. According to Richardson, Wells Fargo will soon be announcing that it is providing a grant for this initiative.
Youth and workforce development are also a part of the plan, which suggests integrating workforce programs into the city’s teen centers. There are five of these centers, which are operated by the parks department, located throughout the city.
In addition to asking the city council to adopt these strategies as part of the plan, Richardson intends to make a separate motion to establish economic incentive zones in the city. This would be a strategy for addressing Long Beach’s economic divide in areas with fewer resources by incentivizing businesses that provide needed services to move into the area, as Richardson explained it.
“It’s been the same story for many generations now that we have a tale of two cities in Long Beach,” Richardson said. “Other cities, other states, other countries have taken approaches where they look at treating their economics a bit differently in these areas in the hopes of creating a change in the narrative a little bit.”
If the city government is aware that certain areas are in need of resources such as banks or grocery stores, it could designate those areas for incentives to attract those business types, he explained. These could include incentives related to taxes, utilities, business licenses and public infrastructure, for example. “Every department that affects businesses is going to have to think about what they are doing in those areas. That may take a while to shape,” Richardson said.
Richardson emphasized that closing the economic gap in Long Beach is just as worthy of the type of attention the city paid in building its new civic center and trying to attract Major League Baseball’s Angels to build a new stadium here. “It needs to become a part of the service philosophy of this city,” he said.