For the last 18 years, Jeff Forney has taken his family values and applied them to his work at the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). Born and raised in Redondo Beach, Forney attended El Camino Community College before transferring to California State University, Dominguez Hills, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in recreation.
“My mom said to just follow my heart,” Forney said. “I loved to play. I was very active in sports. I played basketball in high school, some volleyball in college, volleyball on the beach, cycling, running, all of that. I was a total beach guy.”
“I had beautiful blonde hair at one point,” he added with a hearty laugh.
During college he worked as a bellman at a Marriott hotel, which was his first professional introduction to the hospitality industry. After graduation, Forney worked at a teen center in Manhattan Beach, followed by a stint at a boys home in the San Fernando Valley. In the early 1990s, he oversaw a new teen center for the City of Redondo Beach. Forney noted that, at the time, teen centers often closed after eight months; however, after two years of building the program and laying the foundation, he left his position, and the center is still operating today at a larger location.
“I love meeting new people and working with people and being in a city that’s always reinventing itself and adding and improving.” – Jeff Forney, vice president of marketing, membership and special projects, Long Beach CVB.
Through his work at the teen center, Forney landed a position with Main Street Experiences in Torrance (the company still operates today in Lakewood), where he handled contracting with restaurants and attractions for senior outings. His work at Main Street allowed him to build a relationship with the new Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, leading him to take on the role of sales manager at the Aquarium for the youth and senior markets, as well as tours for CVB clients.
“It’s kind of been the ‘who you know’ versus ‘what you know’ for me. After two years at the Aquarium, I moved away to Camarillo for a short stint,” Forney said. “I stayed in touch with people and realized I really wanted to come back to the beach, and there happened to be a position at the CVB in membership. Ever since 2001 I have been here.”
Forney started his time at the CVB as the membership services manager and worked his way up to membership director. In 2006, he moved over to marketing. He noted that, even though he does not have a degree in marketing, he has been enveloped in it throughout his post-college life, as each position he held called for marketing skills in one form or another. Today, Forney serves as the vice president of marketing, membership and special projects.
With his dad working nearly 30 years in the California State University Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach overseeing contracts, Forney said he developed a love for math and contract details. His passion for math and contracts has served him well at the CVB, particularly when planning special events – staying within a budget and managing numerous contracts at a time.
“Some people get intimidated [with contracts and math] but it’s something that I’ve done for so long, it doesn’t faze me too much,” Forney said. “Plus, being surrounded by a great team helps. We have a lot of experience that I can draw on. We can learn how to better events. We always try and improve. That’s part of the fun for me, trying to improve on something.”
Though special events take up a lot of his time due to the amount of logistics and planning involved, Forney said marketing and membership are equally important. Last year, the membership team went to or hosted 60 events – summer concerts, fundraisers, open houses, grand openings and mixers. He said these are opportunities for all members to connect and hopefully gain business within the community. With a chuckle, he added that people often put on weight in the hospitality business due to the amount of eating they do between events and taking clients out.
The best part about working in Long Beach is that the city, the businesses and the people are genuine, Forney explained. He said it is a distinct city, with each neighborhood having its own vibe, while the city maintains an overall authentic feel. The fact that no one is trying to be something they are not is what makes Long Beach a great destination in the hospitality and tourism industry, he added.
“It’s been a long run. Eighteen years at a company is unheard of for a lot of places but, because we’re always evolving and the City of Long Beach is always evolving, it’s a lot of fun,” Forney said. “I know a lot of our 400 members – a lot of them joined when I started. We’ve had 18 years of relationships with them. That’s why we call it ‘Team Long Beach’ – we’re almost like family with a lot of them.”
The family-like attitude Forney brings to work was instilled in him while he grew up in his own family. His parents have been married for 60 years and he is the youngest of their eight children. Watching his older brothers and sister grow up helped shaped the person he is today, Forney said.
“Family is very important. For me, family is your support. The five closest people around you kind of dictate who you are and who you become. I happen to have eight of them, plus my wife’s side,” Forney said. “I always have somebody there to help me. I’m very fortunate, I really am. I don’t take it for granted. I appreciate everyone in my family. If I didn’t have them, where would I be?”
Forney has been married to his wife, Jackie, four years and they have a four-year-old son, Matthew. He said he loves being a husband and a father, noting how much having Matthew has changed him – more than he ever thought possible.
Though his family has to deal with his sometimes-crazy work hours, Forney said they are very supportive and often get to attend events and parties. He recalled bringing Matthew to a video shoot at the convention center’s recently unveiled upgraded fountains. He said the camera crew answered Matthew’s questions and let him watch them work, giving him an experience he may not have had if his dad did not work for the CVB.
While trying to provide Matthew with every opportunity to experience new things and to succeed in life, Forney said he is also trying to instill a sense of community and giving back. He said that his goal is to help guide Matthew down a path he enjoys, rather than fixating on the “almighty dollar.”
In their spare time, the Forney family enjoys exploring Long Beach and surrounding areas. Forney said there are frequent trips to parks, and he tries to take Matthew to new parks as often as possible. The Forneys like experiencing new things, particularly restaurants. He explained that the family does not go to chain restaurants very often, opting to patronize those owned by locals. Forney gets his adrenaline fix by playing paintball with friends, an activity he has enjoyed since 1994.
“When you’re growing up you have a vision. I never knew I’d be where I’m at but I couldn’t see myself doing anything different because I get to go to events, I get to meet a ton of people – I’m very social,” Forney said. “I love meeting new people and working with people and being in a city that’s always reinventing itself and adding and improving. It isn’t stagnant. If I was in a place that was just the same all the time, I would leave. It wouldn’t be personally fulfilling.”