In a city with a university that annually graduates more than 10,000 students with a dizzying array of degrees, the question begs to be asked: where are they going with those diplomas? And if that locally educated talent isn’t staying here: why not?

According to local small to mid-sized creative sector firms, the talent coming out of California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) rivals that of some of the most renowned universities in the region. And, for that reason, they’re going out of their way to snag local graduates before they pack up for opportunities in other cities.

Some of these grads spoke to the Business Journal about their impressions of their career prospects upon graduation and why they ultimately chose to stay local, while their employers weighed in on why they make retaining local talent a conscious effort.

Commune Communication Staff
Commune Communication was founded five years ago in the East Village Arts District by James Whale and Ryan La Rosa, creative sector veterans who wanted to break away from the rigamarole of working for large agencies. Now, the firm employs 10 people, including multiple graduates from California State University, Long Beach. Pictured at the firm’s office, from left, are: Myra Pimentel, social media coordinator; Nicole Heinrich, graphic designer; Caleb Hudson, vice president, brand strategy; Shawn Hardy, director of interactive; James Whale, co-founder and creative director; Ryan La Rosa, co-founder and director of strategy; Danielle Salvatore, senior designer; and Mineko Inouye, account director. Not pictured are: Laura Girard, media buyer/planner; Lizzy Moore, media director; and Micheal Ziman, senior copywriter. (Photograph by Brandon Richardson)

Myra Pimental, a Long Beach native who works as social media coordinator for Commune Communication, a creative firm in the East Village Arts District, graduated from CSULB this year. She said she was surprised to find a local job opportunity at a creative sector firm. “I didn’t even consider that I would be able to stay here in Long Beach,” she said during an interview with a few of her co-workers at Commune’s office. “I was already getting prepared for the commutes from here to L.A., because [when] I would go on career tours doing school, they would all be in L.A. or in the OC area. . . . When I found [Commune] I was like, wow, that’s amazing. That would be great if I could stay in my home town.”

Her colleague and fellow CSULB grad, Nicole Heinrich, expressed similar sentiments. “I was totally oblivious to options in Long Beach. I thought for sure I would have to go somewhere else,” Heinrich said of her impression of local job prospects. Heinrich works as a graphic designer for Commune, a firm that was founded five years ago by two individuals – James Whale and Ryan La Rosa – and now employs 10. “Kind of the same by default, I thought I [would have] to go to Los Angeles.”

Danielle Salvatore, Commune’s senior graphic designer, said she thought she would have to move to Los Angeles or the East Coast to work for a larger agency after graduating from CSULB in 2015. “From what I had heard being in the graphic design program . . . there is The Designory and then there is interTrend and that’s about it. The big shops,” she said, referring to two Long Beach-based advertising firms. Ultimately, she moved to Santa Monica to work for a major greeting card company, but did not enjoy the experience. “I was like, how do I get out? I was searching for other agencies in Long Beach, and that’s how I found them. Otherwise I wouldn’t have thought about staying here.”

Pimental said she found out about Commune – and that working locally was an option – because Whale and La Rosa made an effort to reach out to the local university. The firm specializes in a variety of marketing, branding and digital services.

“We made a concentrated effort to meet the heads of department and faculty. We go down to the university and speak regularly in front of different groups of students,” Whale said, noting that the pair have spoken to students studying design, business, marketing and communications. “We’re very annoying down there,” La Rosa joked. “Persistent,” Whale corrected.

“The one thing we realized immediately when we started talking is people would come up, students, and they all had the same story: ‘I figured I’ve got to go to L.A.’ We kept hearing it,” La Rosa said. Whale added, “Because we recognized how amazing the city is and the work that’s coming out of [CSULB] is very high-level, it’s very frustrating to hear that the sentiment exists that they need to go elsewhere. Because we know it to be different.”

La Rosa and Whale noted that many of their clients are Long Beach entities – they count many of the city’s business improvement districts and Long Beach Transit among them, for example – and that having employees with local knowledge is a benefit.

Salvatore, Commune’s first hire, found the company because they posted a job description on the website for CSULB’s career center. Making the switch to working locally changed things for her for the better. “I was commuting every day and I was thinking, well, this is the Southern California experience I have heard about,” she said. “ [Now] I live a couple miles from here, and I ride my bike to work, which is amazing. It’s just changed the entire feeling of working for an agency.”

Asked what she would say to current students thinking about their post-college careers, Salvatore said, “It’s not always about the big clients or the big agencies. There is a lot of difference that you can make here in your local community. And there’s the opportunity. It’s there; you just have to go looking for it.”

To help attract students while they’re still studying at CSULB, Downtown Long Beach creative firm ETA Agency recently started up an internship program. The agency also counts local grads among some of its senior-level positions. “One of the things we wanted to expand upon was our existing partnerships with Cal State Long Beach,” Adam Carrillo, ETA’s executive vice president, said during an interview with two of his colleagues at their Ocean Boulevard office. “That kicked off with launching a new internship program that focuses on identifying emerging talent from the university and how can we be more proactive in attracting, and potentially retaining, younger and emerging talent from the school of arts.”

ETA Agency Creative Director Jan Montoya
ETA Agency’s Creative Director, Jan Montoya (left) meets with the firm’s intern, Amy Sekins, who is studying studio art with a minor in graphic design at California State University, Long Beach. The firm has implemented an internship program, working directly with the local university to hire students. (Photograph by Brandon Richardson)

Jan Montoya, ETA’s creative director, manages intern hiring. He is also a CSULB alum himself. “When I first came onboard, which was about three months ago, Adam and I had a discussion about bringing in new talent as we expand the business, [and]what kind of talent we want to bring in,” he said. “We have all this human capital right here at Cal State University Long Beach, so it’s a no-brainer.”

According to April Dela Cruz, an account executive with ETA, the internship program is structured so that students get a lot out of the experience. “It’s not just a stereotypical internship where they get coffee or do paperwork or administrative stuff. They are hands-on shadowing the respective staff member in that department,” she said. Dela Cruz received her undergraduate degree from CSU Dominguez Hills and her master’s from CSULB. She joined ETA in 2018. “The plan is not only for them to work in that specific field or department, but for them to work with the other interns to collaborate as well.”

Montoya pointed out that because ETA is a small agency, there are more opportunities for interns compared to what they would experience at larger shops. “If you’re hungry, this is a great place for you to learn and to get your feet wet. And we’ll give you as much as you can take on,” he said.

ETA also looks to local universities when hiring for permanent positions, Carrillo noted. “Any time we’re looking for a more senior type of position, we always reach out to Cal State Long Beach’s MBA program. We also reach out to [its] Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” he said.

Hype Media Group, another downtown-based advertising firm, also makes a point of hiring interns from CSULB and other universities in the region. The company, which employs 22 people, specializes in advertising services for Southern California car dealerships. Founder and CEO Chad Pelliccioni said he is in part dedicated to hiring local talent because he would not be where he is today if not for an internship he had while studying at CSU Fullerton.

“I started realizing how tough the job market was and how we could do our part by giving people an internship so they could either use it as a launchpad to another job or be able to work their way into a position here,” Pelliccioni said. “Seven of our employees have gone from an internship to a full-time, paid salary position. So it’s a lot of people’s first real salary-paying job. It’s exciting for them.” Hype uses and direct relationships with CSULB and CSU Fullerton to attract interns, Pelliccioni said.

Hype Staff
Hype Media Group, a creative firm in Downtown Long Beach, often hires graduates from local universities such as California State University (CSU), Long Beach and CSU Dominguez Hills. The founders of the firm, which employs 22 people, are pictured here with several of those hires. From left: Alex Proano, co-owner; Ryan Crook, director of digital communications; Joey Mailloux, director of content; Chad Pelliccioni, co-owner and CEO; Adam Domenici (standing), creative director of media; Bill Parks (sitting), community manager; and Luisa Razzari, community manager. (Photograph by Brandon Richardson)

“For us, hiring local talent is important because they have to be able to understand the markets we work in and the different demographics,” Pelliccioni said, noting that applicants from the Midwest or other parts of the country might not be as familiar with the communities Hype’s clients need to reach.

Joey Mailloux, Hype’s director of content, graduated from CSULB with a degree in communications in 2015. He started with the company as an intern during his last semester of college. “I worked the internship for about five or six months and then I got hired entry level. And now I’m moving my way up to having people under me,” he said.

Mailloux is from a small town in Sonoma County, and said that when he moved to Long Beach for his studies, he realized he wanted to try to remain there after he graduated. “My time at Long Beach State was like incredible. . . . It’s a beautiful campus. All the professors are incredible,” he said. “It’s home for me. Whenever I go back and visit my actual hometown, I usually can’t wait to get back to Long Beach. I call it my home and I plan to be here for the foreseeable future.” He noted that it only takes him about eight minutes to get to work from his Long Beach home.

Hype moved to Long Beach about four and a half years ago from the Torrance area because Long Beach serves as a midway point for employees in Los Angeles and Orange County, Pelliccioni noted. “We like Long Beach… and we’re going to continue to grow,” he said. “We’re entertaining purchasing space right now, and committing to Long Beach for a long time. So we’re not going anywhere. We’re happy.”