Last month, the Long Beach Economic Development Commission established focus areas to be the foundation of its forthcoming economic blueprint.
The commission was formed at the beginning of 2015 by Mayor Robert Garcia and was tasked to examine the city’s economy and make policy recommendations to the council to foster economic growth. However, before the group could delve deeply into the blueprint, the minimum wage hike discussions began, which the council asked the commission to weigh in on. This was followed by a request to look into the prospective customs facility at Long Beach Airport.
“Right now, we are on a very aggressive schedule from now until March focused on the economic blueprint,” Randal Hernandez, chair of the commission, said. “The big piece we were waiting for was the Beacon Economics report. Beacon was analyzing data that had never been able to be utilized before by economists, which is California Economic Development Department data.”
According to Hernandez, previous economic data for the City of Long Beach was always lumped into the Los Angeles Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area and Components data and had to be extracted, which was difficult and didn’t always provide the best insight. In December 2015, Beacon Economics began a project to study and compile Long Beach-specific data so the commission could better understand the city’s current economy.
In September 2015, Beacon was awarded the $100,000 contract, which included a two-phase project. Phase one, which was presented to the commission in October, was a macro look at the Long Beach economy, including its largest and fastest-growing industries. Phase two is scheduled to be presented to the commission on December 13 and will consist of a micro view of the city’s economy, allowing the commission to understand key areas where big business is located and where growth is taking place.
The commission’s recently adopted focus areas are based on Beacon’s phase one report, which is why they were only just now developed. “Number one is we’ve identified the growth areas, if you will, that are happening in Long Beach – health care being one of the big drivers, education being a big driver, international business, leisure and hospitality, and [technology],” Hernandez explained.
The remaining focus areas are jobs and education, business environment, infrastructure, and business assistance and resources.
According to Hernandez, the commission will continue to host panels for each focus area, where speakers are invited to discuss their area of expertise. Panels were already held on October 25 regarding jobs and education, November 8 regarding business assistance and resources, and November 15 regarding development in the city.
On November 29, the panel will take a look at land use, zoning and the city’s general plan. On December 6, City Engineer Sean Crumby and others will speak on infrastructure. Lastly, Beacon Economics will make its phase two presentation on December 13. The commission is scheduled to present the economic blueprint to the city council on March 21.
“To me the most important thing is, even though we are doing these panels and a series of study sessions on the focus areas, we are welcoming public comments during those study sessions. We are welcoming written comments. We are welcoming thoughts on who speakers should be,” Hernandez said. “We have limited time here, so we are trying to pull together as much information as we can. We want to make this process as open as possible.”
Hernandez said the aspect of the economy that he is most concerned with is the growth of small business in the city. He hopes phase two of Beacon’s report will show areas of strong small-business growth and provide insight on how the city can nurture those businesses. Also, he is interested in the opportunities and challenges the city faces regarding demographics and the role they play in the business sector.
Once completed, Hernandez said the economic blueprint will include the findings from Beacon Economics’ report, the focus areas, as the most near-term opportunities for growth, and preliminary policy recommendations for the council to consider on how to move forward and help businesses grow.
“Our goal – once we have the blueprint done and the baseline data completed – is to create a dashboard,” Hernandez said, “so that every six months, every three months, a year, whatever it is, we can begin to hopefully see trend lines to see if we’re moving the needle or, just as important, respond to challenges.”
Long Beach is going through a great economic renaissance, Hernandez said. With investment in North Long Beach and positive atmospheres and developments in downtown and on the eastside, he explained that a major concern is ensuring that economic growth is seen across the city, not just in small pockets. He said the commission is trying to take a holistic look at the city and get input from people in every neighborhood.
“Even though we will be coming back to the council with a blueprint by March, the commission views this and, I believe, the mayor sees this as an ongoing process,” Hernandez said. “So when we release the blueprint to the council and the public, that’s not the end of the process. It’s almost like the beginning of the next phase as we continue to dive deeper into the focus areas and continue to look for ways that we can be of assistance to the city in growing the economy.”