For the Business Journal’s annual focus on the Westside industrial area, we reached out to more than a dozen business owners for input on the following question: “How would you describe the current state of the Westside business community?” Five business owners responded with their take on the current state of business in the Westside, some offering a historical perspective for context, and others focusing on the potential of the future.

Apparent in the responses is that businesses are coping with change – changes both to the Westside, and changes to their industries. Lighting-related businesses, for example, are contending with changes related to the adoption of light emitting diode technology. There is also the matter of continually fluctuating regulations on the local, regional and state levels, as one business owner pointed out.

Day to day, the business community grapples with a number of persistent issues, including deteriorating streets, a pervasive presence of homeless individuals, litter and other problems.

Looking forward, long time business owners wonder how the new presence of marijuana growers and distributors in the Westside will change the area, and how an eventual expansion of rail at the Port of Long Beach’s Pier B could impact them.

Although some aspects of the future remain uncertain, and even in the face of some ongoing problems, a number of business owners expressed that the area is “booming,” and “full of possibility.”

Matt Cullen, President, Amber Resources

From my perspective, business on the Westside is booming. This area is famous for hearty businesses that figure out how to survive even in the tough times. With the economy doing so well, our business, as well as our neighbors, all seem to be enjoying tremendous growth. There are many port-related businesses in our area, and they all seem to be busy. With that said, businesses that are looking to expand are facing higher costs. The distinction of the Westside as a “marijuana approved” area has significantly increased both rent and sales prices. A building that was worth $420k pre-designation is now on the market for $2.2m with all of the necessary permits and plans to start producing marijuana within 90 days. Add to that the proliferation of the motorhome homeless and the influx of port truckers who line the streets every night, make for a congested and often dirty area. Every morning you can see employees out in front of their companies picking up the trash and cleaning up after these groups. We still have a business group (WPAC) that meets on a monthly basis that tries to work with the City and the police to address these issues, but so far as a group we have made little to no progress. All in all things are going well on the Westside, but we would benefit greatly from help addressing some of the issues I have outlined.

Gil Ficke, President, Ficke Investment Group

I believe the Westside Business Community has been stagnant over the past year. Any gains in business activities are continually being challenged by compliance with local, regional, and state regulations. The costs of compliance have not been able to be recovered with any additional profits. This, coupled with the increasing cost of labor and labor compliance have had a negative effect on the bottom line.

Specific to the Westside, the influx of homeless people has impacted the cleanliness and safety in the neighborhood. We have employed 24-hour on-site security to mitigate the panhandling and threats to the safety of our customers. Many business operators are concerned about the impacts of the Port of Long Beach Pier B railyard which will close streets in the neighborhood and restrict access to downtown with the closure of the 9th Street bridge.

Westside businesses are a vital support resource for the port and region. My impression is this is often overlooked by our government officials, perhaps because the business community is not a voting block that needs to be addressed. I hope the relationship of the Westside Business Community with City and Port officials align for the betterment of a strong and robust Long Beach.

Stan Janocha, Chief Operations Officer, Superior Electrical Advertising Inc.

Superior has been doing business on the west side of Long Beach for 60 years. In 1960 we were Long Beach Enamellers doing business on Gaylord Street. In 1968 the name was changed to Superior Outdoor Display. And in 1972 we became Superior Electrical Advertising Inc., and moved into the closed Coca Cola Bottling Company building on Anaheim Street. My business partner Jim Sterk has been with Superior for 53 years and I have been with Superior for 50 years. That’s a lot of years on the West Side.

There has been little change on the West Side over the last 5 decades. Anaheim Street was renovated a few years ago between the 710 Freeway and Wilmington. Santa Fe Ave. has been renovated. But overall things stay the same. There are about 300 small businesses on the West Side and many of them have been in business for a long time. A handful longer than Superior. All of them bringing lots of tax dollars to the City of Long Beach.

But after all these years the West Side will be changing. The city has approved marijuana manufacturing and distribution businesses on the West Side. Growers and sellers are gobbling up properties and commercial real estate prices have skyrocketed. Those of us on the West Side are watching to see if crime increases in our neighborhood.

And the Port of Long Beach is in the process of building a 48-track rail yard on the West Side. Right in our backyard. Will the rail yard bring noise and air pollution to our neighborhood? Will the rail yard change the “small family business culture” of the West Side? How many businesses will survive in this new environment?

The business owners on the West Side feel they know the answer to these questions but in the meantime will work hard to be successful while providing jobs for many Long Beach residents. Only time will tell.

Vincent Passanisi, President, Santa Fe Importers, Inc.

From my vantage point, the Westside seems an area on the cusp of change. This small business community is largely dependent on the port, downtown, the refineries, and the surrounding residential neighborhoods. As those areas continue to evolve, so will the Westside.

Whenever there is change, there is uncertainty, and I think we are seeing some of that now. The year started off strong, but through the summer, business seemed less robust and more sporadic. Wildly busy days, the neighborhood bustling with activity, were followed by strangely quiet days where the streets seemed oddly empty. The real estate speculation early in the year brought about by zoning of the Westside for growing and manufacture of cannabis has also seemed to settle down. Where the Westside once was held together by a strong community of owner-operators with a marked interest and vision for the Westside, the area feels more fractured now. Certainly some are embracing the changes to come, while others cling to the past.

Legislative issues will also continue to weigh down the area as regulation-heavy California continues to discourage heavy industry by favoring more popular tech services and removing incentives necessary to fuel entrepreneurial growth. Legislation such as the minimum wage will bring further surprises as wages increase from $11 to $15 per hour over the next four years and business owners struggle to adapt by raising prices, automating, and reducing work staff. In addition, the imposition of new import tariffs, and the prospect of additional ones, will add a great deal of uncertainty to the business climate, in a way that a freer trade policy does not.

Finally, after years of slow and steady growth, it isn’t unlikely that we are due for a correction in the business cycle – another possibility that adds to uncertainty in the neighborhood. All that being said, the Westside is still vibrant and full of possibility. I don’t doubt that it will be unrecognizable ten or fifteen years from now.

Ed Spotskey, Owner, Spot Lighting Supplies

Spot Lighting Supplies has been on the westside of Long Beach since 1980, starting at 624 W PCH and moving to our current location of 1200 Oregon Ave. in 2010. Founded by Tom Spotskey (1974) and currently owned by Ed Spotskey (2000) with 3rd generation, Brian Spotskey, already in place with the Company for 5 years. By far, the most important reason we remain on the westside is the proximity to the Long Beach/405 Freeway due to the fact that we service a lot of will call customers every day. They love the Anaheim exit and we are the first street next to freeway. We are in a small unique commercial area on the westside (old West Coast Choppers location) that has lots of used/wrecked cars being exported to different countries. They all tend to use 12th Street and De Forest Ave as their own personal property to unload the vehicles, which is very irritating for traffic flow on those streets. You couple that with the many unattached trailers/chassis and it is a bit of a maze to navigate these 2 streets. One of the funny things that recently happened was the City put in some 4’ steel poles to prevent the unattached chassis storage. They simply take a big fork lift and stack the chassis 3 high right over top of the steel poles. Oh well, definitely a bit of a free-for-all over here.

One of the best things that has recently happen to our area is the addition of Chavez/Drake Park and soccer fields replacing an old riparian that was a haven for the homeless/drug users. Now we see joggers, bikers, people walking with their dogs, kids playing/practicing soccer, picnickers and we use the park daily for breaks and lunch. The field is artificial turf and fenced in but gets used by leagues on the weekends. This is a great addition to the westside!

Our business climate has changed over the past few years due to the introduction of LED lighting and the Internet/Amazon. I have seen more change in 3 years than the past 38 years due to technology entering our world at lightning speed. You have to really think and react quickly, which is something our industry has not been used to. The LED technology is actually a very good source of light due to energy savings, instant on, dimmable, no mercury, and very long life/warranties. The California and U.S. governments are forcing almost all lighting to become LED in the next coming years. So get used to it because you are not going to have many options.