Normally taking place in the spring, the annual regional economic forum hosted by Cal State Long Beach and the Long Beach Economic Partnership was postponed due to the ongoing global pandemic. Now, organizers are taking the opportunity to transform the forum into a quarterly event beginning in August.


“The forums are going to dive into industry sectors in depth and with data, getting feedback from leaders in those industries,” LBEP Board Chair Randal Hernandez said.


The annual forum was founded by the Cal State Long Beach Department of Economics in 2014, with the LBEP entering the picture this year. Hernandez said that pre-coronavirus plans for the forum were to be an “introduction party” for the group, which was founded one year ago as a vehicle to attract and retain businesses in partnership with the city.


In past years, the event followed a standard luncheon format at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center—a handful of people such as economists, business executives and city leaders spoke, while guests nibbled on chicken.


“Because of the [virtual] format, we wanted to try and make it much more interactive, rather than just talking heads,” Hernandez said.


The most notable programming addition is a panel, moderated by Long Beach Post Publisher David Sommers, which will provide insight into three prominent sectors of Long Beach business: logistics and trade, healthcare, and technology. Panelists include Port of Long Beach Director Mario Cordero, Dignity Health – St. Mary Medical Center President and CEO Carolyn Caldwell and Laserfiche CEO Chris Wacker.


Hernandez explained that sectors such as retail and restaurant, and hospitality and tourism were considered as focuses for the event but ultimately, it was decided that those sectors have been at the forefront of most coronavirus-related reporting and discussions, due in large part to their direct impact on the general public.


“We had a very robust discussion,” Hernandez said. “But what hasn’t been elevated enough is how so many other industry sectors are responding to COVID-19.”


The virtual forum’s program also includes an economic outlook presentation by economist and CSULB professor Robert Kleinhenz and CSULB Chair of Economics Seiji Steimetz. Downtown Long Beach Alliance President and CEO Kraig Kojian and Economic Development & Policy Manager Austin Metoyer will present a business outlook specific to the Downtown area.


Additionally, Long Beach Economic Development Department Director John Keisler and Economic Development Commissioner Walter Larkins will speak about the city’s economic recovery and equity actions amid the coronavirus outbreak.


In the early days of the pandemic, plans began to formulate to host a virtual event in June but the decision was ultimately made to hold off a couple months to allow for more data to come out related to the impacts of the virus on business and the economy.


“We’ll begin to see more trends on where the economy is heading and the impacts long-term in Long Beach and the state,” Hernandez said. 


Historically, the event would not focus heavily on individual sectors or topic; however, with COVID-19 dominating the economic landscape, Hernandez said the virus will be center stage during the forum.


Future quarterly events will feature different topics and highlight other sectors, Hernandez said. For example, the fall forum is likely to take place just after the November election, which will allow for a discussion about the economic future of the country during the next presidential term. The quarterly format allows the event planning to be more nimble in its efforts to provide timely information and insights, he said.


“When we do this,” Hernandez said, “we want to make sure the information is valuable to the participants.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.