Construction, healthcare and transportation industries are on the rise in Long Beach, positioning the city as a prime source of high-wage employment and economic growth in California, according to government officials and business representatives who spoke during a job and small-business summit last Saturday, Nov. 17.
More than 300 people and 80 small businesses attended the event called “Getting Back To Work 2012,” the second such conference hosted by 9th District Long Beach City Councilmember Steven Neal. The event at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center’s seaside meeting rooms offered a chance for job seekers and business owners to participate in workshops, attend a luncheon and receive tips and resources.
“As the economy turns up and we move out of this downturn, Long Beach could become a central player…” Neal said. “We can help turn this economy around.”
Richard Holden, a regional commissioner for the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) office in San Francisco, provided historical labor statistics, indicating that the economy is slowly rebounding from the past four years of recession.
Los Angeles County, for instance, has a 10.5-percent unemployment rate as of October labor statistics released the day of the event, dropping from a 12.2-percent jobless rate during the same month last year. Long Beach had an 11.4-percent unemployment rate last month, according to the latest data. By 2020, the BLS projects that the country’s unemployment rate will drop from its current 7.9 percent down to 5.2 percent.
“We’re in a cycle right now that has happened in the past,” Neal said, adding that, while the housing sector is still down, people are now starting to buy homes again, which is “proof that we’re coming out of the recession.”
Holden provided statistics on “industries of growth” as well, indicating that sectors projected to generate the most jobs in the next eight years are: “healthcare and social assistance; professional and business services; construction; retail trade; state and local government; leisure and hospitality; and transportation and warehousing.”
During a “policy luncheon,” Jerome Horton, chairman of the California State Board of Equalization, gave opening remarks, stating that, despite fears of a continued economic downturn in California, the state, which saw its unemployment rate jump down from 11.5 percent in October 2011 to 10.1 percent last month, is poised for a robust recovery.
He said such countries as China and Spain are continuing to invest in the state because they see opportunities for growth. “California is growing by leaps and bounds,” Horton said. “Despite the naysayers who said during the election … that things are gloomy, things are down, things are terrible … we found that’s not the case. In California, at least 85 to 90 percent of the people are employed … jobs are growing at such a significant rate that it is comparable to any other state in the nation.”
Building a business involves taking advantage of tax credits, while sharing, engaging and helping others, he said. “It is your belief and your imagination that will stimulate this economy,” Horton said. “When life gives you a lemon, you let somebody else make the lemonade, and you sit down and enjoy the lemonade … but you take the seed, and you build yourself an orchard.”
After attending a workshop, Travoughn Douglas, an 18-year-old Long Beach resident seeking employment, said he learned how to build a résumé and improve his interviewing skills. “I learned about different programs and how many resources are out there for the community,” he said. “They really went into detail and were really supportive.”
Locally, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach provide “economic advantages” that other regions don’t have, particularly in the area of transportation jobs. According to a presentation during the event, the Port of Long Beach alone provides as many as 30,000 jobs (one out of 8 jobs) in the city. The Long Beach Airport, which is expected to complete its new terminal construction in the coming weeks, is also a key job generator, providing as many as 18,000 jobs in the region.
The construction industry was also one of the main topics of discussion. Small-business owners attended a session about winning government contracts, while job seekers learned about building-trade apprenticeship programs. Although the Port is restricted by tidelands requirements that prohibit any local-hiring mandates, Port officials promoted small and very small business enterprise preferences.
Tommy Faavae, an organizer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 11, said the building trades provide a pathway to high-paying careers, with benefits and pensions. “We have to be ready for the future, and the future is apprenticeship programs,” he said.
Although work can be tough, entry-level pay for workers going through the IBEW’s apprenticeship program, which he said has a 93-percent graduation rate, starts out at about $16 to $18 an hour, Faavae said, adding that, after five years, journeymen in the field make an average of $37 an hour, not including benefits.
During the recession, some union members didn’t receive work for years, but now, he said the industry is “starting to see that incline of jobs that are starting to move.” Project labor agreements (PLAs), a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement between mostly building-trade unions and government agencies, have been a major driver of local jobs in Long Beach, Faavae said.
Dennis Rockway, community-benefits advocate who participated in a panel discussion of small-business representatives and government officials, said it’s important for Long Beach to not only have jobs, but “good jobs” that provide a living wage and benefits, speaking highly of Measure N that voters recently passed to require hotels with 100 rooms or more pay their workers at least $13 an hour.
He also encouraged city officials to adopt a citywide PLA on all construction work in the city, mandating local hiring preferences for Long Beach residents. “We need to have a citywide local-hiring policy on city construction,” Rockway said. “The City of Long Beach has the power to put our own people to work with our own money … it should be mandatory.”