When Jerry Miller’s family moved from San Pedro to the other side of the harbor in 1961, he had no way of knowing not just how much Long Beach would become a part of his life.
Now retired with 25 years of City employment under his belt, the former City Manager and current small-business owner is just a few months into his latest gig as the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Chairman of the Board. This position is bringing him to lead yet another civic contribution—finalizing an economic development strategic plan for Long Beach, a project which will outline the ways in which the city can promote economic growth. “I think the economic development strategy will be the most important new initiative that I will be involved in leading,” Miller says of his one-year Chairmanship, which started in July. “[The project] actually began under Joanne Davis, my predecessor, but it was such a large undertaking that we split it up over two years. I’m going to complete what she started.”
In order to create a foundation for the economic development strategic plan, the Chamber has been facilitating surveys and focus groups with business organizations and individual owners throughout the city. Working off of these visions for the future of Long Beach’s economy, Miller and other board members will oversee the creation of a document that can then be delivered to the City for implementation.
While city governments ordinarily develop their own economic strategies—and Long Beach has in the past had its own—the Chamber is offering to take the lead on creating a new one, given that the city’s current fiscal situation makes it unclear when they would be able to do so themselves. “We’re not doing this because the city isn’t doing its job,” says Miller. “We’re doing this because the business community has a vested interest in the local economy and they’re stepping up to the plate. We have a lot of great things happening here and we want to keep those things happening. We want to make sure the future is bright for the Long Beach economy.”
The most basic element of ensuring a bright economy, Miller says, is jobs (“Period. The way to empower people is to employ them”). It’s something he learned while a community-clinical psychology masters student at Cal State Long Beach and a philosophy he took with him to City Hall, where he administered job-training programs and soon became manager the Long Beach’s Economic Development Bureau before spending nearly 10 years in the City Manager’s office.
“Community psychology is different than general psychology because it really focuses on making institutions work more effectively and more on the environmental factors that affect behavior,” Miller says. “So instead of trying to fix a young person, for example, you look at the environment that they live in—the home environment, the school environment, the after-school environment—and you try to make changes in the environmental milieu in the hopes that the person will fix themselves if given a better circumstance.”
When Miller retired in 2007, he returned to his passion—empowering people through economic development—and established IMC Municipal Consulting, where he is today managing partner. And though it might seem unconventional to have the former city manager of a large city serve as the chair of one of the state’s leading chambers, Miller’s combination of small-business savvy and public sector experience makes him the ideal person to usher in the new economic development strategic plan. “It’s only the business community that creates jobs. You can do all the fancy development in the world, but you do it because you create jobs and economic activity,” Miller says. “The public sector can create an environment that supports or doesn’t support job creation, but in the end, the business community’s contributions to all aspects of a community are not to be understated.”
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