From left to right: Economic Development Commission Chair Randal Hernandez, LA LISC Executive Director Tnua Thrash-Ntuk, Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, and Long Beach Community Foundation President and CEO Marcelle Epley. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

This spring the city council adopted the Blueprint for Economic Development, a guide meant to prioritize the creation of businesses, well-paying jobs and economic inclusion for all Long Beach residents for the next ten years. At this Tuesday’s city council meeting, Vice Mayor Rex Richardson plans to set in motion one of the plan’s focus areas when he introduces a package of proposals to his peers addressing economic inclusion.

Richardson revealed those plans Wednesday afternoon at the Uptown Business Improvement District Office filled with over a dozen community stakeholders in North Long Beach when he officially launched the “Everyone In” Economic Inclusion Initiative.

“To me, economic inclusion means creating an environment where everybody has a seat at the table and has an opportunity to thrive,” Richardson said. “And that means small business owners, aspiring entrepreneurs, homeowners from all parts of town have access to resources that they need to grow wealth, grow their business and ultimately thrive.”

Propped up on stands to the left of Richardson were boards displaying statistics of Long Beach he highlighted, including that five times as many Latinos and Native Americans live in high poverty neighborhoods compared to Whites, and that twice as many Black and Latino female adults are working full-time and still living below 150 percent of the poverty level than other adult females. And that homeownership among Black and Latinos is half as many as White households and fewer than 15 percent of Asian and Black residents have access to the right resources they need to start up a business or own a business.

Richardson, who last year spearheaded the creation of an Office of Equity, introduced the first series of proposals meant to help close those gaps, each of which include the backing of other council members.

One proposal includes providing access to free checking and savings accounts and conducting financial literacy education to all youth participants in Long Beach workforce development programs. Another request is to have the city manager work with the Office of Equity to conduct an economic equity study on the city in partnership with a philanthropic or educational partner.

Perhaps the most noteworthy proposals were for an “Everyone In Listening Tour” and a request to establish Long Beach as a “Kiva City.”

The listening tour would task the Economic Development Commission (EDC) with conducting a deeper assessment of economic inclusion in the city and provide outreach to marginalized and disenfranchised segments of the business and working community, according to Richardson’s office. The communities would include Blacks, Latinos, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Cambodians, millennials, women, LGBT+ members, new and emerging industries and more. A total of $40,000 from the Ninth Council District’s one-time infrastructure funds would be transferred to the Economic Development Department for the outreach efforts.

“Inclusion means we have to start the conversation and be intentional about including folks who are not already included at the table,” Richardson said about the listening tours, which will be headed by the EDC’s Chair Randal Hernandez.

Hernandez, who previously worked at Union Bank, said financial institutions as partners will be key in accomplishing these goals over the next few years.

“Long Beach is very fortunate that we have a low unemployment rate but we know those economic opportunities aren’t reaching every neighborhood in our city and this effort is going to be part of that,” Hernandez said.

Backed by Council members Lena Gonzalez, Stacy Mungo and Dee Andrews, Richardson will also request to establish the city as a “Kiva City” and direct the EDD to work with the Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LA LISC) and the Long Beach Community Foundation, which will $6,250 from each of the First, Fifth, Sixth and Nine Council Districts in one-time infrastructure funds to support the hiring of a new, temporary part-time staff member, according to the city’s agenda.

That proposal includes the convening of a series of roundtable discussions with philanthropic leaders and experts to make policy recommendations that will be facilitated by LA LISC.

“We’re committed to placing a real focus on small businesses and entrepreneurs because we know small businesses are the backbone of our city, and account for nearly 87 percent of businesses here and collectively are one of the biggest sales tax drivers within our city,” Richardson said.

Beginning in December, LA LISC’s Executive Director Tunua Thrash-Ntuk will lead a think tank that will convene monthly to make recommendations informed by community engagement and best economic inclusion practices and policies around the country, according to Richardson’s office.

Ntuk will also help the city launch as a Kiva City. Kiva is a small business crowdfunding platform that provides zero percent interest, zero percent fees and character loans on what the community has determined are viable businesses.

While Ntuk has worked with smaller nonprofits and community-based organizations to become Kiva trustees, which will ultimately approve or deny such loans, Long Beach will be its first partner city. To date, there are 16 recognized Kiva cities. Ntuk said LA LISC has already raised $100,000 in start-up capital for small businesses that will go to the Kiva platform.

“For ever one dollar raised from Kiva through family and friends, this will match dollar for dollar until the client gets to its goal,” Ntuk said.

As the potential trustee, the city will first have to vet the business and approve it before it can go to Kiva and begin raising funds. Since funders are not guaranteed to get their money back if a business fails, Ntuk said the vetting process is imperative.
“The trustee [has to] believe that this particular entrepreneur is going to be ready, is serious and be able to follow the rules of the program,” Ntuk said. “As a trustee you also get rated, so it’s important to keep a high profile rating so that your businesses are the businesses that pay back.”

Funding to start up the Kiva platform has been provided by the Long Beach Community Foundation. 

Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.