Cal State Long Beach President Jane Close Conoley announced Thursday that the university would be entering into two new partnerships this year that could impact graduate students and the city’s ability to attract tech entrepreneurs.
The university will begin its first College Promise fellowship, an addition to its participation in the Long Beach College Promise which guarantees admission to area students who meet certain qualifications, this fall.
Conoley said the fellowship will try to help local businesses identify and retain local talent while simultaneously helping students with job placement after graduation.
“The new phase of the College Promise will match fellows from the university’s college of liberal arts with local companies, provide training and create an ongoing network of workforce development resources to make sure our College Promise will someday take Long Beach students from cradle to career,” Conoley said at the beginning of the Long Beach Regional Economic Forum Thursday morning at the Long Beach Convention Center.
Cal State Long Beach will also enter into a public-private partnership with Sunstone Management, a private capital management and investment firm, to create the Long Beach Accelerator, the city’s first university-affiliated tech incubator that will try to draw and retain early-stage start-ups to the city.
It will be located in the World Trade Center in Downtown with programming from the university’s institute of innovation and entrepreneurship. A final agreement is expected to come to the City Council in the spring and. if passed, the accelerator could accept its first start-ups over the summer.
“Our goal is to not only retain the best start-ups in the city but also attract the top high-tech start-ups not only from Southern California, but also from all over the world,” said Sunstone Management founding partner John Shen. “We want to make this the number one accelerator in the country.”
The announcements by Conoley come as the university continues to integrate itself into Downtown. Plans to build a 22-story university village in the former City Place space were announced in January 2017, and now with the Accelerator coming to the World Trade Center Cal State will have an even larger presence.
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The Downtown area has been booming in recent years with large-scale production of luxury housing projects, but so too have other parts of the city. Business investments at Douglas Park and 2nd and PCH in East Long Beach as well as upcoming development in North Long Beach have highlighted the city’s recent development successes.
These were featured in the three-hour program that included panelists who discussed the state of real estate development in the city and the measures the city has taken to ensure that the local economy continues to thrive.
National and local indicators like low unemployment, rising home values and consumer confidence show that the current state of the economy is in good condition. But other markers like the dip in new housing production nationally, and for Long Beach specifically, the lagging average median household income and educational levels when compared to the region and the state, could be predicting a cool down in the future.
Dr. Seiji Steimetz, a professor and chair of economics at Cal State Long Beach, said that he was cautiously optimistic about the economic outlook for the country and the city but certain tumultuous market activities could spell trouble ahead.
“I’m going to give you the classic economic answer about what’s going to happen next…I don’t know,” Steimetz said, to the audience, which was full of developers and local officials. “But you’re the experts and you have skin in the game. If you were to ask me as a person, I would say things are OK, but I wouldn’t expect a meteoric rise in GDP and our economy any time soon.”
Long Beach has seen its taxable sales grow by over 14% in the last five quarters, more than five times the pace at which Los Angeles County’s taxable sales grew over the same period and Downtown retail sales climbed by nearly $100 million from 2017 to 2018. According to a survey of small businesses in the Long Beach region, over 75% of owners feel the economy will get better or stay the same.
However, wage, education and unemployment gaps continue to be clustered in historically impoverished parts of the city.
The city’s overall unemployment rate of 4.2% is dwarfed by pockets of north, west and central Long Beach that have unemployment rates of over 11%. These same areas have median household incomes around $30,000 annually. In some instances moving one to two streets in a different direction shows the inverse of income and employment status.
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Still, the city feels it has “stadium sized opportunities” in the future.
The Los Angeles Angels and the negotiations to potentially relocate the team to a waterfront stadium in Downtown was the subject of multiple quips, but also a brief discussion by real estate developers who supported the idea to varying degrees.
“I think it could be a positive thing for investment in the city,” said Roni Gould, senior vice president of Ensemble Investments. “Not everyone outside Southern California is aware of Long Beach. People don’t think of it as a big city and I think it would put us on the map in many ways.”
Gould said a stadium would require more industry to locate in the city, more people living nearby and that overall it would be excellent for the city.
In a carefully worded response, Downtown Long Beach Alliance President and CEO Kraig Kojian referred to the idea as an iconic and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fill an underutilized space. He used caution in pointing out that those kinds of activities could co-exist with attractions already in the city like the Grand Prix and said it was a great vision to have.
“Yeah, we support it,” Kojian relented.
While Thursday’s forum was a paid event, the city will again present the details of its economic blueprint at the April 30 meeting of its Economic Development Commission at City Hall.