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L.B. Expected to Spring Back Well From Recession

November 15, 1990|DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long Beach is likely to weather a recession and rebound more quickly than the nation as a whole, according to a report presented during a conference held this week to forecast the city's economic future.

"It's probably better news than they were expecting," said economist Judith A. Roberts, speaking of the 150 local business people gathered Tuesday at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel. "The bad news is mostly over."

The conference, "A Vision for the Future: A First Economic Forecast for Long Beach," was sponsored jointly by the city's Bureau of Economic Development, the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and Cal State Long Beach.

For those attending, mostly local business people interested in improving their companies' positions in the current and future economic climate, there was much to ponder in the economists' report.

The report acknowledged, for instance, that Long Beach experienced a sizable increase in unemployment in 1990. The city's projected end-of-the-year unemployment rate is 5.5%, up from 4.5% at the end of 1989.

But most of the layoffs, the economists concluded, took place at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Co., the city's largest employer. That company now says its financial outlook is improving, making further major layoffs unlikely. And by early 1992, when the report predicts the economy will begin improve, unemployment in Long Beach is projected at about 6.1%, considerably higher than at present but still lower than the 6.9% projected as the national average by then.

One factor likely to help Long Beach weather an economic storm, according to the report, is the fact that most of its major industries--excluding aerospace--are relatively impervious to routine economic swings. Examples include transportation, communication, utilities, government and services.

Another factor is the relative strength of international trade, which, through the Port of Long Beach, continues to be a major source of local employment and economic well being.

And despite a sluggish housing industry in Southern California, the report says, a preponderance of housing in Long Beach that is smaller and less expensive than that in nearby markets has tended to shield the city from the most disastrous effects of the downturn.

Another mitigating factor, the report says, is the city's relatively large number of residents who are over 50, retired, and therefore somewhat unaffected by the threat of unemployment.

"I think it's fairly good news for the businesses and residents of Long Beach," said Jane Netherton, president of International City Bank and chairman of the Chamber of Commerce's board of directors. "We are situated to handle the next two years better than the rest of the country and to spring back more quickly."

This was the first time the city's economic condition had been so thoroughly studied.

"Long Beach is growing rapidly, and we'd like to be able to make some projections," said Pamela Hulse Andrews, vice president of marketing and economic development for the chamber, which initiated the project. "The city has been coming into its own lately, and there hasn't been a lot of planned economic development."

To begin to turn that around, a team of CSULB economics professors, including Roberts, spent seven months gathering extensive data on the local economy, an effort they say is unprecedented. The result is a 32-page booklet complete with charts and bar graphs containing economic forecasts for the next several years.

Copies of the booklet were distributed to participants in the all-day conference, each of whom paid $60 to hear the economists present an overview of their findings and to attend a series of workshops to discuss them in detail.

For the university, according to CSULB President Curtis L. McCray, the project represented a move toward realizing its oft-stated goal of playing a more visible and constructive role in the community. "We're all in this economy together," he said.

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