This may be hard to believe given prevailing narratives, but Long Beach (and the United States) may not be on the brink of economic and political collapse.
A Cal State Long Beach economist on Friday morning was positively bullish on the region’s near-term economic prospects at a time when developers have shown their willingness to place big bets on the city.
“That’s a signal of business confidence in the area,” professor Wade Martin said after providing an overview of local economic numbers at CSULB’s annual Regional Economic Forum at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center.
The day’s speakers also included Beacon Economics founder Christopher Thornberg, who provided his perspective on the national economy.
On the whole, Martin and Thornberg presented viewpoints similar to those they expressed during last year’s forum: The Long Beach area appears to be on the upswing, and there are signs of strength for the national and California economies, despite policymakers’ unwillingness to tackle looming problems like California’s housing shortages and pension costs.
“The U.S. economy is in a perfectly sustainable trajectory,” Thornberg said.
Thornberg went on to predict a 2 to 2.5 percent growth in the national economy, acknowledging during his remarks that there is considerable uncertainty as to what kind of economic policies the Trump administration will actually support.
AES Southland President Jennifer Didlo and Ratkovich Properties President Cliff Ratkovich also had time during the event to discuss their companies’ respective investments in electrical power and downtown Long Beach developments.
Martin outlined several larger-scale investments that encourage his confidence in Long Beach’s economic health. Those include recently announced plans to build a tourist attraction near the Queen Mary, renovations of the World Trade Center, the repositioning of the former City Place shopping center and the second phase of The Current, a luxury apartment complex.
That contrasts, he said, with what he observed about a year ago when public sector investments like city government’s move to build a new Civic Center complex were among the more prominent investments downtown.
During his remarks, Martin went over several data points showing a recent strengthening of the local economy. Those included increased taxable sales reduced retail vacancies and home prices recovering to pre-recession levels.
THE NATIONAL TAKE
Thornberg, as he did last year, mocked the “miserabilists” on the left and right who he contends are guilty of convincing Americans the economy is in worse shape than it is.
In his view, miserabilists worried about income stagnation ignore data sources that include Americans’ noncash income, such as employer-provided health care benefits. Similarly, he thinks people who point to declines in the labor participation rate are ignoring the numbers of older Americans who are aging out of the daily grind.
That’s not to say Thornberg doesn’t worry about anything — he’s often said one of California’s most severe economic challenges is its shortage of housing.
Friday, he said activists seeking to ease housing woes through rent controls and other government intervention are looking in the wrong direction. If Californians were living in the midst of a bread shortage, he said people would not be demanding price controls for baked goods.
“You bake more bread. It isn’t complicated,” he said.
Beyond housing, Thornberg said immigration hawks want to deny the United States of a source of population growth he says is necessary for long-term economic growth. He also said two of the biggest economic problems going unsolved are California public employee pensions and future federal entitlement costs, such as Medicare and Medicaid obligations.
“There will ultimately be a crash to earth with painful consequences,” he said.
LONG BEACH PROJECTS
Ratkovich Properties is in escrow to buy the former Acres of Books site in downtown Long Beach from city government, the company’s president said during the forum.
The Irvine-based Ratkovich is part of a joint venture that agreed to spend $7.8 million for the city-owned land, near the crossing of East Broadway and Long Beach Boulevard. Plans include a Cal State Long Beach-affiliated arts venue, and Ratkovich said Friday the former Acres of Books store will be renovated and divided into two separate structures to accommodate a restaurant and other food-focused business, such as a farmers market.
Ratkovich also plans to construct a new residential high-rise to the north of the Acres of Books site. The combined project is called Broadway Block. Ratkovich Properties was also one of three firms involved in converting The Edison from a former downtown office building into a high-end apartment complex.
The Edison opened in August and Ratkovich said the building is nearly 70 percent occupied.
This article originally appeared on Long Beach Press Telegram