A Jobs Strategy for L.A.?

With all of the recent attention by the City on raising the minimum wage, very little of the rhetoric was devoted to the real need in Los Angeles … to increase the number of middle-class jobs. People need to have an opportunity to move up the jobs ladder in order to truly improve their quality of life. A minimum wage increase does not accomplish that.

So how is Los Angeles doing on the jobs front? The UCLA Anderson Forecast released their latest report in early June. The report revealed that the L.A. metro area has seen brisk growth of 2.5 percent in each of the past two years, which finally allowed L.A.’s employment to surpass its pre-Great Recession level of more than seven years ago.

However, William Yu, an economist with the Anderson Forecast, pointed out that even with that growth, L.A. only increased its payroll jobs by 2 percent between 1990 and 2015. By contrast, the U.S. increased payroll jobs by 29 percent during that period and California created 28 percent more jobs. And other areas of Los Angeles County also increased their employment at a substantially higher rate than L.A. City. Yu called L.A. an “economic basket case”, lagging far behind the national norm. He noted that the only other major cities in the nation with similar weak job-creation records are Detroit and Cleveland.

The California Center for Jobs & the Economy, in May issued a report entitled “Economic Tale of Two Regions: Los Angeles vs. Bay Area”, where they stated, “Los Angeles presents a trend largely of jobs stagnation under which middle class wage jobs have been steadily replaced by lower wage service jobs.”

So, I would ask the question, “Besides raising the minimum wage, what exactly is the jobs strategy for Los Angeles?”

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors met in June with Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Kelli Bernard, who detailed some of the Mayor’s jobs-related achievements. To be sure, Mayor Garcetti deserves credit for some of the growth of the past two years. He fought hard to get AB1839 adopted, which ramps up film tax credits to bring production jobs back to California and Los Angeles. We expect to see a positive jobs impact from that. He was also successful in luring Yahoo from Santa Monica to Playa Vista. And the Mayor has identified some sectors with job creation potential and set some goals such as creating 20,000 green jobs by mid-2017.

These are all great steps, but they do not answer the question of why there is no overall jobs strategy to put Los Angeles on a long-term road to matching the growth of other major metropolitan regions, the State and nation. If the City really wants to get serious about our poor jobs record, then there needs to be a comprehensive plan.

This week, in what is a step in the right direction, Council President Herb Wesson announced that he is creating an ad hoc committee on a comprehensive jobs plan. I applaud the Council President on taking this action. Let’s hope the committee takes a serious look at exactly why jobs are not being created in this City at the same pace as elsewhere. There is a lot of information for them to review.

Mr. Yu gave his assessment of what is holding Los Angeles back – a less friendly environment for business, low human capital (meaning a poorly educated workforce) and the high cost of living.

In reviewing his findings, I would point out that San Francisco has a much higher cost of living and is still creating jobs. We do indeed need to improve our educational system, but there are other cities with similar challenges that are creating jobs. I believe that the major factor holding L.A. back is its reputation as a less than friendly place in which to operate a business.

There is a feeling in the business community that we are constantly “under siege” in this City. Last year, it was the huge jump in the minimum wage for hotels with over 150 rooms. This year, the City approved an across-the-board minimum wage hike over the next five years to $15 an hour. We had to fight to get concessions for small businesses faced with a 67 percent increase in minimum wages. After our lobbying, the City Council offered a “token” concession of one extra year for only the smallest businesses with under 25 employees. Now the City Council is considering an ordinance to allow street vendors to compete with brick-and-mortar businesses and to require businesses to offer more sick leave. Where does it end?

Perhaps the elephant in the room when it comes to L.A.’s lack of job competitiveness is the onerous Gross Receipts Tax. Los Angeles has the highest business tax by a factor of 9.5 times the average for the other 87 cities in the County. The only way we can compete is when the City does a “carve-out” for certain sectors that the Council wants to attract here, such as they did last year for internet businesses.

Stories are numerous of businesses that have fled Los Angeles to escape from this job-killing tax. Here in Hollywood, we are still hurting from the loss of Legal Zoom, which moved to nearby Glendale with more than 300 middle-class jobs, when the City’s Finance Department decided to raise them to the highest tax rate imposed by the Gross Receipts tax.

There have been numerous calls to do away with this tax, including by Mayor Garcetti. Last year, the City Council did make a small concession by voting to reduce the tax by 5 percent in each of the next three years. To be perfectly honest, from a job-creation standpoint, that was not enough to move the needle one iota.

If the City Council is serious about creating jobs, they need to at least reduce this tax to the countywide average. Imagine what would happen if L.A.’s business tax were not 9.5 times higher than the County average? We might then be able to compete for new jobs. Give businesses some hope and they just might decide to expand here and hire more employees.

That would be the foundation of a jobs creation strategy. L.A. is the second largest city in the nation. We have numerous natural advantages. The business sector knows that we can compete if we have a level playing field. We can provide the middle-class jobs that this economy needs if the City acts decisively. We should not be in the cellar with Detroit and Cleveland. Hopefully, the ad hoc committee will come up with some realistic recommendations that the City Council will adopt.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

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