Creativity and innovation are at the heart of California’s DNA. And it is precisely those characteristics that the county of San Bernardino is relying on to continue the momentum of success the area has seen since the recession.
While the county was at the bottom of the list of areas that have most improved since the recession, it has in fact seen improvement. Last year the Inland Empire GDP (a metropolitan area of 27,000 square miles which includes San Bernardino, Riverside and Ontario counties) grew 2.8%. There is, however, still room for improvement.
Improvement is expected to come from the export sector. Last year revenue for the area’s exports hit $9.6 billion. The top products are transportation equipment, computer and electronic products and chemicals and machinery. Top export markets are Canada, Mexico, Japan and China.
The strategy to increase exports starts with increasing collaboration in the area’s transportation corridor. Last year the SoCal Link was created which brought together the City of Los Angeles’ Port of Los Angeles, along with Riverside and San Bernardino counties and the support of the University of California, Riverside. The collaboration is part of the California’s Innovation Hubs (iHubs) program whose goal is to harness the creative and entrepreneurial spirit to ultimately stimulate economic development.
Those future opportunities are being supported through a $2 billion investment in infrastructure which includes improvements in highways, streets, rail and transit systems.
By partnering the manufacturing sector with the logistics sector the objective is to expand the volume of exports that are manufactured from both San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
“More than 80% of all goods shipped through the Port of Los Angeles pass through the Inland Empire and that makes it a powerful catalyst for economic opportunity in our region,” said Cindie Perry, deputy director, Economic Development Department for the County of San Bernardino. “We are focusing on small and medium-sized businesses that support the supply chain of existing businesses.”
While the region has already seen an increase in exports of 3.4%, there is room for growth, Perry says. “We have available, affordable land for development, local and national economic development programs, and an abundant, skilled workforce that continues to grow.”
The size of the San Bernardino workforce is impressive; it exceeds 900,000. However it’s the workforce training programs that are catching the praise of area employers. The county offers customized training program, on-the-job training programs and holds recruitment fairs to find candidates for area employers.
“The Workforce Investment Board program provided our company with the right candidates at the right time and saved us money,” said Jae Boyd, CEO, Boyd Industries, which manufactures Carnivore Candy. “This allowed us to focus on what we do best: creating an excellent product, expanding our product lines, and delivering great jerky to our loyal customers.” The Workforce Investment Board referred candidates to the company when its growth required more staffing. Once hired these candidates were provided on-the-job training funds.
The close working relationship between the Workforce Investment Board and area employers is exemplified by a recruiting fair the city held in November to fill vacancies at URS Corp, an AECOM company. URS Corp. recently won a multi-million dollar contract which includes fabrication of components and vehicle armor kitsat the Marine Corp. Logistic Base in Barstow.
This was not the first time the county held a recruitment fair for the company. “Their job fair in Victorville was particularly successful as we were able to interview more than 100 candidates and extended job offers from that single day,” said Toby Briston of URS Corp.
The success of the program is due to the involvement of an active board, explains Bradley Gates, deputy director of administration, Department of Workforce Development for the County of San Bernardino. “We have 44 members who come from both the private and public sector and are very proactive,” says Gates.
The business and services team of this board will literally knock on doors to assess the needs of area businesses. For example when they learn of an impeding company lay off they intervene to find other jobs for those employees. This service is part of a federal program called Rapid Response. If the skills are not an exact match for the new company the board provides funds for training.
If the training is not on-the-job training another option is a customized program which matches the company with a training provider such as a local community college. The board also covers the cost of this training program.
In the past year the board has worked with 1500 manufacturers who have received a variety of services.
“Our success is due to the time and effort we have invested over a number of years, creating relationships so that we know what is happening in the community,” says Gates. “And it helps that we knock on 200-300 doors a month.”
A large workforce, supported by a robust resource system, combined with a with a strong export market that is being bolstered through collaborative partnerships, is the basis upon which this particular iHub system is being built.
In addition to the goal of expanding the current export business the iHub was also set up to promote the area as a “viable destination option for manufacturing and distribution centers to international customers seeking opportunities in Southern California,” according to the economic development planners.