Rep. Ted Lieu, chamber of commerce emphasize training, education at State of the Region luncheon in Torrance
Local leaders in business and politics gathered Friday afternoon in Torrance to take stock of the regional economy and mull where to focus their energy for continued future growth. The answer: Invest in education and workforce training.
Newly elected South Bay Rep. Ted Lieu led the State of the Region 2015, hosted by the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel. Lieu, who also represented the area in the state Assembly and Senate, said the future of the state is tied with that of the entire country.
“California has come back to be the eighth-largest economy in the world and will be on pace with Russia pretty soon,” Lieu said. “But how we continue this growth is not by making socks. Vietnam will always beat us in these low-wage industries. We succeed by emphasizing our competitive advantage.
“We have a very robust biotech industry. We have a very strong aerospace industry. We have travel and tourism that North Dakota couldn’t match, and ports that Switzerland will never have. We have an entertainment sector that’s hard to replicate. But almost all of these industries require some sort of higher education.”
The chamber began its own efforts last year to inject energy into the workforce by hosting a Veteran Career and Networking Conference, among its other programs. Locally, the South Bay Workforce Investment Board implements most job-training programs.
“The chamber also took action to bridge the skills gap that’s often noticed in today’s workforce by introducing increased veterans’ employment programs,” said Jac Folkert, the chamber’s chairwoman-elect. “We have a robust business-outreach program and will continue to connect businesses to government. ... We also will continue to prioritize workforce development as a priority for this area and identify more clearly workforce skill sets needed.
“2015 will be a very busy and productive year, to say the least,” she said.
Lieu touted President Barack Obama’s initiatives to provide two free years of community college education and expand preschool to include 4-year-olds. He said local aerospace leaders such as Raytheon and The Boeing Co. struggle to fill vacancies because they can’t find enough educated workers.
Lieu, elected in November to represent 33rd Congressional District that stretches from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Beverly Hills, said he is pushing for a bipartisan approach to get things done.
“We’re working across the aisle, setting up bipartisan monthly meetings and events,” said Lieu, who was chosen president of the Democratic Freshman Class in the House. “I think you’re going to see some energy come to Congress and hopefully we’ll get some bills passed.”
Though he represents some of the richest communities in Southern California, Lieu said he works hard to consider disenfranchised veterans and the poor. The key to success this year and in the future will be accessible educational opportunities, but he also emphasized progress made since the recession.
“I think the best way to describe the state of the region is that it is improved,” he said. “In 2008 and 2009, California was facing a $60 billion budget deficit. We had double-digit unemployment and we were on the verge of a government shutdown.
“We stabilized the state. We’ve created more jobs than Texas in the last few years. Unemployment has dropped to 7.2 percent. We’ve recovered all the jobs lost since the recession. Our credit rating has improved. The state budget now has a reserve and it’s clear that California’s best days are yet to come.”