California’s Chief Workforce Guru Opens FOW Conference Discussion

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

October 3, 2023

The State of California’s presence in the nation’s Economic and Workforce Development (EWD) sector is notable for many reasons. Not only does it have one of the biggest economies in the world (~$3.6 trillion in 2022), it is also:

The home to one of the world’s largest port systems (together, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles comprise the San Pedro Bay Port complex, which manages an annual cargo value of over $300B),

Acts as a geographical and logistical base for countless industries and businesses (eleven major industrial sectors and more than four million small businesses) that generate trillions of revenue dollars each year, and

Hosts the largest collegiate collaborative in the world. The Los Angeles Regional Consortium (LARC) of 19 community colleges encompasses all the community colleges within Los Angeles County.

Accordingly, anyone involved in EWD efforts within the state (and out of it, too) should take the opportunity to listen when the leader of California’s Labor & Workforce Development Agency (LWDA), Stewart Knox, offers to talk about what he and his colleagues see as critical issues within that environment.


LWDA Secretary Stewart Knox …

California’s Secretary for the LWDA, Stewart Knox, will be the keynote speaker at the October 26th Future of Work Conference, hosted by Pasadena City College’s (PCC) division of Economic and Workforce Development (register to attend here.) For almost 30 years, Mr. Knox has immersed himself in employment-related issues from all sides of the EWD prism. His expansive career has included roles such as Director of Workforce at both the college (Yuba Community College) and municipal (the City of Glendale) levels, as a director for workforce training programs in rural communities and at the state level, and as EWD director for San Mateo County, to name just a few. Each assignment broadened his understanding of the complexities involved when building a viable and successful economy using workforce development skills and resources.

Knox’s connections across the EWD sector – at schools, in school districts, in economic forums, and as a local, regional, and state-based leader – give him a far-reaching vision of not just where California is now but also where it can (and probably should) go in the future. His perspective will be a welcome introduction to the conference’s primary focus, how to revolutionize worker pathways through education and training programs to their chosen careers with the companies that need them. His experience with virtually every element of the EWD platform informs his overarching comprehension of how each individual system works and how they merge together to function as a cohesive and singular economic development organization.

From early-stage training programs through workforce systems development and implementation to establishing and tracking economic outcomes, Mr. Knox understands the relevance of all players within the sector and how their individual efforts combine to improve the outcomes for all.


… And California’s Emerging Economic Landscape

Mr. Knox will speak to a well-informed audience of business, industry, educational, governmental, and social sector participants. While everyone from any walk of life is welcome to attend, the target audience of this free event consists of those already immersed in EWD and related issues and causes. And they will have a lot to talk about.

Reduced State Funding Capacities

California experienced significant economic and workforce contractions during the COVID-19 pandemic, some of which were made worse by accompanying social and environmental disasters. The impact on the state’s economy was immense; California lost billions of dollars in revenues while, at the same time, escalating spending to accommodate the burgeoning demand for an expansive constellation of emergency services. The immediate consequence of those economic contractions is the $24 billion deficit facing the Governor in January as he developed his 2023 state-wide budget.

A Reduced Workforce Population, Too

The state is also dealing with a reduced overall population compared to what it had at the beginning of 2020. Over the last ~three years, California has experienced a net loss of over 817,000 people through deaths (some of which were COVID-related), departures to other countries, or – most often – departures to other U.S. states. Of all the states, California is one of 18 that lost population numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, and it has experienced the fourth-highest rate of loss, too. A notable consequence of this reality is the state’s loss of a congressional seat (shifting down from 53 to 52) after 2020 census numbers revealed insufficient population counts to maintain that position. Consequential to that development is the loss of a voice at the national government level as well as a reduction of the federal resources distributed to the states based on their population levels.

A Diversifying Economic Map

Shifts in economic capacities within and outside the state are also affecting the EWD conversation. A Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce report suggests that it’s no longer feasible to consider California as a ‘single entity’ for EWD and industrial development purposes, so applying a unified strategy to remedy all the issues within the state isn’t likely to succeed.

Instead, the agency looked at the state as a collection of regions in its analysis as to why businesses continue to move away. For example, the northern half of the state, with its economic center being in the Bay Area, derives its economy primarily from the technology sector, while the southern half, centered around Los Angeles, looks to logistics and entertainment as its economic hub industries. Economic ties between these regional entities and those in other states (but not also in California) can lure businesses beyond the California state border to communities where living costs are lower and growth opportunities are more plentiful.


These are just three of the many, many issues facing California as it works to design the next iteration of its economy. Attendees at the October 26th Future of Work Conference will have the opportunity to hear what the state’s workforce development leader has to say about them and learn more about how they can contribute to the conversation themselves.


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